Note: All italicized dialogue is to be spoken in Hindi.
“I’m filled with a desire for clarity and meaning in a world and condition that offers neither.
- Albert Camus”
INT. SCHOOL CAFETERIA - NEW JERSEY - DAY
The cafeteria bustles with noise and activity from students sitting in different groups and cliques. The break is about to end, and most kids are either finishing their lunch or messing with their friends.
SAMAR sits alone on a table with notebooks in front him. A lunchbox sits off to his side, unopened. He is scrambling to finish some homework when suddenly the bell rings.
As students around him all rush to get out first, Samar stares at his lunchbox.
INT. MRS. BROOKS’ ENGLISH CLASSROOM - DAY
Samar holds a completed quiz in his hand, his foot tapping impatiently as he eyes the clock - the class is almost about to end. He sees MRS. BROOKS going around the room collecting completed quizzes and taking her sweet time to interact with each student.
She passes by his desk, grabbing his quiz without saying anything.
Mrs. Brooks, I was wonde-
She ignores him. He gets up out of his seat to follow her.
Ma’am, PLEASE, I wanted to talk ab-
She turns around to face him.
Class isn’t over yet, Samar. Please
go back to your seat.
As they prepare to leave, the other students notice the scene taking place in front of them.
There’s barely any time left, Mrs.
Brooks, please, I jus-
Samar, drop it. And if you decide
to stick around after the bell
today, I’m not writing you any more
late slips for your next class.
I shouldn’t be in here! I should be
The room goes silent. Some kids look hurt. Others shoot dirty looks at Samar.
(whispering under her
The bell rings and everyone but Mrs. Brooks and Samar vacates the room.
That was remarkably rude and
insensitive. Even for you.
Mrs. Brooks, you don’t understand.
If I don’t get into Honors now, I
won’t be able to take any IB
classes senior year and if I don-
You took the placement test, Samar.
Yeah, on my first day in this town!
I literally came here to take that
test before I even saw my new
Why don’t you just focus on the
essays coming up and we’ll talk
later? Arrogance won’t get you
anywhere. Only your work will.
You mean we’ll talk about moving me
That’s not what I said. If you do a
good job, we’ll discuss putting you
in Honors for next year.
OH, COME ON! YOU’RE KIDDING ME!
SAMAR! That’s enough. Or would you
like to go to the Principal’s
The school’s P.A. system crackles, and -
P.A. SYSTEM OPERATOR (V.O.)
Would Samar Sharma immediately come
to the Principal’s office, please?
Samar Sharma, please proceed
immediately to the Principal’s
office. Thank you.
Samar and Mrs. Brooks exchange a look.
INT. RECEPTION DESK OUTSIDE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE - DAY
Samar approaches the front desk outside the Principal’s office and through the window, he sees his father, MR. SHARMA, shaking hands with the Principal. She pats his arm with her free hand and he steps out of her office. He walks toward Samar at the front desk. Samar notices that his eyes are red.
Hey Dad, what’s up?
You have to sign out. I’ll explain
in a bit.
(to the receptionist)
Excuse me, Miss, how can he sign
Just sign right here and hand me
your ID for a second and you’ll be
Mr. Sharma’s eyes do not meet Samar’s. Slowly and silently, Samar pulls out his wallet.
EXT. SCHOOL FRONT ENTRANCE - DAY
Samar and Mr. Sharma walk out and start making their way toward the parking lot. Mr. Sharma is looking straight ahead.
We have to go to India tomorrow.
Your grandfather was in a car
accident yesterday morning. A truck
backed into him and ran him over.
He died on the spot.
They walk a few steps without saying anything.
Are you okay?
They arrive at the car.
INT. THE SHARMAS’ APARTMENT - DINNER TABLE - NIGHT
Samar’s is a small and humble house, but tonight it also feels hollow. Save for the clanking of cutlery against Mr. Sharma and MRS. SHARMA’s plates, the dinner table is somber and silent. Mrs. Sharma looks at Samar’s untouched food for a moment, then breaks the silence -
Have a little, honey. You have to
eat. It’ll go cold.
Samar takes a bite.
How was school?
Did things work out with Mrs.
Not really. We got assigned some
essays, and she said she’ll
consider putting me in Honors if I
do a good job on them, but that’s
only for next year.
Mrs. Sharma opens her mouth to say something, but all she can do is sigh.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
What do you mean?
We’re going to India tomorrow.
Those essays are due when we get
back. I’ll be surprised if I finish
them at all.
Mrs. Sharma and Mr. Sharma exchange a look. Mr. Sharma looks guilt-ridden.
