REVIEW

Movie Review: Ramchand Pakistani

February 09, 2009
Aditi Nadkarni

The name caught my attention. It is not every day that we hear the title of a revered Hindu god and Pakistan in the same sentence. I almost wondered why there hadn't be news of effigies being burnt in India based on the name of the film alone. Has the economy stolen effigy-burners of their job or were they just busy with the upcoming anti-Valentine's Day projects, I wondered. As I began to watch the movie, I was surprised that I had not heard much about this beautifully crafted story based on true events.

Ramchand Pakistani encompasses in a relatively simple plot serious issues such as social reform and border security and yet manages to engage us at times in the complex maze of a woman's emotions and then in the mixed humor that always accompanies a boy's coming of age. This is the story of Ramchand, an eight year old Hindu-Dalit Pakistani boy who strays across the border and into India at a time when relations between the two nations are strained by an ongoing war. His father runs after him like any parent would and the duo is immediately suspected of being spies or terrorists from across the border. They land in a prison in India where they are interrogated and every day their hopes of ever returning to their country slowly dwindle. Amidst this tragic tale of separation are the little stories of triumph and Ramchand's adventures.

As Ramchand grows up in a less than ideal environment, the film introduces us to some grim realities. Caste relations in India have formed the basis of historical injustice as well as current politically-charged events that grow volatile every now and then. In the rural areas the poor treatment of Dalits and the issue of untouchability lives on even as our nation plants a flag on the moon. In the cities we hardly think of these issues because they don't affect us and then a film like Ramchand Pakistani reminds us that we can grimace and fume at the mentions of our dirty underbelly but we cannot do away with the precious lives that this underbelly houses. Ramchand's identity represents irony at several levels. He is a Hindu Pakistani Dalit imprisoned in India, a pluralistic nation where Hindus make up the majority, Pakistanis the perceived enemy and Dalits, the "untouchable" lower castes who have for long borne injustice. We have found superficial answers in terms of reserved seats and quotas assigned for these deprived and oppressed classes. However, the rift formed by discrimination at a social and cultural level may take years to bridge or even longer if we refuse to even acknowledge it.

Just as the hopelessness of little Ramchand's circumstances grips us towards the intermission, the film captivates us with the most basic of human emotions. The woman, a mother and a wife, who was left behind by these two pilgrims, struggles with being separated from her spouse and longs for love. The boy grows up in a prison surrounded by the most diverse group one can imagine. Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi all live as one big dysfunctional family, their lives occasionally punctuated with hope and despair alike.

A child in the dangerous world of adults always makes for a plot that keeps viewers on their toes. Being in a prison, little Ramchand is surrounded by adults whom society has deemed criminal and unacceptable. Knowing that the film is based on true events, I watched the film with constant questions of what would eventually happen to Ramchand and his father. Would they return to Pakistan and reunite with the woman who waited for so long to see her loved ones? Has she waited or has she moved on? Knowing that the film is based on true events, I anticipated the worst and yet was suprised by the film's ending.

Watching a film directed by a woman has always been very interesting for me. Female directors deal differently with humor and emotion in a film. Good female directors, I have noticed, are like deft chefs who balance flavor. They carefully toy with each sentimental nuance of the film, not letting one get ahead of the other. The humor is subtle and even tragedy is somewhat muted under shifting curtains of periodic triumph. The end result for a viewer can be either detached neutrality or a perfectly satisfying adventure infused with a gamut of emotions. Mehreen Jabbar, the New York based Pakistani director treats us to the latter. Cinematographer Sofian Khan compliments Jabbar's directorial genius by capturing the stark contrast of the pale scorched desert region with the richly colorful couture of the women. There are scenes within the film that seem out of an oil painting.

I will never quite fathom the politics and bureaucracy that tempers the otherwise untamed flight of art and so it is beyond my understanding why this film would not be Pakistan's submission for an Oscar this year. I must add, that the lack of an Oscar nomination and presumably inadequate publicity does not stop Ramchand Pakistani from being a deeply moving film.

Aditi Nadkarni is a cancer researcher, a film reviewer and a poet; her many occupations are an odd yet fun miscellany of creative pursuits. Visit her blog for more of her articles and artistic as well as photographic exploits.
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#1
Deepti Lamba
February 9, 2009
09:27 AM

I wonder if I'd get the movie here in India. Thanks for the review Aditi. I will keep an eye out for the movie

#2
Aditi N
February 9, 2009
10:38 AM

Dee, you are welcome. I don't usually recommend this medium but if you cannot find the film in India, it is available on Youtube. A user called apnasi has put it up in several parts and you can search for Ramchand Pakistani Part 1...the other parts will follow. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

#3
AnArch
URL
February 9, 2009
10:46 AM

Torrent for Ramchand Pakistani (Registration Reqd)

#4
temporal
URL
February 9, 2009
04:48 PM

adi:

your review is layered and nuanced

like the movie itself:)

dee:

you should see it

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