Venice 2013. Review of “Kush” by Shubhashish Bhutiani

Shubhashish Bhutiani’s short film, “Kush”, is India’s only entry at this year’s Biennale di Venezia. Taking place on 31 October 1984 and inspired by true events, it recounts the story of a teacher traveling back from a field trip with her class of ten-year-old students. In fact, she is trying to protect Kush, the only Sikh student in the class, from the growing violence and riots in the aftermath of the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s by her Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.

“Kush” is a moving story of compassion, humanity and unity: its universality transcends all ages, religions and classes. “Kush”’s message is one of equality and against hatred, exactly the one that Indira Gandhi expressed the day before her death: “I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow. I shall continue to serve till my last breath and when I die every drop of my blood will strengthen India and keep a united India alive”. But, unfortunately, this did not happen and this film tries to show it with a story that is, at the same time, big and small. Big in its significance, importance and ideology and small in the grand scheme of History. This particular message is not present in the film per se but it is one that is ultimately passed on.

This short film is very well made, with excellent performances from the newbie Shayaan Sameer, the Indian model Sonika Chopra, the famous director Anil Sharma and all the children. The cinematography is also to be lauded with a palette of colors that lively evokes the spirit and essence of India. “Kush” has a very dynamic narrative that also intelligently builds up the tension and successfully conveys a sense of fear and suspense. In addition, it manages to make the audience feel and root for everybody on this bus, especially for Kush and the mistress. We are, indeed, immediately drawn to these characters. What the captivating script also achieves is to compel us to research the events that inspired “Kush”.

With a running time of 20mins “Kush” rekindles a part of Indian History that may have been forgotten but it does it humbly and with a great sense of conviction and passion. It is undoubtedly a highly educating and most recommendable film indeed!


Note: This review has been originally published in the Nisimazine Venice 2013 e-book and  on Yellow Bread’s sister publication, The Film Prospector, in September 2013.

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