I’ve known Priya Ramasubban for many years, because of our association with Bangalore’s lakes, and though we’ve talked on the phone, I’d never met her face to face. This was going to change. Her full length feature film Chuskit was going to premiere at the Jio MAMI’s 20th Mumbai Film Festival on 27th October and I had decided that I must plan my time so as to be able to attend the show. I’m sure I wouldn’t have travelled 25 km on a warm Saturday afternoon in Mumbai to watch a Ladakhi children’s movie, directed by a south Indian filmmaker… if it wasn’t for the filmmaker.
For those who may not know, Priya has traveled the world for over fifteen years making films for National Geographic, Discovery, History Channel and other major international broadcasters. She has written and directed Lost Kings of Israel (National Geographic), Divine Delinquents (National Geographic), several episodes on the long-running series Digging for the Truth (History Channel), episodes on the series Into the Unknown (Discovery Channel), an episode on Monster Fish (National Geographic) and several others notable productions. Priya was one of the six people chosen from all over India as a part of a screenwriter’s lab organized by the National Film Development Corporation where she got the opportunity to evolve her story for Chuskit under the mentorship of award-winning Dutch writer Jolein Laarman.
I reached the Matterden Carnival Cinemas in Lower Parel in South Mumbai early enough to be able to do a little socialising. The venue for the screening of the children’s films (the collection was called Half Ticket) of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2018 was a traditional single screen theatre, known to locals as Deepak Talkies. The theatre’s been very comfortably revamped with an ambience that takes me back to the days of Imperial, Plaza and Galaxy in Bangalore.
The film is loosely based on the true story of a paraplegic Ladakhi girl Sonam. The star of the film is Chuskit whose dream of going to school ends when she is rendered a paraplegic after an accident in the winter snow. While her friends start school, Chuskit is confined indoors and generally has her strict grandfather, Dorje for company. Though the school is inaccessible to those who cannot walk, she continues to be hopeful of going to school. Life at home gets harder with regular battles with her grandfather who tries to make her understand that school can’t handle her needs. Caught in between their struggle are Chuskit’s parents and her enterprising brother who want to respect the old world views that Dorje represents, but also want to keep Chuskit’s spirit alive. Chuskit will have to get her grandfather to yield or she will have to accept the reality he has chosen for her. (I don’t want to be a spoiler and reveal beyond the information made available to the press.)
The film was great! Beautiful scenery in Ladakh, fresh faces on the big screen, good acting, music that lingers, and an inclusive story line with readable English subtitles. The film does well in capturing the day to day life of people who live in the hilly villages of north India and gives us glimpses of the Buddhist traditions that they follow. 90 minutes well spent, if you are fortunate to catch a show in your city.
Post the screening, we had an interactive session with members of the Chuskit team. Worth mentioning is that the team had many women – director/screenplay writer, acting coach, producer, costumes, editor, etc. Priya had written the script in English, which was translated into Hindi and then to Ladakhi. All the actors were recruited through local auditions, and filmed fully in Ladakh. We were told that the initial winter snow scenes were shot first and after a point the team didn’t have money to continue shooting. On receipt of fresh funding, shooting resumed after three years, and this was done with the same cast. While changes in the adults are not noticeable, it is interesting to see the children a bit grown up.
There were many children who attended the show and they were provided space outside the cinema hall to write their comments. One comment that struck me said that children’s dreams can come true, and adults shouldn’t ignore them but should help in making the dreams a reality. At a different level, it is not just children, but those who are differently abled (young and old). We need to make our infrastructure and facilities convenient for them to live their lives just as we do. I sincerely hope that this film is able to find distributors who will take it to the masses and to our government, to improve awareness and sensitivity, in the hope of positive action.