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Fire in the Mountains

Fire in the Mountains

Ajitpal Singh, director
Jar Pictures
2020
83 minutes

Amid breathtaking mountain views of the Himalayan foothills in Northern India, hardworking Chandra (Vinamrata Rai) manages her own household alongside a homestay for visiting tourists. When necessary, she carries her preteen son, Prakash (Mayank Singh Jaira), up and down the steep trail that serves as the remote village’s only means of access. Prakash remains wheelchair-bound following a recent injury, despite his physician’s insistence that there is no medical reason preventing the boy from walking.

Chandra carefully hides her earnings from her frequently intoxicated husband, Dharam (Chandan Bisht), so that she can pay for Prakash’s medical appointments. Dharam, meanwhile, spends his time searching for the hidden cash in order to finance a religious ceremony that an eccentric faith healer has promised will cure his son.

Chandra’s daydreaming daughter Seema (Harshita Tewari) and a lecherous local politician round out Fire in the Mountain’s cast of complex characters. Seema is a top student at the local high school, but her attention is increasingly diverted toward romantic interests and the seduction of social media. Meanwhile, the politician offers his support to ensure that a road is built to Chandra’s village, although his offer comes at a steep price.

Fire in the Mountains is a tale of contemporary India that treads familiar yet fertile storytelling themes: urban versus rural, ambition versus apathy, and modernity versus tradition. These tensions are further underscored by optimistic radio reports on the country’s progress that appear throughout the film and visuals that convey the harsh realities of village life.

Writer and director Ajitpal Singh was inspired to make this film after the untimely passing of a female cousin, who died after a brief illness when her in-laws took her to a faith healer rather than a hospital. Given his cousin’s high level of education, Singh was convinced that she would not have made that choice on her own, that someone else made that choice for her. In the film, Chandra wrestles back her agency from family, community, and state.

The film’s tension builds toward an explosive and chaotic climax, shaking loose each character from their self-possessed roles: Chandra from her restraint, Dharam from his indifference, and even Prakash, whose affliction proves to be beyond the reach of either parent’s cure.

About the author

Department of International Health, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA