At one point in Ramchand Pakistani, Shankar, a poor Dalit farmer from Pakistan, who is rotting in an Indian jail because he inadvertently followed his son Ramchand into India, furiously tells his son that its all his fault.
The eight-year-old boy looks shattered and slowly his eyes brim with tears. It's moments like these that stay with you even when debutant director Mehreen Jabbar's film becomes a ponderous test of patience. Working from a true-life incident, Mehreen tells the story of a loving family that falls apart when the defiant boy has an innocuous quarrel with his mother and storms off. He unknowingly crosses the India-Pakistan border. His father follows him. Both are arrested and spend the next five years in jail.
Ramchand Pakistani underlines the human cost of geopolitics. When an Indian policeman asks Shankar if he has read the news about their respective armies amassing at the border, the farmer says no. His concerns are more basic: his son who refuses to go to school, his wife who loves surma and the 50,000 rupees loan he has taken.
And yet, the long and bloody history of the two countries, keep Shankar and Ramchand in prison. Of course the irony is that being a low-cast Hindu, Shankar is at the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy in Pakistan. This story is rich in emotion and drama. Jabbar's heart is in the right place and her intentions are noble.
But in cinema, that is never enough. The telling of this tale is crushingly slow and often clumsy. Mehreen, working from a screenplay by her father and producer Javed Jabbar, sets up the tragedy skillfully but then, for far too long, the story stays still.
The writing is thin and the characters in the Indian jail aren't engaging enough to sustain the scenes. Soon enough, the parallel track of Ramchand's long-suffering mother, played by Nandita Das, also starts to sputter.
Thankfully, the bumpy narrative tracks converge into a predictable but immensely moving climax. The actors, Fazal Hussain playing Ramchand and Rashid Farooqui, playing his father, are very good. They give the film an emotional heft.
See Ramchand Pakistani for their performances. But be prepared to be patient.