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Based on a true story, it begins in 2002 during a period of extreme tension between Pakistan and India and explores what can happen to innocents caught up in geopolitical crossfire.
When the soldiers discover that the boy, Ramchand (Syed Fazal Hussain), is carrying a slingshot, he is accused of bringing weapons to liberate Kashmir.
He and his parents - his mother, Champa (Nandita Das), and father, Shankar (Rashid Farooqui) - belong to the "untouchable" Dalit caste.
When Shankar searches for Ramchand, he, too, crosses the border marked only by an arc of widely separated white stones and is immediately snatched by the same soldiers. The father and son are carted off to a prison, where they are kept for five years.
The film, which has six screenings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York beginning on Wednesday as part of its ContemporAsianseries, is not the prison horror story that it at first appears to be.
There is no torture or starvation in the camp, where the father and son sleep on the floor of a crowded dormitory and do menial chores. The daily diet consists of lentils and potatoes.
The movie crosscuts between scenes of the father and son in prison and of Champa struggling to survive alone without word of her family. During much of their stay in India, Ramchand and Shankar are unregistered prisoners, so that they might as well be dead.
Champa eventually gives up hope of a reunion, and late in the movie, she carries on a discreet flirtation with a man of a higher caste that brings its own kind of trouble.
At the military encampment, Ramchand becomes the servant of a female military official of a higher caste who, to the boy's chagrin, treats him disdainfully. But over the years, a bond develops between them, and she eventually bestows a peck on his cheek.
Suddenly, the story leaps ahead four years, and the pubescent Ramchand is played by a different actor (Navaid Jabbar).
Ramchand Pakistani has elements of a Bollywood film, but the short, festive musical interludes are not full-scale production numbers. The flute-based music is quietly seductive and lulling, and the cinematography lends the desert landscape a hallucinatory beauty.
The loose-jointed screenplay by Javed Jabbar and Mohammad Ahmed doesn't build up conventional dramatic tension and makes eccentric narrative leaps that undercut its continuity.
Jabbar's female perspective is palpable throughout the film, especially in the scenes in which Champa stands up to her exploitative bosses on the farm where she harvests wheat and sugar cane and demands money that is due her.
The prison environment, for its hardships, is remarkably harmonious. Fights break out, but are settled, and the punishments meted out are mild.
The co-existence of Muslims and Hindus in the same prison is for the most part peaceful, and the Hindu caste system is relaxed.
As the production notes state, Ramchand and his parents live at "the bottom of a discriminatory religious ladder and an insensitive social system, which is, nevertheless, tolerant, inclusive and pluralistic."
For all the trials its characters endure, you might almost describe Ramchand Pakistani as a happy movie: too happy to be entirely believed.