When we watch movies about people finding a way to live a normal life in the midst of an adverse socio-political environment, we marvel at their resilience and their will to live. But if any of these characters had a way to interact with their audience, would they turn to us and ask, “What would you rather have us do?”
I wondered about this in the opening scene of Little Terrorist where a little Pakistani boy crawls under a barbed wire fence into a minefield that represents the no-man’s land between India and Pakistan. He does this so that he could retrieve a cricket ball that has fallen there. We may sit here and wonder about his resilience, but think about this for a moment: How many of us have played gully cricket and found ourselves sneaking into that cranky old couple’s home to retrieve a ball that has fallen there? Aside from the little matter of the landmines, isn’t this probably how that kid views it?
Of course, real life has a way of busrting bubbles like these — the kid panicks as a result of some rifle fire from a distant sentry outpost, crawls past the first barbed wire fence he could see and finds himself on the other side of the border. While the border security forces search for what they presume is a terrorist who has slipped across the border, the boy takes refuge in the home of a kindly schoolteacher who can remember playing cricket at the very same withered tree before the barbed wire and the minefields came up.
At the man’s house, his neice makes them some roti for lunch. The boy, who is not given a plate to eat out of, unthinkingly tears off half the roti and drops it into the headmaster’s plate before anyone could prevent him. The man, of course, cannot eat something that a Muslim boy has touched. Even the plate is broken later so it cannot be eaten out of. The boy’s reaction is muted — it took me a minute to realize that, given the level of homogenization on the other side of the border, he probably doesn’t even understand what has just transpired. This may well be the first Hindu family he has encountered in his life.
His innocence and the family’s own awkward attempts to retain both their humanity and their religion are what make Little Terrorist such a pleasure to watch. The themes it tackles seem too heavy for its running time (well under half an hour), yet the movie skips lightly through them by simply focusing on the story and letting the subtext write itself.
It doesn’t seem like a normal life to us. But when it is the life you have, I guess you just get on with it.
ps: Some days ago, I was requested to review a couple of Ashvini Kumar’s short films on the blog. I agreed to do it on the condition that, if they sucked, I could say so. Thankfully, I haven’t had to do that. This one, incidentally, was nominated for the Oscar for Best Short Film in 2005.