It’s fair to calibrate expectations for an independent film with a smaller budget, but Country of Blind‘s problems are not really an issue of limited finances — with one glaring exception.
Writer-director Rahhat Shah Kazmi’s update of H. G. Wells’s 1904 short story “The Country of the Blind” relocates the action from the mountains of Ecuador to the Himalayas. In ancient India, a narrated voice-over explains, a tribe of people fled a war to the safety of a hidden valley. Soon after they arrived, a mysterious illness caused the people to lose their sight and for babies to be born blind. An avalanche cut the valley off from access to the outside world, and the tribe was forgotten to history.
In the 18th century, Indian mountaineer Abhimanyu (Shoib Nikash Shah) leads his European friends up an unexplored peak. He slips and falls, tumbling all the way down to the hidden valley. With no equipment to climb back up the mountain, he heads into the valley to find a way out. There, he meets the descendants of that ancient tribe, who have been totally blind for generations.
Abhimanyu is quickly disabused of the notion that his ability to see will afford him special privileges among the tribe. He can’t even explain the concept of sight to them, since none of them have ever experienced it. Further, he’s so bad at adapting to their sightless ways of living that he’s treated like a clumsy child.
The tribe’s adaptations should be a highlight of the film, but the few that are shown are rudimentary or counterintuitive. They developed a system of paths made from different materials to convey meaning to the walker based on the texture (cool!), but the main path is made of round, grapefruit-sized cobbles that must be traversed slowly so as not to slip (huh?). Also, people in the valley work over open flames without tying back their long hair.
The only reason these dubiously safe scenarios can be used in the movie is because none of the actors in the main cast is blind (as far as I know). In long shots featuring lots of extras, it’s possible to spot some extras looking down at the uneven cobblestone path so as not to lose their footing.
While Abhimanyu is initially eager to return to civilization, he hesitates when he meets a beautiful woman named Gosha (Hina Khan). Of course, he really only likes her because of her looks, which are only important to him because he can see. Country of Blind explores this in an interesting way that ultimately turns the film into more of a parable than the original short story.
While the acting is generally pretty good, the actors aren’t responsible for relaying large portions of the story, which is instead delegated to the voice-over narrator. The compact plot is padded out with flashbacks to stuff that happened earlier in the film and shots of Abhimanyu just looking around. These aren’t problems of limited finances but of editing and screenplay organization.
The one place where the producers clearly cut corners is with the film’s English subtitles, which are riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors. Besides being distracting, they’re bad enough to be confusing at points. Any non-Hindi speakers interested in watching Country of Blind may want to wait to see the film is picked up by one of the major streaming services, who typically re-subtitle movies before putting them on their platforms.