“Fire in The Mountains”
Metacritic (7/10), Rotten Tomatoes (***+)
India is a land at a cross-roads in terms of embracing modernization while preserving tradition. That’s particularly true in the nation’s rural areas, such as in the State of Uttarakhand in the country’s north, a beautiful region often compared to Switzerland with its mountainous Himalayan backdrop. In the village of Munsiyari, a popular tourist spot for adventurous travelers, married couple Chandra and Dharam and their family run a home stay facility for visitors while supplementing their household income from various other sources. But it’s a hard life, given the rough terrain, the family’s domestic circumstances and the costs of living, most notably for the medical care of their paralyzed and withdrawn young son. The burden weighs especially heavily on Chandra as the responsible head of the household, a challenge constantly undermined by her abusive alcoholic husband, a rigid patriarchal culture, an inept government bureaucracy, condescending doctors and pervasive traditional religious practices that she believes border on foolish superstitions. Her efforts to manage affairs in the face of these often-oppressive hurdles while retaining her personal power combine for a powerful feminist manifesto, one designed to inspire those similarly situated. Director Ajitpal Singh’s debut feature delivers a decidedly strong statement, one that packs a punch and seldom holds anything back, making for a sometimes-difficult watch (sensitive viewers beware), thanks in large part to the authentically convincing lead performances of Vinamrata Rai and Chandan Bisht. Admittedly, some of the picture’s story threads don’t feel as fully fleshed out as they could have been, making it difficult at times to see exactly how everything connects, no doubt a shortcoming attributable to the film’s scant 84-minute runtime. Nevertheless, for a first-time outing, the filmmaker has laid down an otherwise-impressive and noteworthy cinematic gauntlet, an admirable start to what one can only hope will be a promising movie career.