Three children — Amrita, Pranay and Bishal — are fleeing their home in Nepal when they get separated from their parents. They make their way to India and enter Sikkim, but need to fend for themselves in an unknown land. To complicate matters, Bishal is an infant and the two need to look after him. That is the story of India’s first Sikkimese film, Pahuna – The Little Visitors, which was screened last week in the Capital, at Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth. It was released nationwide earlier this month.
In the Northeast and Nepal, the movie is drawing houseful audiences. “It is completely shot in Sikkim with actors, singers and lyricists from there. In Sikkim, it is usually films from Nepal that play in the theatres. Pahuna turned that around,” says Paakhi A Tyrewala, 36, who made her directorial debut with the film.
Produced by Purple Pebble Pictures — owned by Priyanka Chopra and her mother Madhu Chopra — and Children’s Film Society, India, the film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, where it won the Best Film (Jury Choice) award. It also got special mention by the Professional Jury in the International Feature Film Category at SCHLINGEL International Children’s Film Festival in Germany. “I made the film with the intention to show Sikkim to the world, because it’s one of the most ignored states in the country,” says Tyrewala. The director was also instrumental in getting music composer AR Rahman on board as brand ambassador of the state and is working with the government to create a platform for performing arts in the state.
Tyrewala debuted in Bollywood in 2002 with Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai, and was relaunched by her director husband, Abbas Tyrewala, in the 2010 film Jhootha Hi Sahi. She also worked behind the camera in roles such as casting and production design, but has now found her calling in directing.
“I had a working mother and, when I came back from school, my elder brother took care of me. I felt he was a father till my parents came and then he was a child again. My protection, health and studies were his responsibilities. I wanted to capture that. When children are left alone, you will see the best in them, as they are survivors. It’s only the adults and their ideas, and their fears that corrupt children,” she says. She had first written the script in Hindi, and thought that she was “lying”. So she rewrote it in English, which was translated and reworked in Nepali by writer Biswas Timshina, 23.
Tyrewala will now start working on a political biopic and another children’s film. “Children need hope. We are giving them only family drama and telling them you have to meet a girl and get married to her. That works negatively. You have to tell children real stories so that they don’t feel undervalued. In Pahuna, the children looking after their brother makes them special enough,” she says.