After the first half of the year gone by breezily with high content films, the recent spell of mediocre fare has been disappointing for film buffs. However, it was during this lean period that I made a happy discovery—I had the link to Priya Ramasubban’s Chuskit, a film that had won the Golden Gateway Award for Best Feature in the Half Ticket segment at the 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star, in my Inbox.
My curiosity aroused, I soon found myself completely immersed in the world of Chuskit played marvelously by Jigmet Dewa Lhamo. Priya Ramasubban’s film set in the picturesque Ladakh is about a young, happy-go-lucky girl who finds herself partially immobile after an accident and her subsequent travails. Sitting on her bed, Chuskit gazes longingly at her friends and dreams of going to school with them.
Fortunately, Chuskit’s family comprising of her parents, brother and grandfather are empathetic, each trying to help in their own way but none, least of all her grandfather, can completely understand the young one’s frustration at being contained within the confines of her house. Anyone who has ever had their very existence restricted will tell you what an ordeal it is.
Chuskit, and what it says about lack of adequate measures for those with a physical disability (or shortcomings) appealed to me almost instantly. It resonated personally with me because it made me relive the time when my face was partially paralysed after a nasty fall that I took from a speeding bus and how deeply agonizing it was to realize that the way I ate, slept or looked would be determined by that misfortune. Each morning, as the sun rose, so did my hopes and I ran to the mirror to check if my face had fallen back into normalcy and by evening my heart would have sunk back into disappointing recesses. And so it went on till miraculously, my grandmother took me to a Homeopathic doctor who I believe set me on the path to recovery.
Chuskit, even though it may end up being tagged as children’s film has an underlying maturity that resonates with both adults and children. Children’s stories are often simplistic and lack nuance but Chuskit is impressive in examining not just the disappointment of its young protagonist but also that of the grown-ups. Ramasubban, the director of the film is adept in her handling of the material she has. The film-maker brings her rich experience of making films and documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery and History channels to the film. That Ramasubban was among the six chosen for NFDC’s screenwriter’s lab only helps bring alive the poignant, almost pastoral story which was inspired by her sister’s work in Ladakh where she spent almost a decade living and working with differently-abled children.
Says Ramasubban, who has layered the film with sensitivity, “I always thought of this film as a family film… adults will get more of a tug at their hearts than children perhaps. I think children generally are talked down to and things are oversimplified when they don’t need to be and so I tried to stay clear of such a patronising approach in the writing.”
Directing the film, according to her was easy as the main actor – Jigmet Dewa Lhamo – was excellent, not just as an actor but also in her maturity in understanding what was meant in the script.
“Seeing her understanding of the script during the shoot it already reinforced to me that kids would ‘get’ the film easily.”
Another remarkable feature of Chuskit is the fact that it does not merely use Leh-Ladakh as a beautiful landscape—it is a story of Chuskit who is from Ladakh. The film is set in a remote fictional village in Ladakh but it was shot in two villages close to Leh. The attention to local minutiae – traditions, the monasteries, living conditions and local issues is impressive as mainstream films often struggle to capture the flavour of the geography they frame their story with.
As for connecting with the locals and finding the perfect cast, Ramasubban hands the credit to her sister and other collaborators. “Since my sister lived in Ladakh she was very connected to many people there and one person, Chetan Angchok, has worked with children in theatre and he was the one who brought kids in for the casting calls. And Dewa was the best actor among the more than 30 kids we saw…by a long shot. We had two schedules for the shoot and a lot of our crew was local and we only flew in less than 20 people from outside, so it was a wonderful experience working so closely with people from Ladakh.”
The film premiered at the prestigious Giffoni Film Festival in Italy and won the Amnesty International Award there. It won the Golden Gateway Award for Best Feature in its category at the 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star and has won a few awards at a festival in Chile and is about to travel to Finland, Iran, US, Canada and more.
“We’re excited to see where else this film will take us,” says the director.
As are we. At a time when India seems poised to make its mark in the world cinema category, it would be encouraging to see the film pick up more accolades around the world.