1.Actor: Nandita Das 2. Director: Mehreen Jabbar
STOP PRESS: Ramchand Pakistani by Mehreen Jabbar along with Salt Of This Sea by Annemarie Jacir won the FIPRESCI COMPETITION award for the quality of their cinematic treatment in depicting the cause to humanity through the futility of politics
a review by Manohar Khushalani
Initially, when the highly awaited film Ramchand Pakistani opened at the Osian's Cinfean Festival one thought the film would be another remake of Veer Zara. But the film had a number of layers that unfolded like onion peels and it revealed a totally original identity. Written and Produced by Javed Jabbar, the film is directed by his daughter Mehreen Jabbar. The highly talented but unassuming Indian actress Nandita Das plays the female lead role in the film, and as the Director who is her personal friend since the days of Kara Film Festival, puts it:very appropriately "I have always admired the ease with which Nandita becomes a character and the authenticity she brings to it." The compliment also fits Mehreen, because, this writer, who began his career as a water Engineer in Bhuj and has been instrumental in building the Tappar dam, has experienced first hand, the culture of the region around Kutch, that the film epitomises, has been recreated in a highly authentic fashion. The dances, the costumes, the way the people walk and talk, brings out the complete flavour and fragrance of the region. At that time, the Indo-Pak borders were more porous and people intermingled more easily along the border.
‘Ramchand Pakistani’ is derived from a true story concerning the accidental crossing of the Pakistan-Indian border during a period (June 2002) of extreme, war-like tension between the two countries by two members of a Pakistani Hindu family belonging to the 'untouchable' (Dalit) caste, and the extraordinary consequences of this unintended action upon the lives of a woman, a man, and their son.
The singular theme of the film is how a child from Pakistan aged eight years learns to cope with the trauma of forced separation from his mother while being held prisoner, along with his father in the jail of a country i.e. India, which is hostile to his own, while on the other side of the border, the wife mother,
devastated by their sudden disappearance builds a new chapter of her life, by her solitary struggle for sheer survival.
Belonging to one of the lowest castes in Hinduism (one of the “untouchables”), the family is also part of a small minority of Hindus in a country, which is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in which 97% of the
people are Muslims. The boy and his father are held captive in India where, in contrast to Pakistan, the overwhelming majority of about 80% comprises of Hindus.
The film portrays the lives of a family that is at the bottom of a discriminatory religious ladder and an insensitive social system, which is nevertheless tolerant, inclusive and pluralist. The irony is compounded by the fact that such a family becomes hostage to the acrimonious political relationship between two neighbor-states poised on the brink of war.
Besides the rural landscape of Pakistan the scenes in the Indian Jail are fortunately not as morbid as one initially thought they would be. The scenes in Jail are at time laced with a mild sense of humour. Maria Wasti who does a lively role of a promiscuous Indian Police woman, Kamla, brought a certain freshness to her portrayal. Both the versions of Ramchand ( Younger and Older) were very vibrantly brought across by the two young actors , Syed Fazal Hussain and Navaid Jabbar respectively. Rashid Farooqui, as Shiv, Ramchand's Father and Nandita Das's husband gave a sensitive and credible rendition of a POW with a sense of personal dignity.
Half of the success of a film lies in correct casting. The Director has elaborated on some interesting issues that came up while casting for the film. "It was imperative we find the right face for Ramchand. The film depended on it. After auditioning many school children as well as boys from the Thar Desert
region, a fellow director friend of mine suggested a boy called Fazal Hussain who had worked in his TV film when he was 5 years old. The boy, now 7, met us and the minute I turned on the camcorder for the audition, I knew we had found him. And then we had to find an older Ramchand! Here, a lot of effort mixed with sheer luck helped us along the way and we discovered Navaid, a student of grade 6 who worked part time as a mechanic at his father’s shop in Mirpurkhas, a small town about 4 hours from Karachi. Even though he came from a different background than his younger counterpart he shared his sensitivity and his excitement."
