There is a sublime stillness, a captivating quietude at the heart of this little masterpiece set in the Himalayan hamlet of Munsyari where villagers eke out a living from tourism and shepherding. Women can be seen carrying gigantic bundles of rolled-up grass as they make their Sisyphean way up the hill to their modest homes. Only to return the next day.And the next…
But hang on. This is no touristic porn. Our protagonist Chandra has no time here to gaze at the mountains and the meadows that stretch endlessly. As played by the relatively unknown actress Vinamrata Rai, Chandra has an extraordinarily simple face that conveys an ocean of emotions buried too deep for tears.
This is not a woman who wastes time in feeling sorry for herself. There is too much to do .There is a semi-wastrel of a husband Dharam( well played by Chandan Bisht), two demanding children : a daughter who is growing into a rebellious teenager with a boyfriend and 62,000 followers for her tik-tok videos where she dances to cheap pop number, and a son who after an accident refuses to walk. There is a a sister-in-law who has become a permanent guest after her husband’s death.
Chandra shoulders all the above burdens with a stoicism that scoffs at sentimentality. No Mother India act here. Just the will to get from one day to the next. Writer-director Ajitpal Singh captures the strenuous rhythms of the mundane in a language that is at once simple lucid and captivating. There is no effort to impress us with a sweeping panoramic view of the mountains. In effect Dominique Collins’ extraordinary cinematography captures the ordinary lives as they are , the picturesque location is a majestic but mute spectator .
The film is exceptional in its lack of affectations. Writer director Ajitpal Singh opts for a minimalist approach to his ground-level characters living in the mountains. In the central part Vinamrata Rai gives one of the most artless and arresting performances I’ve seen by a leading lady in recent times.She is simply all there, creating a space for her character and her family with diligent dedication.
I wasn’t very convinced by Chandra’s outburst against patriarchal rutualism at the end. Chandra didn’t strike me as a woman who would waste time creating a scene. But then, she is also capable of surprising flashes of protest. She everywoman and yet her own person.She encapsules the eternal enigma of the Great Indian Woman that this film is not keen to explore. There is too much to do in so little time.
Don’t miss this masterpiece. Somebody referred to it as a “festival film”. It is like calling The White Tiger a film about wildlife. Hats off to JAR pictures for producing this sparkling gem of a film. It is a life-enriching experience.
Image source: Instagram/fireinthemountains_film, youtube/indianfilmfestival