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Review Hindi

Cinestaan Curates: Kush is a moving film that examines the erosion of humanity in a time of crisis

Release Date: 06 Sep 2013 / 20min

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

Shubhashish Bhutiani's short film is frightfully relevant as it is testimony to the mindless communal violence that ravages the lives of innocent people.

Inspired by a true story, the short film Kush is set in 1984 against the backdrop of the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, which resulted in anti-Sikh riots across the country. A lone teacher is returning with her 10-year-old students from a field trip. The class has one Sikh boy, Kush, who becomes the focus in the wake of the communal violence that has erupted.

As the teacher and the children are returning from their trip, they are stopped and informed about Gandhi's assassination and the mobs baying for the blood of Sikhs in revenge. The driver becomes nervous and decides to not put his life in danger, but the teacher remains steadfast and determined to save Kush from harm. As luck would have it, their bus has a flat tyre and they are forced to stop.

Snatches of news tell them of vehicles being burnt and innocent people being killed in the carnage. As the tension mounts, the people’s responses start to waver and most think of their own safety before that of a child. When a classmate points out that Kush is the reason why everyone will get into trouble, it sets the boy thinking and he decides to make a huge sacrifice, one that he hopes will save him and his classmates from trouble.

Directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani, who went on to make the critically acclaimed Mukti Bhavan (2017), the short was his thesis film for his course at the School of Visual Arts, New York. The few chinks in execution are overcome by the powerful story and the film won several awards at festivals, including the Orizzonti award for Best Short Film at Venice 2013. The same year, it was shortlisted as part of 10 live-action shorts in the race for the Academy awards.

Kush aptly captures the carefree world of children, who can’t quite comprehend the gravity of the situation. At one point, when the teacher is explaining things to them, one child asks in a matter-of-fact manner, “Will we have to fight the bad guys?” The film signals the impending violence in several ways and the symbolism of a lamb being slaughtered is layered with meaning as the innocent world of children is shattered by the harsh reality of life as people of a certain faith are targeted and massacred.

In the scene where children are lined up, harassed and asked their names, one boy replies "Hussain Ansari" and is let go, since the hooligans are looking for Sikhs. Watching this film today makes one wonder if that boy would have been safe in the current scenario in the country. Rooted in history, Kush is testimony to the communal violence that continues till today and the film remains frightfully relevant.

The film is part of a virtual showcase by the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) which recently launched 17 Days Celebrating 17 Years of Indian Cinema. The selection is available for viewing till 5 July 2020. Click here to visit the IFFLA Showcase and watch Kush. Watch the trailer of Kush below.

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