This film has been an incredible journey in collaboration, between people as well as countries -- Pakistan, India and the US. The music team comprises of the driven and passionate Debajyoti Mishra from India whose music for the film, ‘Raincoat’ convinced Mehreen about his abilities. Shuhba Mudgal from India with her soaring earthy voice joined by Shafqat Amanat Ali of Pakistan who is one of its most distinctive male singers lent their voices to 4 powerful and evocative songs written by the celebrated media personality, painter and writer of Pakistan, Anwar Maqsood.
Recording the background music in Mumbai and navigating Mumbai’s incredible traffic every day and night for about 3 weeks proved to be an experience in itself while through the valued help of the great film-maker, Shyam Benegal, we were introduced to his long time associate, Aseem Sinha with whom I co-edited the final version of the film to its 105-minutes.
Having visited, for research purposes, the main jail in the town of Bhuj close to which the original protagonists were held prisoners, the Producer was able to guide the production designer, Aqeel Ur Rehman in Karachi to re-create on the outskirts of the city a large Indian jail which saw hectic work for over 3 weeks. It was also the only location in Pakistan other than the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, where the Indian flag flew at full mast for about 3 to 4 weeks!
As an apt culmination of the international collaborative facets of what remains essentially a Pakistani film, the final post-production phase was conducted in New York over a period of about five weeks.
Perhaps the strength of the film lies in the freshness of treatment, maybe because the Director, Mehreen Jabbar, is so young and therefore does not carry the baggage of Indo-Pak hostility. Her treatment is totally unbiased without prejudiced and based totally on human values that transdcend geographical borders.
R A M C H A N D P A K I S T A N I
NANDITA DAS Champa
RASHID FAROOQUI Shankar
SYED FAZAL HUSSAIN Ramchand
MARIA WASTI Kamla
NOMAN IJAZ Abdullah
NAVAID JABBAR Ramchand (older)
ADARSH AYAZ Moti
FAROOQ PARIO Suresh
ADNAN SHAH Sharma
SHAHOOD ALVI Superintendent Asif
ATIF BADAR Lalu
ZHALAY SARHADI Lakhshmi
SALEEM MAIRAJ Vishesh
MASTER YAQOOB Baba Gull
KARIM BUX BALOCH Lateef Baloch
SAIF E HASAN Landlord middle man
HASAN NIAZI Deepak
IQBAL MOTILANI Mullah
RAO SALIMIndian Border Security
SAJJID SHAHIndian Border Security
ANIS CHACHAR Pakistan Rangers Captain
Directed by: MEHREEN JABBAR
Written and Produced by : JAVED JABBAR
Screenplay: MOHAMMAD AHMED
Cinematographer: SOFIAN KHAN
Editors: ASEEM SINHA,
Music Director: DEBAJYOTI MISHRA
Associate Producer: MARIAM MUKATY
Creative Consultant: SONIA REHMAN QURESHI
& Sound Design: JESSE JAMES MAILINGS
Lyrics: ANWAR MAQSOOD
Singers: SHUHBA MUDGAL
SHAFQAT AMANAT ALI
Production Designer: AQEEL UR REHMAN
First Assistant Director: MOHAMMED AHMED
Second Assistant Director
and Script Assistant: FARRUKH FAIZ
Second Assistant Director: SABOOR HAIDER
Third Assistant Director: NADIR ARBAB NADIR
Third Assistant Director: NAJEEHA REHMAN QADRI
Production Managers: SHAKEEL RANA
Production Assistants: SULTAN KHAN / NAHEED MALIK
Make-up: SYED MUMTAZ HUSSAIN
Head Gaffer: NINA KUHN
Best Boy: HABIBULLAH
HD Technician: JOSEF SHAFER
Still Photographer: KOHDAYAR MARRI
DI Facility: POSTWORKS, NEW YORK
Senior DI Producer: MATHEW REEDY
Online Editor: SAVVAS PARITSIS
DI colorist: SCOT OLIVE
Re-Recording Mixer: PATRICK DONAHUE
Special Acknowledgement: JEREMIAH HAWKINS
Editor: Manohar Khushalani
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