Just do your best. Maybe she’ll
come around. You never know.
No, you never do, do you?
Samar gets up and leaves the table. He starts walking towards his room.
Honey, don’t leave your food.
Please finish it. Hey, where are
Going to work on those essays.
He walks past a number of cardboard moving boxes, still waiting to be unpacked, and goes into his room. Mr. Sharma looks downcast.
He’ll make it work. Don’t beat
yourself up. He’ll figure it out. I
know he will.
I know he will too, but how many
more times until he can’t?
Mrs. Sharma holds his arm.
INT. SAMAR’S ROOM - NIGHT
Samar sits at his desk. It’s been a couple of hours since dinner. His mom opens the door and pops her head in.
How’s it going, honey?
How are you?
You want me to heat up your
She lingers for a few moments. Samar remains silent.
I love you, Samar.
Samar doesn’t respond right away. He sniffles, and when he speaks, it’s with a whimper -
I love you too, Ma.
Mrs. Sharma walks up to him and hugs him tightly from behind, gives him a long kiss on his head. He holds her arms with one hand, eyes closed. They hold each other like this for a while.
Don’t stay up too late, you hear?
He nods and she heads out the door, closes it behind her. He minimizes the tab on his screen to reveal the document on which he was working - it’s empty. Samar stares at the blinking cursor for a while, then shuts the laptop screen.
He walks over to his lamp to turn it off. He notices the lanyards hanging from it, one from each school he has attended in the past few years alone. Five different middle schools and three different high schools, not including this new one. He lets out a defeated sigh and turns out the light.
INT. AIRPLANE CABIN - DAY
Samar sits in his seat with his laptop out on his tray table. His parents are in a different row. The document is open on his laptop, but he still hasn’t put down a single word. A flight attendant pushing a food cart stops by his seat and leans over to him with a big smile.
Good morning, sir. We’re serving
lunch. Would you like vegetarian or
Samar looks at the empty document one last time, shuts his laptop screen, and puts it away. The flight attendant pulls out a tray of food from her cart and sets it down in front of him.
INT. MR. SHARMA’S FAMILY HOME - INDIA - DAY
A tray of food slides across the ground and comes to rest in front of Samar as he sits cross-legged. The food is both poorly cooked and inappropriately savory for such a somber occasion. Samar turns to look at his mom. She looks helpless.
Around him is a scene he did not expect to see: People eating and talking at the same time, devoid of any sense of mourning.
He hears cackling laughter coming from the kitchen. He notices some of his relatives sitting across from are looking at him and laughing as they eat their food.
What’s wrong? Is the food not good
enough for you, your highness? Want
us to take you to the local 5-star
They laugh, knowing he can’t understand a word they say. Samar simply stares at them blankly. He looks around with uncertainty and confusion. He slowly reaches for the food and takes a small bite.
INT. SAMAR AND HIS PARENTS’ ROOM - INDIA - NIGHT
Samar sleeps on the bed while his mom uses blankets to make a makeshift mattress on the ground for her and Mr. Sharma.
Mr. Sharma enters the room, shuts the door behind him, and appears to deflate from fatigue as he sits down on the ground next to his wife. She holds him.
Is it going to work out? Your
brother didn’t hound you too much,
It’s how it’s always been. Same
shit. Haven’t even scattered his
ashes and they’re clawing for wills
and property, the fucking vultures -
This is it. I mean it this time.
Once we get through tomorrow, we’re
never coming back here.
She pulls him close, cradles his head, and calms him. She hums a soft lullaby.
How’s Samar? Did he get any of his
I’m not sure. He’s trying to focus
How’s he going to focus with this
circus going on around him? I don’t
know how I’ll explain any of this
to him... Maybe he can get some
done tomorrow. Try to help him once
we get back, will you?
He’s staying back?
Of course. Oh, there is no way I’m
taking him tomorrow. He’s seen
enough already. Make sure he stays
in the room when we leave.
I’m going to finish setting this
bed. Do you want anything? Tea?
INT. SAMAR AND HIS PARENTS’ ROOM - INDIA - AFTERNOON
Samar watches the cursor blink. He still can’t focus, and the document is still empty. He reaches for his water bottle and picks it up - it’s empty. He walks out of the room.
EXT. MR. SHARMA’S FAMILY HOME - INDIA - AFTERNOON
Samar finishes filling his water bottle and looks around at the empty house. He starts walking around.
The adults are gone. Samar hears the voices of some of his cousins echo in the hollow rooms. There’s water damage in nearly every nook and cranny. Paint has peeled off the walls, which are peppered with holes into and out of which armies of ants and other bugs crawl. A lizard scurries past Samar’s foot. A crow sits perched on one of the blades of a ceiling fan that dangles precariously above Samar’s head.
