Today's Paper

Holding a mirror to prisoners’ issue

Nirupama Subramanian

‘Ramchand Pakistani’ will hit cinemas on Aug. 22

The film, directed by Mehreen Jabbar, has won acclaim

ISLAMABAD: India and Pakistan talk a lot about people-to-people contact, but the manner in which the two states themselves deal with each other’s nationals is easily the worst aspect of their troubled relationship.

Nowhere is this more evident than the way in which Indian and Pakistani prisoners in jails of the other country are treated. Many are held for years for minor or even accidental offences and large numbers end up spending years beyond the sentence handed out to them.

Now for the first time, a young Pakistani film-maker has depicted this inhumanity on the big screen. ‘Ramchand Pakistani,’ a film by Mehreen Jabbar, is also the first by a woman director in this country. It will be released here on August 1 and in India on August 22.

The story

Set against the backdrop of the hostile India-Pakistan atmosphere in 2002, it tells the story of an eight-year-old boy Ramchand, a Pakistani Hindu Dalit living with his family in the windy Thar desert on the border with India. He is arrested by Indian guards for straying across the border, and when his father goes looking for him, he gets caught too. The film is about their time in an Indian prison, and about the grieving mother of Ramchand, who keeps faith that that her husband and son will return one day.

‘Ramchand Pakistani’ has already won critical acclaim at the Tribeca film festival in New York and at New Delhi’s Osian Film Festival. When it premiered last week in Lahore to a select audience that included Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the film received a thundering ovation.

Indian actor Nandita Das plays Ramchand’s mother Champa, while the father is played by Pakistani actor Rashid Farooqui. Two Pakistani child actors, Syed Fazle Hassan and Navaid Jabbar, depict Ramchand at different ages as he grows up in an Indian jail.

The film speaks at many levels. It is firstly a film that cries out loudly to both governments not to use ordinary people as pawns in their games. At another level, as Javaid Jabbar, the film’s producer – he is also the father of the director, a film-maker himself as well as an advertising guru and a politician — pointed out at the screening, ‘Ramchand Pakistani’ is also about Pakistan’s minority Hindu community, and their yearning to return to India. The film also speaks about Hindu-Muslim relations.

The film was shot in the deserts of Sindh province. Mr. Jabbar said Ms. Das was perhaps the first Indian to be allowed into the border areas of that region by the Pakistan Army, which is graciously acknowledged by the film-makers.

Also for the first time, Pakistanis were allowed to film the insides of an Indian prison in Bhuj, with assistance from Indian Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

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