While most of us obsessed over what a coterie of Indian stars wore to the Cannes Film Festival this year, a little movie called Pahuna had its moment in the spotlight and caused a small stir when its trailer was screened. Written and directed by 35-year-old Paakhi Tyrewala, with backing from Priyanka Chopra’s production house, Purple Pebble Pictures, the movie tells the story of two Sikkimese children who, having been separated from their parents in the midst of a political conflict, get lost in a forest and have to learn to survive. “The plot is deeply allegorical for the times we live in,” says Tyrewala. “Look at today’s political climate: we’re scared of Muslims; the Americans are scared of Russians. You’re scared of what you don’t know. But once you do [learn more], you realise that there’s actually nothing to fear.”
The film’s journey started 14 years ago, when Tyrewala, an Art Of Living teacher at the time, went to Sikkim and Assam to teach. Struck by its beauty, she vowed to return when she could take her story on-screen. “I’ve known I wanted to do something film-related ever since I was a kid,” she says. At first, the political science graduate thought she wanted to act—she even starred in husband Abbas Tyrewala’s 2011 film Jhootha Hi Sahi—but eventually found writing to be her calling. “I’m a storyteller,” she says.
Filming Pahuna was a challenge. The terrain was difficult: altitude sickness took down many of her colleagues (“a few people would wind up in the army hospital for oxygen every day”), and because of the short daylight hours, Tyrewala and her crew, including the film’s young protagonists, Ishika Gurung and Amol Suba, would work around the clock. But assistance came from unexpected sources, like the state’s chief minister, who was thrilled that she chose Sikkim for the shoot and extended help where he could.
Sikkim has no regional movie industry of its own. Neighbouring Nepal does, and those films are what the locals watch. With Pahuna, Tyrewala hopes to change that, and bring the state firmly into the country’s cinematic narrative. “We took in locals too, and trained them, so that they can start making their own films and tell their own stories.”