Kino Lorber
Reviewed for &, linked to Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Ajitpal Singh
Screenwriter: Ajitpal Singh
Starring: Vinamrata Rai, Chandan Bisht, Harshita Tiwari, Mayank Singh Jaira, Sonal Jha
Screening on: Critics’ link, NYC, 03/05/22
Opening: May 20, 2022 at the Film Forum in New York. Broadcast July 19, 2022.

Are you more of a mountain or more of a seaside person? Do you like to go on vacation to safe places that speak your language or exotic destinations whose written language resembles a secret code? Are you willing to pay $1000 a night at Portnall Rise in London or would you prefer something more reasonable? You have completed a questionnaire given to you by your travel agency. It turns out you’ll be opting for exotic landscapes, a strange language, mountain views, budget accommodations. We have just the place and here is a movie to describe it more accurately than mere words can.

The film shown to the tourist family is “Fire in the Mountains”, which takes place near the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, possible near Kumaon where for 1000 rupees a day ($13) you get amenities like satellite TV and Indian toilets (don’t ask). You might be invited to watch their jagar, which is a ritual with music in honor of the spiritual ancestors of the locals. But you probably wouldn’t be invited into the ramshackle home of Chandra (Vinamrata Rai) and her husband Dharam (Chandan Bisht), who regularly argue over how to deal with their brooding son Prakash (Mayank Singh Jaira), who, for for unexplained reasons, depends on a wheelchair because he has not been able to walk for several months.

Chandra saves her rupees to have her boy treated by a doctor, who administers a foot bath that passes for physiotherapy. Dharam believes a shaman can heal him and steals his wife’s money, when he can find it in a hiding place. We watch the doctor and then the guru administer the boy, the latter in the company of only the father, but neither protocol looks promising. Chandra hopes the government will build a road, which will make it easy for her basic hotel to attract tourists. Radio broadcasts touting a running trip by the Prime Minister to rural areas promise the road, possibly to start “this Saturday”, but all the government really chooses to prioritize is making money. India a developed country while at the same time large masses of the population lack the basics like running water and electricity.

In a climax that regresses into violence, the local population welcomes their deceased ancestors, where Chandra, who has always given little thought to spiritual services, dances frantically as if taking part in a voodoo ceremony in Port-au-Prince. So what does writer-director Ajitpal Singh in his daring freshman feature want us to go again? While making sure we see the stunning mountain views as green as the Irish coast and the waterfalls that may not rival Niagara’s but look quite impressive against the snow capped mountain peaks, he nails New Delhi government for promising but failing. He sees Chandra as a feminist heroine who carries her son up the hill and whose attendance threatens her often drunken husband. Above all, it tells a solid and haunting story of the kind of life that millions of South Asians live, the poverty-stricken people giving vent to emotions similar to those of people in much better circumstances.

In Hindi with English subtitles.

84 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Interim -A-
Overall – B+

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