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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tulke: Making us proud as Nepalis

In Nepal, we are not advancing economically, we are stunted and dwarfed in other arenas like sports, our education and health services are regressing; so it is a full-scale tragedy if we cannot progress even in fields in which individual excellence and innovativeness can make up for the apathy and negligence of the state. Plays have been here as the silver linings in the cloud for quite some time. Now they are joined by some refreshing movies like Kabaddi and TVT. The future may not be quite as dark as it has been so far when it comes to arts and literature in Nepal.

For some reason or the other, I am yet to watch the Nepali movie Loot even though everyone who has watched it has recommended it as a must-watch.

But it was not the case with Talakjang vs Tulke (TVT), the other movie from the same director. At the first opportunity, I went to the theater to watch it.

The first thing that came to my mind while sitting to review this movie was the Eric Valli's masterwork Caravan. While I enjoyed Valli's ingenious movie, the contrast with 'mainstream' Nepali movies was obvious and that reminded me of how utterly backward our own film industry was, thereby diluting the joy of watching a good movie.

The movie reminded just how good a movie could be created inside the physical boundaries of Nepal by tapping into what we already have: an ever-luring  beauty of the landscape, the scarcely researched cultural themes and the talented people with real life hurdles unimaginable for many in the worlds yet with ability to act impeccably in real as well as reel lives. What we were--and are, to say rather sorrily--doing instead was shamelessly and skill-lessly copying the frame of so called formula-based movies from Bollywood and simply breeding the ugly and uninspiring movies.

That was and remains a real tragedy, for a society can never progress in its entirety unless the arts and literature fronts, like many others, languish in dark.

In Nepal, we are not advancing economically, we are stunted and dwarfed in other arenas like sports, our education and health services are regressing; so it is a full-scale tragedy if we cannot progress even in fields in which individual excellence and innovativeness can make up for the apathy and negligence of the state.

Over past many years, play-theaters in Nepal have done a lot to dispel some of the gloom resulting from this suffocating lack of innovation. Some exceptionally good plays like Court Martial, Degree Maila, Banki Pristha, Rashoman and Charandas Chor, from directors Anup Baral, Dayahang Rai, Ashesh Malla, Sunil Pokharel and Rajan Khatiwada (not in particular order) have made us forget the misery around us while taking us deep down the world of creativity and ingenuity of Nepali artists. Some other unforgettable foreign plays like Off for some days, Museum of Million Hamlets and Bhopal have been staged in Kathmandu, thanks to the periodic festivals organized by Sunil Pokharel at Gurukul.

 Yet, the plays are yet to catch up with the scope of the movies in Nepal. Despite a sizable and expanding audience among the urban middle-class, a good play will, for the time being, stop short of totally compensating for the lack of a good movie.

 And here come the movies like Kabaddi and TVT. As was the case with all the above-mentioned plays, I watched Kabaddi twice and plan to see TVT again soon.

While watching TVT, I was both overjoyed and proud. Here was a movie without a fictitious hero culling dozens of villains and an ordinary women in village with costumes and make-up suitable for a typical Nagarbadhu. There was no overt good-vs-bad portrayal and no manufactured happy ending. Even the so called 'item dance' was reasonably aligned with the story line.

And it is more. I need not and do not want to go into the details of the movies, but one thing was clear for me all along: Nepali movie industry will never be the same again after producing this. From flawless acting of the theater-trained artists to equally flawless depiction of the conflict scenes, I was so absorbed by the movie that a pleasant sensation persisted even as I was crying in some particularly emotional moments.

At the risk of alienating the brilliant roles of most of the actors, I'll say this much: one playing Phuli was the best to me. 

The original story by Lu Xun, from what I can remember having read it a decade ago, is a rather long but mesmerizing tale of an extraordinary character living an apparently ordinary but eccentric life. A person with enough patience can enjoy that short story. But I had never imagined it could be so beautifully adapted into a movie and not by a long shot into a Nepali movie.

The movie is also a poignant reminder of how the aspirations of the poor and downtrodden had coalesced into a shared cause to give rise to the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.

It was, though, very sad to discover that the director, Nischal Basnet had been there in the very hall where I watched it the previous day. His acting in Kabaddi was mesmerizing enough but TVT has now made him indisputably the director with best potential in Nepal.

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