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chuskit A film by Priya Ramasubban

chuskit A film by Priya Ramasubban

When a disastrous fall in her Himalayan village leaves 6-year-old Chuskit a paraplegic, she must convince her family that her dream of going to school hasn’t died. Chuskit's resilience and doggedness inspires her friends and family as they help her get to school in this beautiful and spiritually uplifting, poetic tale.

Short Synopsis Chuskit is the story of a mischievous 6 yr-old girl

As practicing Buddhists, the elders in the family

living in a remote village in the mountains of Ladakh,

accept Chuskit’s situation and try to deal with it with

India. Chuskit and her two bright-eyed best friends

equanimity. They engulf Chuskit with love while

live an idyllic life and can't wait to be old enough to

trying to teach her to accept her new reality. But

go to school the next year.

little Chuskit yearns to go to school with her friends.

On their way to the capital city of Leh during

The twists and turns Chuskit's life takes − some

winter, Chuskit’s family treks through a treacherous

comic and some heartrending − and how she man-

mountain pass to get to a motorable road. A playful

ages to eventually make it to school forms the rest

moment on the edge of a sheer drop turns disas-

of the story.

trous. Chuskit falls down and becomes paraplegic.

Chuskit’s resilience inspires her family to

In a brief moment, Chuskit’s life changes drastically.

introspect about fate and how to navigate through

She can no longer walk and becomes dependent on

a difficult phase and emerge victorious. It’s a charm-

her family for many routine tasks. And the rugged

ing, touching and heart-warming story that has been

terrain of the landscape around her makes things

inspired by true-life events.

more challenging…she now cannot cross a little stream to go to the only school in her village.

Long Synopsis Chuskit is a bubbly 6 yr-old living in a loving

But for the adults Chuskit’s condition takes a heavy

family within a close-knit Buddhist community in an

toll. Her father has to leave the family for long

idyllic village among snow-capped mountains in

periods of time because of his responsibilities as

Ladakh, India.

a trek leader. His inability to stay with his family

She and her two bright-eyed best friends are

coupled with his guilt at having taken Chuskit on the

inseparable. Like her bright older brother, Stobdan,

fatal trip weighs heavily on his mind. Tsering tries to

Chuskit longs to go to school and become a good

carry Chuskit wherever she can, but this makes her

student. Things are looking bright for the family as

already bad back worse. Memeley tries to teach

Chuskit’s father, Sonam, is about to become a senior

Chuskit to accept her fate but Chuskit’s hope to go

trekking guide and Tsering, the mother, is going to

to school and to eventually become a writer doesn’t

get more orders for apricot jam from the local

die down.

co-opertative. Chuskit’s grandfather, Memeley, leads a life of self-imposed austerity and feels nostalgic about the olden days where family and culture took precedence over career and ambition. He always is the counterpoint in this enthusiastic can-do family. Sonam, being an indulgent father, decides to take Chuskit and Stobdan to the capital city of Leh. But a landslide forces them to trek through a remote mountain pass to get to an accessible road. While playing on the edge of a precipice Chuskit loses her footing. Before anyone can react she falls and hurts her lower spine making it impossible for her to ever

To cheer her up and to give her some sense of

walk again.

freedom, her uncle, who lives in the city, gets her

Six months after her accident, Chuskit watches

a wheelchair. The kids are fascinated with this new

her friends go to school. She is utterly despondent.

toy. Chuskit convinces her friends that the wheel-

The rocky, steep terrain and a brook, which the kids

chair could be used to get her to school. But the

have to cross to get to the only school in the village,

terrain being rugged, steep and uneven, the wheel-

make it impossible for her to get to school.

chair gets damaged. Memeley, who feels that

Chuskit’s brother and her friends rally around

accepting her circumstances instead of challenging

her as much as they can. Her brother, naïve but

them will lead to a more peaceful life, grounds

spirited, is always a positive spark for her. Her


friends include her in all their games and take

With Sonam away most of the month and

special care to make her feel part of the old gang.

Tsering’s back getting worse, Chuskit is relegated to

Chuskit oscillates between desolation and moments

a window in the living room through which she sees

of joy in a way that only children can.

the world passing by.

