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Ramchand Pakistani – Review

Ramchand Pakistani: Potential lost?

There’s a lot about Mehreen Jabbar’s film, Ramchand Pakistani, that can be appreciated. Syed Fazal Hussain, who plays Ramchand, is on the top of that list, Nandita Das is close to the bottom, and the film itself hovers somewhere in the middle.

To clear the air, it is important to mention that the balanced political standpoint of the film speaks to its credit. For once, an India-Pakistan film isn’t about terrorism and the big bad guy across the border. And that is a huge relief. But that is almost all that is convincing about the film. It has moments with immense potential. Whether it is with reference to relationships that build up or even a comment on prisoners and their state, especially the fact of innocent people who have been thrown into jail for small mistakes, as is the case of Ramchand and his father. Unfortunately, they remain mere moments.

The story, as it might be evident already, is about Ramchand, a young, tribal Hindu boy living in Pakistan, his mother (played by Nandita Das) and his father (Rashid Farooqui). One day, the boy unknowingly walks across the border near the Thar desert, and his father follows, trying to stop him. They are both arrested and sent to jail in the Kutch region on the Indian side of the border. The mother tries in vain to locate them, she registers FIRs, makes endless rounds of the police station, but to no avail.

The jail Shankar (the father) and Ramchand are thrown into, would be any prisoner’s paradise. The interaction with the police starts with suggested torture but for the rest of the film, it turns into an example of communal, social harmony. With the exception of one potential child molester, the inmates all get along famously, they help each other like family members and all is a little too well in jail-land. The inspectors, both male and female, are sympathetic, kind and concerned. Without any provocation, the head arranges for Ramchand to study and brings in a special female inspector for the purpose. The lady, who has some strangely mixed-Mumbaiya-cum north Indian speech, makes a few remarks about the boy, who is an untouchable, touching her utensils, but one little blurt from him pretty much silences her.

What I’m trying to point out here is the lack of a follow up of any potential leads that could give this film a strong base. There are a few stray interesting incidents, or potential relationships that, for all practical purposes, are in the pipeline, but they just don’t develop. They remain connection-less episodes. An example: at one point, Shankar tells the inspector that they treated like dogs in the jail; and while that may be the reality of the actual situation, that is not what is communicated in the film. There is an assumed connection with the real world, and that doesn’t work, not when what we see in the film is the very opoosite of ‘being treated like dogs’.

There was also the beginning of another relationship, between Champa (Das) and a Muslim member of the community, Abdullah (Noman Ijaz). The tenderness of their relationship is moving and once again has immense potential, but all it takes is one little, almost matter-of-fact comment by a friend that has Abdullah pack his bags and leave the scene. The anxieties of these relationships could be many and they weren’t explored in this film. And that is the case with the depiction of jail life as well. I was a bit shocked to realise that the Pakistani prisoners blend in that easily with the rest. No strife? I know people to people relations are good, but there are always malefactors. But they were wished away. Also, who is Ramchand going back to? It is a million dollar question, but it is packed off in one little statement. There is no room for exploration therefore. In fact, i would say that with these mistakes,  the film digs its own grave because  it chooses to crush the intensity of things in simple statements.

I am not saying, at any point, that everything should be literalised and made all to evident as it is in any run of the mill film. This particular case is more disappointing, precisely because there was so much possible within the ambit of the same film, keeping intact the sensitivity with which it has been approached.

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