It had been a few days after our children and I had seen Batul Mukhtiar’s film Kaphal-Wild Berries, at a small screening at Kunzum Travel Café in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village.

It was Saturday morning and I was bathing two of our daughters. They were protesting. They didn’t want a bath. Not now, Mamma, later! They didn’t feel dirty, they were fine. I was going on massaging shampoo into my daughter’s hair, my arms outstretched and connected to my child, my body curved away from hers. The younger child was sitting in a tub playing with her plastic fish toys.

I was feeling my feelings, they were feeling theirs, and I thought to myself, “How does Batul know? How does she know how I feel in these isolated moments when I am alone in my home wondering if anyone else ever feels like me?"

That time when I want to be present with my children, but I don’t seem to be able to step out of my own distracted adult self. When I’m not relaxed enough to play with them, or just listen to them…and often I end up giving them a bath as a solution.

As the water washes over us, the children’s resistance fades progressively and my soapy hands connect with their body and with them. I am wetter than I meant to be, they have jumped and splashed too much despite my instructions, but eventually there is a sense of surrender, both in the children and me. I feel that we must be doing something right. We find a common rhythm. We are one, we feel together. This is a parent-child moment, one of those that will add up and stay with us.

Kaphal places the longing for the absent father in the centre of the story. The film is set in Garhwal, in a scenic mountain village where all the young men have gone to find employment in the plains, the women carry on with their daily work and children grow up fantasizing about the gifts their fathers will bring when they return. They brag about their fathers’ fortunes. The mothers worry silently.

The fantasy feels sweeter than reality when Makad and Kamru’s father returns home after five years of being away in the city. He has fantasized about the relationship he will build with his sons, but finds himself trapped by his own inarticulateness and sense of failure as an adult. He wants to be loving, but the only language he knows is that of rebuke. He feels tender as he watches his sons fast asleep in their bed, but the morning brings his own anger and inadequacy to the fore.

Eventually the father catches hold of them and gives the reluctant boys one long, good bath. His hands know an expression that he has no words for. “I am here, I am your father."

Friends of the brothers watch them being bathed from a distance. “This is the problem with fathers," says a child. “They come home and start interfering in everything."

That was the moment when I knew I had to watch Kaphal many times over. I looked at my daughter and whispered, “We have to show this film to Papa!" She smiled back at me.

Kaphal is a film for fathers. Fathers who are away, sometimes even when they are present at home. Fathers whose return is greeted both with celebration and a sense of nervous dread. Fathers we miss with our body. Fathers we have hoped to get rid of in the desperate, dark moments of our helpless childhoods. Fathers who are tender, poetic, comical and magical, all at the same time. Kaphal validates our unexpressed love and longing for our father.

In our home, the children and I carefully decide the fate of new films by watching their trailers online. There are many trailers we mute or stop much before they are over. We watched the trailer of Kaphal so many times that soon we were all talking to each other in the accents of the children of Garhwal. The trailer refers to a mysterious woman who lives alone on a mountain peak and apparently likes to eat stray children once in a while. “Pagli Dadi" had become a term of endearment among us even before we knew we would catch a rare screening of the film one day.

I have been following Mukhtiar on the Internet for many years now. In my quiet years, when I searched online for answers to questions I was too timid to frame, Batul’s blog had been my safe place. It’s a place where she stashes away the love she feels, when she isn’t quite sure she has expressed it well enough in real life. A place where she laughs out loud and leaves her confusions to sort themselves out.

Last week, Kaphal-Wild Berries won the 61st National Award for Best Children’s Film. I asked Batul what inspires her to make films for and about children. She wrote these words in reply to me:

“I made Lilkee (2006) because there were things I wanted to say to my daughter and her friends and children who were growing up like her. It was easy for me then to mingle my voice with their voices, to mimic them just by listening to them. When I made Kaphal I had only to remember how to talk in the children’s voices. I think I like to make children’s films because they allow me to make leaps of faith even within harsh existing realities. The convention of adult narrative may not always allow hope or optimism, but children can and should believe in futures that can be written better."

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Screening room

Sign up and take your children and their friends to watch these films

The Children’s Film Society, India, has tied up with PVR Cinemas across the country to arrange the screenings of three of its latest films, on book-a-show basis for 100 per ticket, for a minimum 100 people at a time, at a notice of two-three weeks. The films are Gattu, directed by Rajan Khosa; Goopy Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya by Shilpa Ranade; and Kaphal-Wild Berries by Batul Mukhtiar. This facility is available to all schools, NGOs, corporate houses and individual groups.

For details, contact Amirbanu at chairperson@cfsindia.org, ceo@cfsindia.org and marketing@cfsindia.org

Natasha Badhwar writes a fortnightly column on family and relationships.

Also Read | Natasha’s previous Lounge columns

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