The Great Escape

A debut short film captures the story of a boy’s struggle to stay alive during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published: August 29, 2013 4:46 am

Good stories have a haunting way of remaining in our consciousness. So when 22-year-old Shubhashish Bhutiani was looking for a story for his final year filmmaking project,he was reminded of an incident he had heard of during his school days. “Our economics teacher in Class X told us about her travel in a school bus with children from Rajasthan to Mussoorie,during the 1984 anti-Sikh protests. There was a Sikh boy in that bus and she was concerned for his safety until they reached,” says Bhutiani. He has adapted parts of that story into a 20-minute short film,Kush. The film is India’s only official entry this year to the Venice International Film Festival,in the “Orizzonti” (new trends in cinema) category. Bhutiani,a recent graduate from the School of Visual Arts,New York,briefly assisted filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj,for the shooting of Kaminey in 2009,when he was in high school.

Bhutiani’s debut film focuses on a Sikh boy,Kush,who is returning from a field trip with his classmates accompanied by their teacher. Set against the backdrop of the anti-Sikh violence,the story evolves from how this teacher succeeds in bringing Kush back safely,along with the rest of the children. Though Bhutiani has not attributed any particular location to the story,he says it is loosely set somewhere in north India. “I always had the story in my head. But the racial violence against Sikhs in Wisconsin,USA,and the school shootings that took place in Connecticut,prompted me to make the film. Beyond the political overtones,this story is about compassion,about one human being helping another,” he says. In the film,it’s a level playing field where children are oblivious to religion and race.

Bhutiani shot the film in January this year,at Sanjay Gandhi National Park,Mumbai,and in the outskirts of Mumbai. The cast comprises 17 children who have never acted and small time actors such as Brijender Kala and Sonika Chopra. “Everyone worked on goodwill and people hardly took any money. For the cast and production,Bhutiani was resourceful in using help from his parents. “My mother helped out by getting children from her church. And my father’s production company pitched in with the production work of the film,” says Bhutianai.

Bhutiani shot the film on a shoestring budget of approximately US $ 9,000 (approximately Rs 6,11,900),which he got through three grants from the School of Visual Arts. The editing process however,took eight months. He has no certain plans for an India release,“I will keep the film with me until something interesting happens,” he says.

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