'Punam' Lucian Muntean

Punam (2006). Dir.: Lucian Muntean.

Punam by Lucian Muntean

The right of a child to experience the joys of learning and playing is rarely disputed. Yet, as Lucian Muntean's 27-minute documentary Punam shows, our world ignores the plight of millions of children like Punam Tamang, a motherless nine-year-old Nepalese girl caught in the inescapable trap of poverty and child labor. Learning and playing are shoved aside while young children, through circumstances not of their own making, are forced to perform the work of adults.

Muntean's beautifully shot documentary takes us through Punam's daily life in Nepal; her insights into her world make her particular case all the more poignant. Clothing, feeding, and caring for her father, sister, and brother, Punam makes no demands; she simply expresses the wish that her friends could afford to leave their work – breaking stones or making bricks – to join her at school. She also wishes they could have more time together to play, for playing is restricted to one day a week – on Saturdays.

Director/producer Muntean and producer Natasa Stankovic present a clear narrative, with well-integrated images of the tedious daily chores that Punam accepts as her responsibility. Using water from a communal spout, she washes up pots and pans, and rubs soap into clothes on large flat stones. Scenes of Punam buying meager supplies from the local food seller, taking her siblings to school, and preparing meals by peeling vegetables or by slowly grinding the food all help to create a picture of a child denied her childhood.

Yet, there is hope. Punam's view of the future for herself and her siblings is positive. She is keen for them to do well at school so they can get good jobs when they are older. She is concerned for her sister who is debilitated by broken legs that have not properly healed.

Punam, however, doesn't dwell only in the tedium of Punam's life, as it also shows her appreciation of the little she has been given – such as her happiness at learning to spell English words in the classroom. But above all, this moving documentary tells us that Punam does not have the fundamental human right to make her own choices.

Punam is presented as part of London's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, from March 21-30th.

Punam will be screened on Tuesday 27th March at 18:30 and on Wednesday 28th March, at 18:15 at the Ritzy cinema Brixton 08707 550062.

© Rosemary Westwell

Arts Critic Rosemary Westwell has written for several publications, including “The Independent” and “Musical Opinion.”

'Punam' Lucian Muntean © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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