At the morning screening for the Shorts for Young Adults section at Dharamshala International Film Festival, the first two rows of seats were reserved for the local kids. For the multiple unsuspecting attendees who hopped onto the reseved seats, volunteers gently advised them to grab a seat behind instead. The kids arrived shortly around 10:30 AM, dressed in their school uniform, somewhat surprised. The youngest of them was a girl, who sat with her mother, who informed her of what was happening on screen. For the words moved too fast, and the language(s) not really known. Two of the short films were in Kumaoni – Arun Fulara’s Shera, and Daanish Shastri’s Sadak, and the other in Rajasthani- Chandradeep Singh Rathore’s Morchang. (Also read: Fallen Leaves review: Aki Kaurismäki delivers a compact, life-affirming triumph in one of the finest films of the year)
The first one to screen was Arun Fulara’s short Shera. At the heart of this deeply moving film lies a shepherd, whose lurking presence is the cause of trouble for the small Himalayan village. For Monu (Sagar Kumar) and Raju (Parth Panday) , the two young childhood friends who run about and listen to the myriad of stories related to the leopard, curiosity has reached an all time high. But it is Monu’s family who is adamant to move out of the village and settle down in the city. Raju wants to hatch a perfect plan for both of them to catch the sight of Shera one last time. Capturing the bittersweet innocence of childhood, filled with wonder and joy and heartbreak, Shera is underlined with stunning sound design by Devraj Bhaumik and Rangoli Agarwal’s effective camerawork.
Next, it was time for Chandradeep Singh Rathore’s Morchang, unfolding like a fable within a fable. The 24 minute-long short opens with a talented young boy named Sarwar (Irfan Khan), performing a local song, much to the admiration of the crowd. Yet, the earnings are too meagre for his family of nomads to survive. His grandmother narrates him magical folk tales, but is there any magic left in this desert? Morchang might feel a little too packed for its runtime and diffuses its energy in some places, but there’s no denying the film’s spirited, wondrous core. I wanted to sit back and get lost in its world.
The last, and undoubtedly the one that generated an enthusiastic response was Daanish Shastri’s Sadak. The director, who was also present in the QnA session afterwards, revealed that the child actors in the film came up with their own imaginary stories of revenge during workshops. Sadak revolves around a bunch of local kids who hatch a plan to teach a lesson to the superstitious, fraudulent contractor. Responsible for the construction of a pukka road, he saves half the government money in his pocket. The roads do not even last for six months. What a delicious and entertaining film Rathore has made, hiding a furious core underneath.
There was something special about watching these films along with a young audience, to witness new ideas and images pouring down from the screen like a dream. Too often, contradiction takes the place of curiosity, anger arriving in place of intrigue. Shera, Morchang and Sadak offered beautiful reminders that beauty can exist alongside danger, that ideas never really age. There’s also magic left somewhere hidden in plain sight, in stories and conversations, if only one’s looking. At Dharamshala, you might miss a movie or two because of the tight schedule, but there’s no missing these little moments of truth.
Santanu Das is covering the 12th Dharamshala International Film Festival as part of the accredited media.