And a little child shall lead them gets a fresh approach in “The Blind Camel,” director and co-writer Vinod Ganatra’s beautiful, amusing tale of how a rambunctious Indian boy and three camels nearly trigger an international incident on the Indian-Pakistani border. Pic’s solid Mumbai region release in November and its ongoing festival circuit forays — including in children’s sections at Berlin, Cannes and London — has positioned it as one of the most highly regarded recent Indian children’s films. Nifty outwitting of bureaucrats and parents by tykes will keep young auds intrigued, and first-class filmmaking elements will pull in parents.
In a village in the dry-bone Kutch region on the Indian-Pakistani frontier where bandits cross the border to threaten the peaceful camel grazer, strong-willed Sonu (Gaurav Chavda) is typically late for class and generally drives his parents, Valji (Shivaji Satam) and Dhanbai (Swati Dave), crazy, but is chums with his younger sister Lakhmi (Gauri Vaidya).
Ajit Duara and Ganatra’s script cleverly establishes Sonu’s essentially unruly character (including his conviction that his father’s camels speak to him) and the region’s troubled social politics, all for a second and third act that ingeniously spoofs the decades-long conflict between India and Pakistan. When Sonu foolishly allows the family camels to drift off across the border, his misadventures reveal a rainbow of good and bad folks on both sides, with border guards blinder than the lanky quadrupeds.
Chavda takes over the pic with a performance that alternates between goofiness and gumption — and even includes a cute title tune as he swings upside down on a hanging inner tube. Production in extremely austere and hot conditions is superb, sparked by Rajan Kothari’s spectacular widescreen lensing.