For the past decade, Indian children’s films have tackled issues that the mainstream dare not. From bullying and child abuse in Amole Gupte’s Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) to poverty in the National award-winning Tamil film Kaaka Muttai (2016), these films have explored topics most children remain unaware of.
In first-time filmmaker Paakhi A Tyrewala’s Sikkimese film, Pahuna: The Little Visitors, three children escape unrest in their home country, Nepal, and arrive to make their home in India.
In the news these days, stories of refugees fleeing their homes and rebuilding their lives are frequent. Tyrewala’s story brings us into the small Nepalese family consisting of three children and their parents. Amrita is the oldest, followed by Pranay and baby Bishal. They flee with their neighbours from their Nepalese village, while their mother stays back to check on their father who has taken a different route so the family can escape.
While they make the long and arduous journey, by road and on foot into India and the neighbouring state of Sikkim, little Pranay accidentally overhears their final destination. The group will go to a church in Pelling for refuge. One man, Rai uncle, loudly protests. They will make you forget your gods and the priests eat babies, he baldly claims.
It’s enough to spook Pranay who shares this information with Amrita. They break away from the rest of the group and hide away in the dense forest. Luckily, the children find an abandoned van which they make into a makeshift home for themselves. There, they decide, they will wait for their mother.
As the days pass, Amrita and Pranay get resourceful and use their smarts to survive in the woods. There are many cute scenes of the children making the van their home in the woods. Against all odds, they fulfil their promise to their mother to take care of their baby brother and of each other.
So Pranay is there for his sister even though he is afraid of the dark and Amrita takes up a job helping a kind, expectant woman with odd chores around the house for food and money to keep them going.
Of course, their idyllic haven doesn’t last forever. Their home and Bishal are eventually discovered. How will Amrita and Pranay reunite the family?
Tyrewala’s film presents a dire situation, but it’s soon expected that all’s well that ends well. The stakes are never too high in this harmless film.
The adults that Amrita and Pranay encounter are all helpful and non-threatening. While their overactive imaginations might get the better of them, the real world in this film will not. The circumstances of their exile from Nepal are never fully explained; the details are kept vague throughout.
However, you forgive the lack of realism due to the charm of little Ishika Gurung and Anmoul Limboo who sell the story by Tyrewala. The dialogues by Biswas Timshina ground the children with their concerns and naivety of how the world works. But it is ultimately the children, Gurung and Limboo, who endear themselves to you with their zest to make it, no matter what.
Sikkim and its surroundings are beautifully shot in Pahuna by cinematographer Ragul Dharuman, while the original songs composed by Sagar Desai are pleasant. A surprise cameo by Bhaichung Bhutia will bring a smile to football fans and children alike.
Co-produced by the Children’s Film Society of India and Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures, Pahuna is an innocent, simplistic look at the refugee crisis. But the emotions and lessons it brings up could help introduce to children about the larger, more complex realities of the world.
Review by : Sonal Pandya/Cinestaan