Pashi movie review: Seemingly gentle story of love and desire that grows increasingly complex

Anupam Kant Verma

May 04, 2018 20:15:14 IST

3.5/5

Pashi, directed by Siddharth Chauhan, was in-competition in the short film category at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, 2018. Chauhan is an independent filmmaker from Himachal Pradesh and he’s shot the film in and around his ancestral village. Owing to its mountainous setting, Pashi never lacks atmosphere. The young director proves his mettle by using these surroundings judiciously in telling a seemingly gentle story of love and desire that becomes more and more emotionally complex with the passage of time. The end result is a smart piece of storytelling that isn’t afraid to take risks.

Ashish is a school-going teenager living in a Himalayan village with his mother and grandparents. He spends his time roaming around in the woods with his friends. It is from one of them that he first hears of Pashi, an ancient art of trapping birds, which he then tries learning from his grandmother. Simultaneously, he finds himself getting attracted to a young man staying at the inn run by his family. For a young boy coming to terms with his sexuality, Ashish finds himself at a loss about expressing his feelings for the man. As his desire threatens to overwhelm his senses, the narrative begins to hurtle towards an unprecedented, tragic end.

Still from Pashi

Still from Pashi

Pashi impresses you most with its intrepid storytelling. Chauhan’s commitment to his story is palpable in the dexterity with which he uses his spare, simple style to gradually start scratching the surface and reveal his characters’ motives and hidden inner lives. The film abounds in wide angle shots, some of which shall linger with the audience for some time. But he laudably resists the temptation to exploit the landscape, instead choosing to use all the tools at his disposal to further articulate his characters. Pashi, the method used to trap birds, could easily have come across as a heavy handed metaphor for the razor’s edge of desire. For a few minutes at the beginning of the film, it even threatens to overrrun an otherwise engrossing film. But Chauhan’s storytelling skills kick in at just the right moment — aided by the two dream sequences — and ferry the audience through this 31-minute drama.

Pashi’s narrative mirrors the ebb and flow of Ashish’s mind. Our protagonist is introduced as a gentle soul who is later blown hither-thither by the waves of desire. Chauhan takes his good time chiseling his character, for the fate of the film depends on the conviction with which the audience puts its faith in him. Chetan Kanwar brings an innocent charm to his portrayal of our young Werther. Even when his actions threaten to question our moral judgement, the innocence underlying his motivations maintains our empathy for him. The acting, on the whole, gets better as the film progresses, reaching its acme at moments of high drama and tragedy. For a film that’s emerged from Himachal Pradesh, whose film industry, hitherto non-existent, is only beginning to take baby steps, Pashi’s minor hiccoughs can be interpreted as opportunities for a new breed of filmmakers to take off from.

Pashi is by all means an ambitious dramatic production. From its runtime to its themes and the many storytelling risks it takes, the film is edifying in more ways than one. You come out in thrall to the handful of outstanding images and the genuine empathy that shows in every single frame. Ashish has more than one lesson to learn about life as he grows through the narrative. Tragically, they come perhaps too soon and all at once. He finds the present at the mercy of the past, both remaining out of reach, despite his best efforts to contain their influence. His actions bring us perilously close to judging him when we are suddenly thrown headlong into the pit of his emotional turmoil. Something bigger and more imperious is about to crush his soul beneath its weight. We have no choice but to hope he recovers and somehow emerges stronger on the other side of this darkness. We are drawn back to the image of a trapped bird helplessly trying to escape from the Pashi, and we can’t help but imagine Ashish in the long shadow of a massive stone that has no choice but to fall upon its prey.

Updated Date: May 04, 2018 20:15 PM