Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not One Less - Chinese Movie

Watched a heartwarming Chinese movie yesterday, 'Not One Less', another from the Sagar collection. It is a story set in a village in modern day China. The village has a small school run by one teacher, Gao. Now Teacher Gao has to go home for a month to attend to his mother who is sick with cancer. Since it is a two room school with one teacher teaching a bunch of poor children, the village head hires a substitute for him, a thirteen year old girl, Wei Minzhi. Though she appears young and not quite up to he job of handling 28 young children, they have no option but to hire her. Gao explains to her the duties, hands over the meagre resources and leaves. The girl is more keen to have her payment of 50 yuan from teacher Gao. She says that the village head asked her to take it from him. Gao tells her that she had better collect it from the head. It appears the new teacher is more interested in her fifty yuan.

Next morning the village head picks up teacher Gao early and is heading out of the village when the girl runs after the jeep. She questions them about the money. It is then that Gao tells her to do her job well, and not lose any more students from their primary school because they have already lost 10 recently. Children keep going away to work for their impoverished families. If she does not lose even one student in the one month, he will pay her fifty yuan. Wei agrees and takes up the job.

Now Wei is not the greatest teacher but she has spirit. Since she stays in the school with some of the other children it soon becomes apparent that though she may not be highly read or efficient as a teacher, she will stand for no nonsense. When the sports coach picks one of the school children, a good runner, for the sports hostel, Wei hides her. She does not want to lose even one child. The coach and the village head however find the young athlete and whisk her away in the jeep but not without Wei giving it hot chase. The naughty kid in class Huike is reprimanded for his behavior in class and made to apologise to the class monitor in the middle of the night.

The  next day Huike is missing. Wei finds out that he has been sent to work in the city because his family is very poor. Wei has already lost one student and is in no mood to lose another. She pleads with the village head to get the boy back but he refuses and tells her that he will not come back. Wei presents her problem to the class and offers to go to the city to find Huike. The class helps their thirteen year old teacher raise money for the fare by lifting bricks in the nearby kiln. The money is not enough as the whole class calculates using their maths, as to how much is needed. Somehow Wei gets to the city, walking most of the way. This is China in 1999, mobile phones and western clothes everywhere, and the young village girl somehow tracks the address that Huike's parents give her. Huike's contractors say they lost the boy when they arrived in the city. With dwindling resources, but an iron will, Wei does everything she can to track Huike - writing notices and putting them up. She even goes to the television centre to get them to put out an ad for Huike. Wei sleeps the nigh outside the station as the receptionist does not let her in, asks everyone with glasses if they were the station head, is finally spotted by the station head who likes her story. They do an interview during which Wei hardly speaks but the interview catches the eye of Huike in the city and he comes to find her. Wei and Huike are sent back to their village in a truck with provisions, donations and supplies for the school.

'Not One Less' is a wonderful movie. It is based on a story 'A Sun in the Sky' and apparently  had actors who were not professionals but who played what they really are in real life. Teacher Gao is a teacher, the kids are school kids etc. It apparently coincided with China's thrust on primary education in the 1990s and was seen as politically driven. However the movie rises much above all that and shows rural China well (it could have been any village in India) just as it shows the city (it could have been any city in India with the crowds, similar settings). It mostly deals with human spirit, the innocence of youth, the meaning of real education in a way and warms the heart thoroughly. The kids, the actors were brilliant and it has some wonderful visuals in beautiful light. I completely enjoyed the movie and recommend it without reservation.


Rajendra said...

This Sagar collection seems impressive. Where did he manage to get all these from? Sort of a museum of movies, a la Raja Kelkar or Salar Jung III (or some number).

Harimohan said...

Yes Raja, he is an ardent movie watcher and knowledgeable too. You have met him at the shoot. Sgar has a really impressive collection and even better, is willing to share!