Archana Phadke and Avani Rai’s ‘Panpompar’ (moth) is a short film produced by Quint which provides an insight on the lives of the innocent children of Kashmir. The film is available on YouTube.
Directed by- Archana Phadke
A film by- Archana Phadke and Avani Rai
Story by- Archana Phadke
Cast- Nowsheen Bakshi, Ahsaan Zahoor Wani, Nusrat Shafi Bakshi
The film opens dramatically with a 7-8 year old girl getting ready for school. In the very next scene, we find that her mother is not giving any response, just like a living ghost. Later, the little girl is seen crossing a deserted street where shop shutters are down, with sedition slogans suchlike Azaadi and Go India Go Back painted on them.
On her way to school, two little boys go past telling her “Nowsheen come soon. Otherwise you will be kicked out of school.” And she abruptly stops. The conversation brings back old memories. It reminds her of a similar day when she escaped from mob violence enroute school. She picks up pace and comes back home. Next day again, Nowsheen calls Mumma who doesn’t answer; she then wakes up her little brother Ahsan and goes to school through the motionless streets of Kashmir.
Amidst the uncanny milieu, there are moments where Nowsheen and Ahsan play hide and seek. She searches for Ahsan everywhere, even inside a shelf. The brother-sister duo fight, play, go to school, walk up to the broken-down building, and shout each other’s name to cause echo. The children are gullible, they are naive. But their innocence is in stark contrast to the upheaval in the backdrop. They bust a gut to live a routine life. But the life is anything but ‘normal’. There is a strange abnormality due to the clampdown in the ‘paradise on earth’.
In fact, there is a scene where Nowsheen can be seen from a distance, sitting in a corner of a corridor, absolutely quiet. In the background, we hear rabble-rousing by the miscreants at the top of their voice: “jis Kashmir ko khoon se sincha…wo Kashmir humara hain” (“the Kashmir we have irrigated with our blood, that Kashmir is ours”). And the visual aptly conveys the mental state of this young child. She is frightened to death. Her blank stares are evidence of her vulnerability. And hopelessness.
The way ‘Panpompar’ is filmed by Phadke and Rai shows exactly what it wants to tell. The film seems without any punctuations. The scenes are very crisp, and seem to seamlessly jump into the next shot one after the other. This jump-cut narrative is used in order to show there is no lyricism in life. There is no synchronisation in the harsh life being led within these surroundings, a consequence of the unceasing Kashmir conflict, resulting in the violent disorder in everyday life, specially of the children caught in the crossfire.
One day, Nowsheen goes to a park and a larva catches her attention. She brings it home and puts it inside a jar. Sleeps with it, plays drum for it, keeps it under Sun’s rays, places the jar on her head for night dews to fall on it and stares at it with hope. With twinkling eyes. The way this little girl nurtures a larva to grow into a butterfly symbolizes her own desire to have a ‘normal’ life and outgrow the unrest in the valley. Even though her hope seems to dissolve in the fragmented life inside the valley. But will the larva survive, unlike her hope? Will they be able to cross river Wular, and enjoy the fruits hanging on the trees on the other side of the riverbank?
Once known as the ‘Paradise on Earth’, Kashmir has been racked by violence for almost three decades now. The conflict kept alive by Pakistan for its own political gains has fired the insurgency in the valley and made it a way of life. And terrorists don’t shy away from vandalizing even schools across the valley to force a lockdown. Big incidents apart, even small episodes are enough to ignite massive apprehension in the region. And amidst all the chaos, who is suffering the most? Who is carrying the burden of it all? Even when the schools are open, jittery parents refuse to send their children to school, fearing for their safety. Nowsheen, Ahsan, the quiet mother and the eerie streets are the reflection of ‘that’ Kashmir only. Where a whole generation is growing up yearning to see the ‘normal’, which seems as far away as the fruit bearing trees on the other side of the Wular river!