“Pahuna: The Little Visitors” is a tiny tots on their own children’s fantasy about barely-school-age Nepalese siblings who take a child’s view of taking care of themselves and their infant brother after they get separated from parents.
Although it begins in violence — because that’s what puts this family from Daalpur on the road, fleeing to the neighboring Indian state of Sikkim — it quickly evolves into a picaresque and just realistic enough “how little imps like this might manage” when stuck, on their own, with a baby.
It’s adorable, the most adorable thing on Netflix right now.
The sounds of gunfire makes everyone back up a few things and flee into the woods. But when the father goes back to “distract” the unnamed bandits, revolutionaries or what have you, it’s natural that the mother would entrust her three kids — Amrita (Ishika Gurung), the oldest (maybe 7 or so), Pranay (Anmoul Limboo), a year younger, and baby Bishal — to her sister as Mom turns back to find her husband.
“Promise me you’ll stay together and look after Bishal,” is her plea. And then she’s gone.
Everybody hikes and camps their way to safety. But as the grownups in their village party debate the merits of crossing into Sikkim, Pranay is the one listening to flaky, rice beer-loving “uncle” Rai (Mahendra Bajgai). That town, Pelling, it has a church! The “monsters” there attack our old gods. And the priests? “They wear long robes, to catch and HIDE children in,” he says (in Nepali with English subtitles)! “They EAT babies!”
Pranay convinces the (slightly) more sensible Amrita of this, and there’s nothing for it but for them to give the grownups the slip and keep their promise to Mom (Manju Chhetri).
They move into an old bus, abandoned in the woods, make a fire, cook and eat and set up housekeeping.
There’s a sad moment of “Wonder if Dad’s OK,” a little wondering of when Mom will find them, and how, and then they’re lightly bickering over who does the dishes and how they’ll get by with the little food and water they have with them.
A snare to catch a bunny? Sure. Wait, we have to kill it to eat it? Maybe not.
The childish problem solving is countered by universal bits of early childhood behavior any parent will recognize. Take a tumble, washing clothes at the waterfall? There’s no sense in crying your eyes out, there. Go back to the bus and bawl, where you’re sure to have an audience.
The baby starts crying inconsolably, and they check his nappy, try and feed him and even rig a hammock to rock him. No dice. And then he breaks wind, “Bishal the Farting Machine” is “cured.”
The cuteness goes into overload as Pranay meets a friendly goatherd (Binod Pradhan) and sweetly talks the old man into a job, grazing his goats, in exchange for milk. Amrita finds out her Nepalese cash won’t buy anything at the store, but a sweet pregnant lady (Banita Lagun) might be talked into giving her chores for “IC” — Indian Currency.
The sweetness hangs over this picturesque picture is as simple as the “we’re all related, after all” tradition of calling even strangers “Auntie” and “Uncle.”
Melodramatic moments aside, we never really fear for anyone’s well-being, and even the menacing, faceless presence of the robed priest, who takes a morning walk near their bus in the woods each AM, is headed for a sweet solution.
Kindness rules the day, kids comforting grownups, grownups looking after kids, making them think charity is something they’re working for.
The story is simple enough to follow without reading the subtitles, but if your kids are too young to read, you’ll have to explain the silly superstitions and translate the fart jokes for them, which is really the best part of parenting, isn’t it?
Rating: TV-PG, fart jokes
Cast: Anmoul Limboo, Ishika Gurung, Banita Lagun, Binod Pradhan
Credits: Directed by Paakhi A. Tyrewala, scripted by
Paakhi A. Tyrewala and Biswas a. Purple Pebbles Production on Netflix
Running time: 1:22