Ajitpal Singh’s Hindi-language feature debut Fire in the Mountains, made before his web series Tabbar, is set in Munsiyari in Uttarakhand. Munsiyari is known as “India’s Switzerland” for its natural wonders and stunning views of the mountains. This beauty conceals a great deal of ugliness, Singh’s screenplay reveals.
The cute-looking dwellings nestled in the hills that delight homestay-seeking tourists are hard on the locals, particularly Chandra. In the absence of a proper road, Chandra (Vinamrata Rai) must trek up and down, bearing supplies, fodder – and her wheelchair-bound son Prakash (Mayank Singh Jaria).
Despite being deemed fit to walk, Prakash insists on being carried around. Chandra has other headaches to deal with. Her husband Dharam (Chandan Bisht) is an insensitive clod with greater faith in superstition than in his hard-working wife or common sense.
Their daughter Kanchan (Harshita Tewari), neglected despite being smarter than Prakash, is disappearing into the self-centred world of the adolescent. There is also Dharam’s bad-tempered sister Kamla (Sonal Jha), who lives with them.
Fire in the Mountains was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021 and is now out on SonyLIV. All the best scenes in Singh’s unevenly paced, episodic screenplay revolve around the human pack mule that the long-suffering Chandra has become.
Vinamrata Rai is compelling as the woman who must make hard choices to overcome her plight. Like her character, Rai too entirely shoulders the burden of conveying the screenplay’s themes of stifled womanhood, crushed dreams and all-round insensitivity. In Chandra’s weather-beaten and yet resilient visage, the film’s ambitious ideas manage to peek through.