Call Of The Mountains

It’s a pity that some very beautiful films made in other regions of India are not seen outside of the film festival circuit. Praveen Morchhale’s Walking With The Wind is a feast for the eye and the soul. It has been to international festivals, won awards and this year, got three National Awards for Best Ladakhi Film, Best Sound Design (Sanal George) and Best Re-Recording (Justin K Jose).

The film is dedicated to Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, takes its title from a poem by him, and is inspired by his heart-warming film Where Is The Friend’s Home? (1987) in which a little boy brings a classmate’s notebook home by mistake and is worried that if his friend is unable to do his homework, he will be punished; so he embarks on a journey to find the other boy’s home to return the book.

Morchhale has set his film against the vast and stunning landscape of rural Ladakh, where modernity is seen in glimpses of buses, cell phones (getting a signal is a hassle, though), packaged biscuits and plastic buckets, but the village has stopped in time, and is no hurry to catch up. A group of old men gathered at the tea shop read a six-month old newspaper sure that nothing much changes in that time.

In his calm village, Tsering (Sonam Wangyal) is alone in class one day when he climbs on a chair to catch a butterfly and breaks it. As a temporary measure he wraps a scarf around the broken leg to hold it in place, but when everyone has left for the day, he takes out the chair with the idea of getting it repaired.  His friend sits on the chair and the boy is concerned about how he will give an exam on a broken chair.

In the village, taking a chair to a carpenter is not all that easy. First of all, Tsering has to lug it over the seven kilometres he has to cover to get to school on his donkey.  He hides the chair in a cave and sets about trying to get some money for the repair.

Tsering’s family—father, mother (pregnant) and sister—live in a pretty, traditional home with daintily painted furniture, exquisite pottery and rugs. But they barely make ends meet with their small farm; the father works as a guide for tourists and they offer home stays too.  The family is worried because the wheat harvest is late, the snow melted early and the number of tourists has dropped. (Without underlining, a point about environmental deterioration is made.)

The child is hardworking and sweet-natured, running about doing errands for his parents without complaint, and through his trips around the village, the cinematographer (Iranian DOP Mohammed Reza Jahanpanah) captures the beauty of the mountain state, the trees, steams, quaint houses, traditional clothes and the simplicity of the people. In its only blatantly touristy departure from the story, the film takes a diversion to the colourful and crowded Hemis Festival.

The filmmaker respects the silence of that lifestyle without the external din of television or computers, there is very little dialogue, words are not wasted in explanation or exposition. Morchhale has used real characters from the village where he has shot in real lived-in homes in Yangthang

A man watching, sitting at a bus-stop tells a blind man by his side, that there is something not normal about the village because everybody is a philosopher. Tsering stands for the innocence and purity of a culture that may not remain for too long. Soon, urbanisation will shatter the peace of the mountains, but till then, a teacher will talk to his students about inner happiness, a farmer will helpfully divert water so that the little boy can grind wheat for his mother and a child will stop in his tracks, put aside his worries for a while and frolic under a small waterfall.

(Deepa Gahlot is a critic, columnist, editor, author and curator)