Champa (Nandita Das), her husband Shankar (Rashid Farooqui) and their son Ramchand (child actor Syed Fazal Hussain) comprise a Dalit family living in a small village in Pakistan. Their lives are rattled when little Ramchand accidentally crosses the border into India. Shankar, searching for his son, crosses the border too. Father and son are imprisoned, and Champa left helpless in the village on the other side. Five years pass, yet Ramchand (now Navaid Jabbar) maintains a surprisingly positive outlook on life despite the traumatic events. Why the positivity? Will they ever make it back to their home in Pakistan? Meanwhile, Champa has little hope of their survival, and even has an admirer. How will her decisions shape the futures of the three? See Ramchand Pakistani to discover. As uplifting as it is engaging, and as heartwarming as it is troubling, it is cinema at its finest with a message that is universal.
It deals with several real issues. Incorporated into the narrative is commentary on treatment of minorities (by religion, nationality, and caste), women (including widows), children, farm workers, prisoners, teachers, students, and knowledge. And the solace one occasionally finds in the company of solitude, or of a pet.
Each, as the film shows, applies across the human landscape. And each is addressed with sensitivity that is admirable. While it often toys with the intellect with respect to visual depictions of the struggles related to these issues, not once does it succumb to graphic visuals, which is testament to the quality of filmmaking and the strength of the narrative in implying what it needs to without showing it (because it would have been very easy to give in to the temptation to add shock value and still draw praises). Well done Ms. Jabbar!
My DVD is censored for language (which means there are occasional bleeps; I'm not sure if an uncensored version was released), but that works for those of us who believe that the use of expletives is quite obviously (and perhaps unbeknown to the communicator) an admission of the weakness of words that would have been used independent of them :)
There is lots more to like about Ramchand Pakistani, but the two big strengths are its screenplay and the accompanying performances that bring it to life, well enough for its audience to feel the emotional swings of the characters. One would almost want to compare these to strengths of typical Pakistani television shows (or 'drama serials', as they are referred to; they typically contain 13 hour-long episodes, and emphasize screenplay, character development, dialogue and delivery over production values, which are great in this film, though).
The performances are excellent throughout. Nandita Das is outstanding; we expect nothing short of that from her. There's this certain rare combination of acting talent and character assumption that she carries, which she is able to employ here to say more with body language than with words.
Rashid Farooqui is effective first as a teacher in the village, then as a prisoner and concerned father of a fellow inmate.
And the two child artists Syed Fazal Hussain and Navaid Jabbar steal the show with their depiction of Ramchand growing up in prison and finding a way to not hate life despite the miserable reality of his situation.
There is even the beautiful Maria Wasti (pronounced 'Maaryaa', a household name in Pakistan for her drama serials), an Indian policewoman who is Ramchand's confidant while in prison, and a character every movie buff can identify with! I'd rather not give away any more of why that is, it's a definite highlight in the film that deserves to be discovered in stride.
The cinematography is excellent, as is the art direction. Sample these color palettes:
Although used sparingly and to complement the background score (no playback singing involved), the music is delightful, and the team delivering it a brilliant assortment of prominent Indian and Pakistani artists. Music Director Debajyoti Mishra (who has the music to Raincoat (2004) and Chokher Bali (2003) to his credit) works with renowned lyricist Anwar Maqsood to deliver a fine soundtrack which includes the likes of Shubha Mudgal (who gets three excellent tracks), Shafqat Amanat Ali, Allan Faqir and others. There are three Pakistani folk songs as well.
The top two songs (and it's difficult to narrow it down to two) are Phir Wohi Raaste by Shafqat Amanat Ali, which you must save for the film (please stay away from its YouTube clips too), because its integration is phenomenal but part of the climax. (This note added 4/28/2009: Its lyrics and translation are at the bottom of the post.)
The other fantastic song is Allah Megh De by Amanat Ali and Mudgal, which I hope you listened to (it's the song embedded above). It's a very popular Bengali folk song, first recorded in the 1940s by vocalist Abbasuddin Ahmed. Here is his rendition of the song. It has been used in Hindi cinema too. There's this variant composed and sung by S. D. Burman and with lyrics by Shailendra in Guide (1965) starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rahman. And there is this one sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle, with music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and lyrics by Gulzar, from Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein (1977) starring Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini. The version from Ramchand Pakistani holds its own. In each case, it's essentially a prayer for blessings (and rain!).
While it seems increasingly difficult, I hope Ramchand Pakistani is a precursor to more efforts by the South Asian film fraternity to remind us of all the good will that can be shared, within and among countries that remain remarkably (and foolishly, indeed almost disgustingly) oblivious to the long-term consequences (and perhaps -- and I know this sounds pessimistic -- the inevitability) of their unwillingness to give peace a legitimate chance. A splendid film overall, one I would highly recommend. It's a film with a soul, and a delightful undertaking well worth lauding. Want cinema that's real? Don't think twice!
Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
It's featured prominently in the international film festival circuit, for which there's good reason. Here is a compilation of reviews. There's a quiet, confident revival of cinema ongoing in Pakistan. First Khuda Ke Liye (2007), then this! And thank you visitor and commenter Salek for your recommendation -- it finally released on DVD.
My classification: R (for content -- no graphic depictions, but implications are obvious)
Official website: RamchandPakistani.com
Picture source(s): Official site and DVD by Eagle Home Entertainment.
Following the request by visitor Alina, here are the lyrics and my translation to the remarkable song Phir Wohi Raaste.