When a new teacher arrives at the village, he finds

brought home by a vigilant bus driver. When Sonam

a fan following in the kids at school because of his

realizes how stifled Chuskit feels at not being allowed to

open and unconventional ways. Chuskit’s brother

go to school, he announces that he will become her legs

regales her with stories about the new teacher and

and will carry her to school everyday and remain by her

how interesting his classes are. This increases

side at school. The adults try to convince him it’s an

Chuskit’s desire to leave the confines of the living

impractical plan but he is adamant that he cannot let his

room and get to school.

daughter’s zest for life die.

One day, Chuskit and her friends decide that using the neighbour’s horse to get Chuskit to school would be a great idea. Unlike a wheelchair, the horse could walk steep slopes and could also cross the stream. While trying to get the reluctant horse to cooperate, one of the kids gets kicked by it and narrowly escapes getting badly hurt. On hearing this Chuskit’s grandfather figures that he has to take things into his own hands to prevent more disasters.

He goes to the city to resign from his job. Over there, his

He requests a senior monk to advice the family.

brother convinces him that moving to the city would be a

The monk convinces the reluctant parents that Chuskit should become a nun. That way, the monk reasons, she could live her life in a nunnery where

better option because he could keep his job and the city would be more accessible for a child with disability. Chuskit is rejoicing that she will finally get to go to

other nuns would always be there to look after her.

school but is also upset that her dad has to give up the

She could also get the education she so desires.

job he loves. She sees a model bridge her brother is

The parents are unable to digest the idea but are

making for a science competition and has a brain wave.

convinced by the monk’s point of view that they may

Roping in her brother and her friends, she meets the new

be able to look after her while they are alive, but

teacher to ask for his help.

who would after their lifetime. When they break the news about the nunnery

As Sonam and his brother are coming back by bus, they see the entire village gathered by the stream. Based

to Chuskit, she goes berserk. She cannot imagine

on Stobdan’s model they have built a bridge with willow

living without her family and her friends. Her brother

branches to pave the path to school. The grandfather, with

is shocked at everyone’s decision. He and Chuskit,

his knowledge of traditional bridges, helps the villagers

make a quiet resolve that she will never go.

reinforce and strengthen the bridge.

On the morning that she is to go to the

Once the bridge is done, Sonam offers the grandfa-

nunnery, Chuskit along with her brother and friends

ther the chance to push Chuskit across the bridge for the

leave the village. They intend to run away to the city

first time. He accepts and wheels her to the top, where

where they hope to convince Chuskit’s uncle to

they come in full view of the school. The whole village

send her to school instead of a nunnery. But their

walks towards the school bound together by a palpable

attempt at running away is foiled and they are

sense of hope and aspiration.

About the  Director Priya Ramasubban is a reputed filmmaker who has

praised her for never diluting or over simplifying the

− for more than a decade and a half − made films for

issues at hand. She has a strong reputation for being

National Geographic, Discovery, History Channel and

participatory in her approach towards filmmaking,

other major international broadcasters.

always encouraging and eliciting the best from her

She is a storyteller at heart and has the ability to deal with complex subjects in a nuanced way

crew and her cast. Having worked for several international

allowing for textured interpretation of the subject.

broadcasters she has developed a keen sense of

Her strong visual sense, evocative style and flair for

understanding about audiences in the East and the

highlighting local subcultures have been strong

West and seamlessly straddles the two spheres to

points that have kept production companies and

make enriching films that are appealing and enter-

broadcasters coming back to her again and again

taining to people regardless of where they are on

with offers of work.

the planet.

