The School Bag Short Film Review: The Story Next Door, Film Companion

Director: Dheeraj Jindal

Cast: Rasika Dugal, Sartaaj Kakkar

For much of Large Short Film’s The School Bag’s running length of fifteen minutes, there’s a stillness that allows you to drift away. In fact, it counts on you drifting. And thinking, or reminiscing about less important things. It means that you’re participating in – instead of anticipating – the narrative mood of the sweet little mother-son scenario. The country is Pakistan, but the chemistry is universal. And for most part, this universality trumps regionalism.

A cynic like me sort of expects the worst, because no short film can be so eventless, so cute and dignified without a punch line. I know it’s coming, I don’t want to know it’s coming, which is why I found myself latching onto the love, the banter, the middle-class details and mild temper tantrums, the sulking and the ordinary calm before the storm. It feels like just another day only because it’s not.

I see the way a mother (a lovely Rasika Dugal) gently indulges her son (Sartaaj Kakkar) on the eve of his seventh birthday; the manner in which their unassuming post-school routine invites us into her affection; the way she handily takes off his school uniform, unpacks his bag, goes about her chores and covers his notebook, all through muscle memory; the way she berates, teases and pampers her boy simultaneously; and the all-encompassing fondness she expresses for a child visibly aware that she isn’t the disciplinarian of the family.

In the process, as a viewer, one ends up investing in these small, unhurried moments even more, while being acutely aware of how fleeting they may be in context of a close-ended story being told. Our growing impatience is a result of how these two characters and their day could be a part of so many genres of cinema, right until the dying seconds. The title – the inevitability and innocence of it all – tests and reveals our underlying perspectives about today’s world.

I’m usually not a fan of the way children are made to behave in Hindi films, but it’s hard to not believe the excitement and sounds of little Kakkar. He is equipped with the personality of a bouncing puppy, designed with the purpose of making us miss him when he isn’t on screen. Dugal masters the art of the maternal smile, an achievement that seems all the more significant given what their existence is eventually about. We sense that she knows about as much of her own story at any point of time as we do. She isn’t acting with the knowledge of what is about to happen next. This is the mark of an uncomplicated performance, as if she were writing herself into the future she occupies. Together, they make Dheeraj Jindal’s short an independently tangible experience – without seeming at odds with the spirit of its “inspired from true events” tag.

Watch The School Bag here:

Rating:   star

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