3rd I




Friday, November 14
Brava Theater, San Francisco
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Director: Mehreen Jabbar
Country/Year: Pakistan, 2008
Running Time: 103 mins
Format: Digital
Language: Urdu/Hindi with English subtitles

Filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar in person

The most haunting frame of Ramchand Pakistani may be its first. Over a black screen, the words appear: adapted from actual events. The world is full of mad facts, but among the maddest is that in 2002, as Indian and Pakistani troops massed against each other on the countries' border, an eight-year-old boy named Ramchand wandered over the invisible line separating his own side of the desert from that of India's and was taken prisoner. Going in search of Ramchand, his father followed him across and was captured as well. They were held in an overcrowded Indian jail for five years.

In her first feature film, Mehreen Jabbar lays out the political contexts of Ramchand's situation with exceptional fluidity. Titles at the top establish the geopolitics, and the more localized issues are threaded through early scenes. Most salient of all is the fact that Ramchand's family is part of a Hindu tribe of untouchables, making them both suspect and powerless in Pakistan.

Actress Nandita Das thus proves doubly brave for taking the part of Ramchand's mother: Ramchand Pakistani isn't exactly a valentine to India. But the film does have a heart, paying heed to the characters crowding the jailhouse and shaping the child's universe within it. Playing the younger Ramchand, Syed Fazal Hussain proves one of those miracle discoveries-he's a real kid, all piss and vinegar and shaking vulnerabilities-and Jabbar does well to dwell on his face as much as she does. Special note must also go to cinematographer Sofian Khan, who shoots both the actors and the ravishing desert scenery with an elegant, wide-angled tenderness. The world is, after all, full of mad facts-but full of beauty, too. -- Peter Scarlet