Ramchand Pakistani (2008, Pakistan)
Shankar (Rashid Farooqi), a farmer, and his wife Champa (Nandita Das) are Pakistani Hindus from the ‘untouchable’ caste. Their son, Ramchand (Syed Fazal Hussainas the younger boy), is a wilful little brat. He refuses to go to school and complains when his father gets a bigger meal. In a fit of pique he kicks over a cup of tea his mother has poured for him, and storms off… past his father working in the fields and unwittingly across the border into India, where he is immediately captured by the military. His father goes looking for him and he, too, is arrested. Shankar is accused of being a spy, beaten and tortured… and then thrown into prison, along with his 8-year-old son. It’s 2002 and tensions between India and Pakistan are high; it’s not a good time to be straying into enemy territory. And not a particularly good time to be an 8-year-old in an adult prison.
Father and son are held alongside common criminals in the Bhuj Special Jail in Kutch. There are, admittedly, worse jails. There is not much to do or much to eat, but it is basically clean and calm and orderly. A female officer is even assigned to take care of Ramchand’s schooling. He is the only child in the jail; angelic-looking, and a bit indulged. And a bit of an object of desire for one prisoner.
Meanwhile, Champa has no idea what has happened to her husband and son. She seeks the assistance of the Pakistani authorities, but they seem unwilling to do anything about it, presumably on account of her being a Hindu and a lowly one at that. Her despair and desperation, and her husband’s bewildered sense of injustice, underscore the whole film. Only once do we get to see his father’s anger at his son, whose childish rebelliousness led them so needlessly into such a predicament. Well, I guess children are entitled to act childishly, but it is nevertheless the father, not the boy, who gets most of our sympathies.
After a time, Shankar and Ramchand are released. The film skips forward four years, and we expect to see the family getting on with their lives, tending goats and attending school. Instead, we find father and son back in jail; they had been released by mistake, and have been returned to prison. Oh dear. More wasted years. No trial. We fear that they may never be reunited with Champa, whose steadfastness is challenged daily.
It is a visually stunning film, beautifully shot. The women, particularly Champa, exquisite in vibrant, incandescent colours. Breathtaking, vast, open landscapes, as ancient and immense as the problems that beset various castes and peoples and countries. It’s a film full of anguish, longing and disquiet, and not a bad one.
Based on a true story.
Posted on November 30th, 2009 at 9:10 pm. Updated on March 25th, 2016 at 11:23 am.
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