Suddenly, the front door flies open and in comes SAMAR’S UNCLE. The crow flies away. He looks around as if searching for something, and picks up a cell phone and a set of car keys.
He looks up and notices Samar, eyes him for awhile. The two stare at each other in silence.
Out of the corner of his eye, Samar’s uncle spots two kids hiding in a room through a window.
Get out here, you runts! Get the
hell out right now! Get outside and
wait there. Don’t you DARE run off.
The kids come out cackling and run past Samar and his uncle. He hits one of them hard on the back as they run past him. The kids are unfazed.
Samar’s uncle stares at him again, then gestures at him to follow. He doesn’t wait for an answer before turning and walking out. Samar follows.
EXT. DIRT ROAD - AFTERNOON
Samar sits in the back of a rusty truck as it makes its way along a dirt road. The scene around him is suggestive of utter apathy - overflowing gutters, filth everywhere, scabbed strays. The little kids next to him don’t seem to care.
EXT. CREMATORIUM - AFTERNOON
The truck arrives at the crematorium and the passengers make their way to a pyre, which isn’t burning anymore.
Samar’s dad is standing with the other family members when he notices his son being led to the pyre with the other kids. For a moment, his face becomes awash with a mix of horror and anger, but Mrs. Sharma restrains him. This is no place to create a scene.
Samar arrives near the pyre and follows the other kids as they sit down next to the ashes.
Get on with it, boys. Start fishing
Samar blinks, unable to understand what has been said to him. Just then, he sees the other kids reach into the ashes and start sifting through them. He hesitates, but eventually does the same.
One of the kids pulls out something and sets it down on the floor next to him. The other does the same and they start building a pile. They’re pulling out bones. Samar’s hand touches something. He freezes, then pulls it out slowly - it’s a skull fragment. He composes himself and sets it down next to him.
EXT. CREMATORIUM - AFTERNOON
The piles have grown larger. Samar doesn’t understand the ritual but is performing it with great care and diligence. He has recovered the most bones of anyone there. There is nothing left on the pyre but ashes.
Samar’s uncle has sauntered off to the side with his cellphone and isn’t paying attention to the kids. The little kids quickly check to make sure he’s faced away. Then, they nonchalantly kick the bones in their piles to move them next to Samar’s. They sweep a few stray bones onto the pile, again using their feet. They start walking away.
Sitting on his knees with his arms hanging limply at his sides, Samar watches them stroll away, his eyes wide with disbelief. He looks at the bones, the pyre, and finally, down at his ashen hands.
Samar gets up, makes his way away from his pyre toward his parents. As he gets closer, Mr. Sharma opens his mouth, but no words come out. Samar simply pulls his father into a tight embrace. Mr. Sharma closes his eyes and leans on his son. As he stands holding his father, Samar’s eyes scan the barren landscape around them.
INT. AIRPLANE CABIN - NIGHT
Mr. And Mrs. Sharma are asleep in their row. Samar sits typing away on his laptop.
INT. MRS. BROOKS’ ENGLISH CLASSROOM - DAY
Samar walks into the classroom just before the start of class and proceeds to Mrs. Brooks’ desk. He holds out all the essays. Mrs. Brooks turns and sees him.
Samar! Hey, you’re back! Hey,
listen... I’m really sorry about
what happened... Are you feeling
I appreciate it, Mrs. Brooks. Means
a lot. I’m fine. These are all my
papers, I hope you like them.
All of them?
Mhm. All of them.
She takes the papers from him.
That’s a lot of writing, Samar.
Good for you.
Hey, if you want to spend more time
on them, you can do that, I won’t
mark you down.
That’s all right. I feel pretty
good about them.
The bell rings and Samar goes to his seat. Some of the kids around him offer their condolences, the kid behind him puts her hand on his shoulder. He smiles softly, nodding in thanks.
INT. THE SHARMAS’ APARTMENT - DINNER TABLE - NIGHT
The family is putting food on their plates and getting ready to eat.
So, how was school this week?
Really good, actually. People have
been really nice. Oh, and Mrs.
Brooks got back to me about my
Oh yeah, what’d she say?
Really liked them. She’s putting in
a recommendation for me. They’re
moving me up. And she’s doing it
next quarter too, so I won’t even
have to wait till next year or
Relief and happiness wash over them. The house doesn’t seem hollow anymore. Mr. Sharma rustles Samar’s hair, rests his hand on the back of Samar’s neck, and strokes his nape with his thumb. They eat.