Her ability to get reticent contributors to open

While she has never made a feature film,

up in front of the camera, her sensitive portrayal of

her approach to this film builds on her strong docu-

her subjects and her talent at breaking down compli-

mentary experience. She allows her actors the room

cated ideas into easily digestible bits of information

to express themselves; uses the epic quality of the

has evoked admiration and praise among her peers

location to add to the story and draws out the

and her audiences. Though her core strength lies in

cultural subtext to highlight the complexity of the

telling complicated stories in simple yet fascinating

struggle the characters face.

ways, the experts whom she films with have always

Director’s intent When I travelled to Ladakh for a shoot for National Geographic, I was mesmerised by the incredible beauty of the land. Intrigued by the spirit of the people there, I decided I’d go back some day to make another film. On what subject, I wasn’t sure. Serendipitously, my sister Vidhya Ramasubban, moved to Ladakh for a job a year after my shoot. She stayed on for a decade, working on issues relating to the differently-abled. Her friend and author Sujatha Padmanabhan, wrote a children’s book ‘Chuskit Goes To School'  based on Vidhya’s efforts to get one disabled girl to school. When I read the book, I knew this was the story that would take me back to Ladakh. With my experience in non-fiction story telling, I wanted to make a documentary, but Vidhya was insistent that this should not be about her but about

“Every time I’ve worked with Priya, I’ve been struck by what a gifted storyteller she is. She has the wisdom of an old soul and the generosity to match. Priya is absolutely the perfect person to be telling this inspiring tale.” Eleanor Grant Emmy Award Winning Former VP - Development National Geographic Television

“Priya Ramasubban is that rarest of filmmakers: a visually authentic storyteller whose fierce realism is guided by her undeviating moral compass and limitless compassion.” Jason Williams Multiple Emmy Award Winner President, JWM Productions

“Priya Ramasubban is a highly principled and dedicated filmmaker. Her work reflects a deep commitment to making the world a better place.” Allison Argo Winner of over 100 International Film Awards Founder, Argo Films

the children she has worked with. As I gathered anecdotes from Vidhya’s work, I realized that she was right and that a feature film was the only way to tell a story that will capture the timeless themes of struggle and triumph; of loss of innocence and coming of age; of frailty and strength, while keeping the film in the present. I travelled to Ladakh to do research for the film and found that I fell deeper and deeper in love with the place, the people and the endearing and empowering story we were attempting to tell. With this film, I hope that this little-known part of India — set deep within the mountains of the Himalayas — will charm people around the world as it charmed me. Just as I have been touched by the infectious beauty, the generous spirit of the people and the encompassing love they show towards one another in that region, I intend to make this film a touching account of the power of possibilities and offer a glimmer of something positive at a time when most stories we come across are of pain and suffering and without hope.

Key Crew This film is close to Priya’s heart because her sister, Vidhya Ramasubban, has dedicated many years of her life to working on issues relating to the differently-abled in the remote regions of Ladakh. Vidhya’s work has inspired author, Sujatha Padmanahan to write a children’s book titled “Chuskit Goes to school”. Sujatha, Vidhya and Priya compiled anecdotes from Vidhya’s work in Ladakh and wrote a narrative that Priya then turned into a screenplay. Priya Sreedharan, a well-known independent producer in Mumbai, India, is already attached to the project. She was the executive producer on her first film "Oye Lucky", released in 2008. Her second film "LSD" made for 200,000 US dollars was the first commercially successful, breakthrough, digital film in India. She was also producer of "Shanghai" a political thriller based on the polemic novel Z, by Vassilis Vassilikos, released in 2012. Her passion for new Indian cinema was the driving force behind putting this project together. She has shot extensively in Ladakh and like the other key players is fascinated by the culture and the people in Ladakh.

Funding In order to shoot part of the film and the trailer the

region in the Himalayas, takes up a huge chunk of

team crowd sourced the money through Kickstarter.

the production cost, the team plans to minimize this

The project got a phenomenal response and man-

by keeping the crew overheads lean but efficient.

aged to raise 98,499 US dollars. The first schedule

The makers also have production deals and a lot of

was completed in the winter of 2013. The rest of film,

goodwill from vendors to reduce the budget further,

which is set in the summer, is yet to be shot.

while ensuring quality at production.

The estimated budget of the film is 800,000

The filmmakers aim to raise part of the budget

US dollars. This includes the entire cost of produc-

through studios/ private investors in India. The rest

tion with the taxes applicable to shoot in India. As

of the funding will be raised in collaboration with

travel and shooting conditions in Ladakh, a remote

international partners.

Contact Priya Ramasubban +1-202-244-3636, +91-9742343487 Priya Sreedharan +91-9820139063


A film by Priya Ramasubban