Eighteen-year-old Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) spends his days making beds in a hotel and selling plastic bags in the Panjim marketplace, and his free time sitting in a tree staring at a swimming pool. Water is everywhere in The Pool: People scrub floors, wash clothes, splash their faces, water the plants, paddle small boats, drink from wells, drown. But no one goes swimming. The pool that obsesses Venkatesh sits, untouched, in the lush garden behind an empty mansion. "They must have lots of money to have houses they don't live in," says Jhangir, Venkatesh's best friend, speculating about the owners. Jhangir sleeps on top of a table in the restaurant where he works.
Eventually, the owners do return: a melancholy father/daughter pair (Nana Patekar and Ayesha Mohan), nursing old wounds and current resentments. Venkatesh quietly, nervously insinuates himself into their lives, helping Nana with the plants and just barely flirting with Ayesha—all to get closer to that still, clean, blue rectangle in the garden.
The Pool—in subtitled Hindi—is, oddly enough, written and directed by a non-Indian, non-Hindi-speaking American filmmaker. Chris Smith, director of the Sundance darling American Movie, came across a short story by Randy Russell and decided to transplant its tale of aquatic longing from Iowa to Goa, India. He cast nonactors as his leads (Venkatesh and Jhangir), both of whom spoke no English and could not read. He communicated with them via a translator.
The whole thing seems like a terrifyingly ambitious gamble. But Smith pulls it off, and to his film's benefit. Venkatesh and Jhangir, in roles somewhat approximating their actual lives, are natural and spazzy in that uncertain teenage way. The cinematography is coolly gorgeous. And though the ending rushes up rather abruptly—Venkatesh has to choose between taking a plunge for his future or remaining comfortably loyal to his present—it all makes for a sweet little journey.