The School Bag review: Child actor Sartaaj RK steals the spotlight in this short film
Tragedy films are, quite often, sad in tone by virtue of only their plot (and not other aspects, like acting) and we may or may not connect to them.
A tragedy film that is successful is one where you instantly connect to and empathise with the characters, and feel heart-broken when they are not happy. The School Bag, starring Rasika Dugal and child actor Sartaaj RK manages to make you feel all these things in just 15 minutes.
This short film is about a loving but not indulgent mother and her son, who tries very hard to get his way, but behaves himself out of love for her. The son, Farooq, insists that his mother buy him a new bag and when she disagrees, he throws a fit.
She eventually does end up buying it for him, but regrets this decision in retrospect. It chronicles the events of one day and night, but exposes the viewer to several aspects of their relationship, such as a possible poor financial situation and a strained marriage.
The School Bag truly shines in those shots where the equation between Dugal and Sartaaj's characters is shown without the use of dialogues, relying more on slow-motion visuals and music. It also manages to humanise both characters at a time when everything Pakistani is looked at with suspicion, and it achieves this through a subtle but powerful manner.
You will not imagine that the story is set in Pakistan until you are told that they live in Peshawar, because the focus is the bond of the protagonists. In a sense, this allows the viewer to empathise more with the mother.
Rasika seems comfortable in her role, but the real star is Sartaaj and you can tell that he is a good actor by the way he emotes in various scenes, such as the namaaz one. It doesn't hurt that he has great screen presence and an adorable face, but sadly, the lines given to him sound a tad bit too mature for a child. This makes his character seem too scripted at times.
This film is reminiscent of the story-telling style of many Partition writers, like Gulzar and Saadat Hasan Manto. It juxtaposes the gentleness and warmth of the mother-son relationship with the tragedy of terrorism, and the pathos at the end when the child's school bag is delivered is natural.
Watch The School Bag here: