SYNOPSIS & BACKDROP BY THE FILMMAKER
This film, The Wishing Tree, resulted from a desire to produce an entertaining full-length feature film that could make children (of all races, regions & faiths) fall in love with trees & forests. It is a herculean task for an independent filmmaker like me to produce a feature film without any affiliation to a big studio or a distributor. The journey was arduous but a few words that my School Principal would often quote from a Chief Seattle speech (supposedly made in 1854)... kept me going. Chief Seattle, talking about ecological responsibility, had said, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.
I was also fascinated by the proclamation of an Emperor, who, upon seeing the beauty of Kashmir, declared, “If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!” Indeed, ancient/ medieval poetry proclaims in one voice that there is no heaven apart from the earth we live on. Trees symbolize physically the heavenly power and grace of earthly creation. Before Imperial conquests and the rise of industrial civilization, trees had spiritual significance across the world. There were “sacred groves” everywhere, which could not be used for material purposes. All great saints, prophets and sages sought enlightenment under the trees in the forests as great philosophies and faiths took shape.
However, under the ongoing onslaught of industrial modernity this vision of trees and nature has eroded considerably. Our children grow up in man-made, domesticated, highly processed environments in cities in which they typically see pictures of animals and plants before setting eyes on a real elephant or an actual Banyan tree. It is in this context, of a potentially destructive ecological and cultural rupture, that I decided to produce “The Wishing Tree". The film has been made for children. But like any children’s film worth watching, it is also fit for families & grown-ups to see. The film eschews any moralizing or preaching. On the contrary, it entices young viewers into divining the multiple meanings and message/s it embodies. Inspired by an ancient tale about a wishing tree, it uses the language of fantasy, colour and music to generate the magical adventure that fascinates children.
The film rests on an undying belief in the human capacity for supremely noble actions based on unshakable faith in humanity. Environmental and climate sciences have done more than plenty to bring to the attention of the public the terrifying facts whose first shadows we have already come to live under. However, for people to fundamentally change their actions (and not merely superficially alter their behaviour), reason and a mere knowledge of facts is not enough. A revolution is needed in the very heart of the human conscience, the goal of all true art.
Also, in countries with huge young populations like India’s, one needs to be able to achieve this in the hearts and minds of children. It is in this spirit that “The Wishing Tree" has been crafted. We may still have a little bit of time left to act with wisdom, before the window of survival opportunities tragically closes for humankind. However, for us to be able to seize the moment, it is imperative that the young are weaned out of the habits of senseless consumption that adults have bequeathed to them and instead alight on an altogether new journey - of the imagination - the only one which can re-open fresh possibilities of hope, meaning and joy in life.
"The Wishing Tree" is a lively film about faith & hope, which transcends barriers of language, culture and region. It gently nudges people to think about, and restore, the organic and utterly magical relationship between human beings and nature.
I must acknowledge that I was fortunate to have got some legendary talents of the Indian Film Industry like Shabana Azmi, Gulzar and Amitabh Bachchan to be a part of this film which has been acknowledged and appreciated by the 'Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change' (Government of India) and is officially released as a 'MoEF&CC presentation of a Rhombus Films production'. It is also a part of the Government of India's celebration of the World Environment Day.
THE WISHING TREE is a magical, inspirational and an entertaining story of five children in a hill-station who come together to save their ‘wishing tree’ from being cut by vested interests. The film is lively, entertaining, endearing and engrossing so that the underlying message to love nature and protect trees and environment is seamlessly driven home.
Sean, a ‘dyslexic’, is an eleven-year-old boy. Sean’s constant struggle with reading and speech makes him the ‘butt’ of all jokes and relentless public humiliation at the hands of his superior classmates, within the unforgiving walls of his classroom. And to make matters worse, while at home, Sean must also live through the trauma of separating parents, who are on the verge of an official break-up. Through Sean’s eyes the world lends itself to a strangely stunning visual possibility … and when he picks up the brush, the canvas leaves people amazed at his genius.
Twelve-year-old Nikita is overweight and headstrong. When her overeating becomes an obsession, not only does her life at school and at home become seriously out of control but her dream of becoming a ‘rock star’ one day, seems next to impossible. Nikita’s life is mysteriously enjoined with four others.
Guriqbal Singh, Nikita and Sean’s classmate and sole heir to the presently crumbling business of “Nanak Paneer (cottage cheese) House”, has a stealing problem, which is about to take dangerous dimensions. In the face of financial insecurities which are more anticipated than real and an even more insecure father, who is gradually turning alcoholic, Guriqbal must ‘collect’ and ‘store away’ what he can to protect the well-being and future of his family. His treasure box lies buried deep in the forest behind the railway tracks.
Ten-year old Fatima Khanam is obsessed with Bollywood, specially, Superstar ‘Shah Rukh Khan’. A ‘star’ in her own right, Fatima is preparing herself for her ‘star-destiny’, which will come to her someday soon. She goes through her day as though an imagined camera is filming her at all times, even while she is brushing her teeth! Fatima manages to skip school smoothly to watch films in the cinema hall, until the season of ‘parent-teacher meetings’ spoils it all and Fatima’s father, Khwaja Sheikh, is alarmed at her shocking performance in school tests and also her disappearing acts from school.
This season also spells doom for Nikita, Sean and Guriqbal, who are getting into deeper trouble and misfortune. In a world swinging between angry parents, punishments, disapproving neighbors, and a stressful school life, their world is fast crumbling and their dreams drifting away in conflict with their reality.
Last but not the least is Dhanua, a witty, street smart, eleven year old who works at the dhaba (local eatery), opposite the school. With his unshaken faith in muscular ‘Hanumaan ji’ (the Indian Monkey God and mythological superhero), he must fight the tests of time against his abusive and tough dhaba owner ‘Shankar dada’. Dhanua would love to go to school and make friends with other children, who seem to have a perfect life, but right now he must earn his meals from day to day and protect himself from being bullied and exploited by other older, stronger boys working at the dhaba, Jaikishen and Kaalia.
Life’s tough. Even so, a miracle awaits Dhanua and the messy lives of Nikita, Sean, Guriqbal and Fatima ...
On the Annual Sports day at school, Nikita wins first prize in the back-to-back race. But when some of the children scoff at her and announce that she has only won by cheating, this is the breaking point for Nikita. The most hurtful day of her life is about to transform into the most magical day of Nikita’s life.
Nikita’s mysterious old friend (who lives in a green house in the forest) tells her the magical tale of ‘Kalpvriksh’ or ‘The Wishing Trees’ that have existed through thousands of years. “They are still around and the only unfortunate reason they have not been discovered in recent times is because no one believes in them anymore, the Wishing Trees are dying”, she tells Nikita.
In the moments that follow, Nikita instinctively runs to her secret place where she always sits when she is sad. She stands before an old twisted tree and speaks to it as if it’s listening. In the days that follow Nikita’s life begins to change drastically. She does not steal food from the kitchen in the nights and through a series of incidents, the children in school not only stop teasing her but look at her with newfound respect and admiration. The humiliation begins to give way to a feeling of self worth and pride.
Nikita has discovered her Wishing Tree and she must share its magic with Sean, Guriqbal, Fatima and Dhanua. According to Nikita’s mystical old friend in the forest, the powers of the Wishing tree grow when more and more people believe in it. But the secret must be shared only with those that genuinely believe in it.
Sean’s speech is clearing up miraculously since his angry meeting with the Wishing Tree. At some point he must gather the confidence to express his love for Nikita.
Fatima is grounded by her father. One day when a newsflash on TV reports that Superstar Shah Rukh Khan is being flown to London for surgery, her fantasy about him begins to crumble. He is real, he can fall ill. At such a moment of crisis, she can only reach out to the Wishing Tree. On the other hand, with sheer faith of the children, the Wishing tree is coming back to life after a thousand years of sleep. It is celebrating life. It is spurting into new leaves and also growing pretty white flowers.
The special thing about the tree is that it is making their wishes come true. It’s magic is working it’s way through the lives of these children, and their lives are changing, fast.
But even as the children spend more and more time with their newfound friend, some rumors of the tree being evil are brewing in the town. ‘Pannalal’, the sly contractor / wood-cutter is responsible for this. The children love their Wishing Tree but the true test of friendship is yet to come.
The Wishing tree is going to be felled and the whole town has gathered to witness this. Five axe-men sharpen their axes and walk towards the tree. The people of the township stand staring dumbfounded, curious to see what is to come. And then something happens … something that no one has ever witnessed before. This will perhaps not be seen for another thousand years…
This is a triumphant story of five kids, with their complex problems, who despite being written off by the world around them, make an extraordinary difference by courageously following their instincts, fiercely guarding and actually saving their Wishing tree against all odds. Disability and difficulty become the stepping stone to become extraordinary.
They make National news and the world must now see them with a difference. The Wishing tree has regained all its powers and come back to life with a bang. Strangely, all the Wishing trees in the world are celebrating…. and as the voice of the tree, underlines “I am just a wishing tree which grants what is asked for. Whereas all the trees of the world give their everything to life on earth without even being asked”. The voice thanks everyone for saving it from being cut, and implores them to ensure that not a tree is cut anywhere, in any part of the world. It also appeals to all kids to make sure that they all plant their own ‘wishing trees’ and see their wishes come true.
Somewhere in another corner of the world, a little African American girl is curiously running her hands through the bark of a very old twisted tree… could this be her Wishing Tree?
After all, sometimes science may have limitations... but faith has none !!
Directors: Manika Sharma
Producers: Raajaysh Chetwal
Key cast: Shabana Azmi, Saurabh Shukla, Rajit Kapur, Makarand Deshpande