A young girl in a small village in Kashmir studies late into the nights. One day, as she goes to bed, the eight-year-old realises that the cross-border shelling may be a function of her sleep, that the gunfire may possibly stop if she stays awake. The girl, Nooreh, is the protagonist of Ashish Pandey’s titular short film. The 22-minute short explores the mind of a child growing up in a region perpetually ridden with strife. The film recently premiered at the 23rd Busan International Film Festival where it also bagged the Sonje Award, the top award in the short film category.
Pandey is unable to pinpoint the moment when the unusual story idea struck him, but he says that it is rooted in his intention to explore how strife and unrest impact children in places such as Kashmir. “For instance, during the recce for the film, we noticed that many schools in villages close to the border are equipped with underground bunkers in case of heavy shelling. But on peaceful days, children often go eat their lunch in these spaces, laughing and chatting.
The poignancy of the situation is obvious to the ones looking from a distance but to the children, this is part of their ‘normal’. This is the aspect of their lives I wanted to explore,” Pandey explains. Nooreh’s “realisation”, however, turns into a determination to stay awake when the principal announces that the school will be closed down due to extensive gunfire.
Nooreh is Pandey’s third short film after The Cabin Man (2007) and Open Doors (2011). The filmmaker, who works in the television industry, has been working on the short film format before he readies for a feature film debut. Currently based in Mumbai, Pandey is from Nagpur. All his three films, interestingly, explore the nuances in the lives of largely invisible people. For instance, Pandey’s debut film revolves around a cabin man’s life in a small town after it stopped being a halt for trains.
Similarly, Nooreh follows the little girl as she goes about her day. Shot in the local dialect in a village near the India-Pakistan border, it has locals as actors. Transitioning between day and night, the film depicts the dystopian reality of the lives of children in any region that has been witnessing strife. “The day shots are all lighter in tone, representing hope. The scenes shot in the night, which show Nooreh’s struggle to stay awake as the shelling goes on in the distance, have been shot in limited light,” says the 45-year-old filmmaker.