Shankar, his wife Champa, and their eight-year-old son Ramchand, members of a Hindu caste of untouchables, live an idyllic life in the village of Bhimra, at the eastern border of Pakistan. Shankar is a farmer and teacher, Champa makes a comfortable home for her family, and mischievous, spoiled, headstrong son Ramchand would rather herd goats all day than go to school. One morning, after a disagreement with his mother, Ramchand storms off to pout and unwittingly wanders across the border into India, where he is immediately taken captive by the military guards. And when his father comes looking for him, he is taken prisoner as well. Shankar and Ramchand are transported to a prison, where they are placed in a cell with a group of unregistered inmates, some of whom have been imprisoned for years while awaiting paperwork to be processed for their release.
Prison life is difficult, tedious and crowded, and although they are not starved or beaten, they are still made painfully aware of their ‘untouchable’ social status. Ramchand is assigned to attend to the quarters of a female military officer who makes him bathe before entering, and will not allow him to touch her or her personal belongings. Back home in Bhimra, Champa waits faithfully for her husband and son to return, until her brother-in-law Suresh coerces her to go with the villagers to work on a plantation to pay off the mounting family debts. With doubt bordering on desperation, and untold miles separating her from her loved ones, she wonders if they will ever be reunited.
Based on a true story, Ramchand Pakistani is an even-handed yet heartbreaking story, told with pathos and purpose. While the circumstances are deserving of outrage, the family accepts its fate with grace and humility, without giving up hope. And with defiant dignity, Ramchand teaches his captors the meaning of compassion.
Join me this week on Chopstick Cinema for a closer look at the Asian entries in the 2009 Cinequest Film Festival, which opens on Wednesday, February 25 and runs through Sunday, March 8. For further information on the film and the festival, visit the Cinequest website.
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