Dir. Batul Mukhtiar
The boundaries of the "children's movie" genre are not always that sharp. Animated tales of talking animals or talking toys, stuffed with silly but innocent humor, are unambiguously children's movies, even if they feature snarky asides or subtexts that only adults appreciate. Movies about children are often, but not always, also movies for children. (Is Beasts of the Southern Wild a children's movie?)
Batul Mukhtiar's Kaphal - Wild Berries is a movie about children, and about other things as well. And it is certainly a children's movie, but it is certainly more than that as well. Set in a remote mountain village and featuring an outcast hermit whom the village children find creepy and supernatural, it invites - and merits - comparison to Vishal Bharadwaj's The Blue Umbrella and Makdee. And like these two movies, Kaphal trandscends its children's movie classification. It does so with a rich, multilayered narrative; Kaphal's deceptively simple story reaches wide-ranging themes.
The Uttarakhand village of Kaphal is a village without young men. All the village's working-age men migrate to the city to find work to support their families, left behind and waiting for them. In exploring this not-uncommon reality of rural India, Kaphal reveals its ripples and reverberations through the entire village and beyond. The boys Makar (Harish Rana) and Kamru (Pawan Negi) boast of their absent father, puffed with both admiration and expectation. When Kailash (Subrat Dutta) finally does return, the boys' reverence for the Kailash of their imaginations is broken, in need of repairs like the beloved remote-control helicopter that the boys chase down switchbacked mountain trails. These themes - absence transforming love almost into legend, the inevitable disappointment of reality - can resonate for kids and grownups alike.
Kailash's own experience adds a subtler, more mature layer to Kaphal's story. Kailash returns home to find that in the village there is literally nothing for him to do. His children don't behave the way he expects them to. And the village hums along without its able-bodied men; all the necessary work is done by those left behind. Kaphal examines with delicacy the effect of this kind of helplessness on Kailash's sense of power, of what it is to be a man and a father. Kaphal also takes on the closed-circuit tendencies of village communities, when the children go searching in the wilderness for Pagli Dadi (Sunita Rajwar), long exiled from the village on superstitions of witchcraft. It is the open minds of the children that begins to bring Pagli Dadi back into the community fold.
As lush as Kaphal's themes - I haven't even touched on all of them - is the movie's canvas. Gorgeously shot by Vivek Shah in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, Kaphal presents a village so vibrant you can almost smell the mossy rocks and mountain earth. Mukhtiar selected local kids for the film, and their native agility as they scramble across steep stony slopes is thoroughly immersive. The natural ease of the children makes them readily relatable to kids and thoroughly charming to adults, as Kaphal works its narrative magic on several levels at once.
Kaphal has been featured in several film festivals. If you have the chance to see this touching, funny, memorable film, do yourself a favor and don't miss it. Check the movie's blog for news.