Nepali Times
Drama in real life


ON AIR: Actors Smiriti Mishra and Prakash Gandharba record an episode of Katha Mitho Sarangiko in Janakpur last month.

Nearly two years after the ceasefire, the Nepali media has been trying, through various formats, to be a part of the national reconciliation process.

Katha Mitho Sarangiko (Story of the Sweet Sarangi) uses radio, the medium that is the most prevalent and most-underutilised in Nepal. The message of peace and justice is woven into a series of 48 drama episodes, each 11 minutes long, and will be aired on the BBC Nepali Service and more than 70 FM stations throughout Nepal from the first week of February till June.

The drama series tells the story of Dilu Gandarba, a young minstrel from Naudada near Pokhara (played by Prakash Gandarba) and Sukinder Gupta of Janakpur (played by real-life Janakpur resident, 17-year-old Ujjwal Mishra). The plot in some of the episodes revolves around the adventures of a pahadi sarangi player and a madhesi dholak drummer. It is a fusion of the two musical instruments and delivers a subtle message of the co-existence of communities in Nepal.

The script is not preachy or in-your-face, and the conversation between Sukinder and Dilu and the way they share the joy and sadness of everyday life in contemporary Nepal carries an unmistakeable message.

"We never use buzzwords like 'peace' or 'inclusiveness', we avoid Sansrkit words translated from English jingoisms, the characters speak colloquial Nepal and the message is subtly weaved into the story," explains Kedar Sharma, consultant to the drama series.

The recording technique is also unique. Katha wasn't performed in a Kathmandu studio with actors caricaturing madhesi accents, but used genuine voices on location throughout Nepal. In one episode, deafening horns of highway buses punctuate the background as Dilu plays his sarangi, but the two sounds resonate in perfect harmony. In another, a real-life bus conductor playing a conductor argues with Dilu about his fare and the effect is of authenticity: no script writer could have got the exact nuance of a bus conductor's colourful vocabulary or the madhesi lilt to his Nepali.

The drama also uses real-life characters like a Rukum farmer whose wife was killed in the conflict, playing himself. The part of a drug addict in Pokhara trying to extort money from his grandfather is played by a real ex-addict.

This is a documentary radio drama (a docu-drama, literally) recorded on location with the sounds, accents, cadences and rhythms of the real Nepal. It is difficult in the age of television to get people to sit riveted to radio, but during a preview last month, that is exactly what happened to us. The subtlety of the message, simplicity of language and depth of emotions left few dry eyes in the audience.

"This sort of production hasn't been tried before in Nepal, but it has worked well in other parts of the world," says co-producer Dipak Rauniyar.

Radio dramatist Fiona Ledger pioneered this format and has used it for peace-building in African countries. "Written language is all too often a formalised version of the spoken word," Ledger told Nepali Times. "By producing dramas that were improvised, I wanted to bypass a tendency among playwrights to explore the dictionary rather than explore colloquial use of the spoken word."

Ledger says there is one major difference between Nepal and English-speaking countries in Africa: "Nepal has drawn on a literary inheritance that is at least 3,000 years old."

It can safely be predicted that Katha Mitho Sarangiko will be a big hit throughout the country in the coming months, not just entertaining audiences but carrying a strong message of peace and coexistence.

Dilu's part is played by a real-life Gandarba, Prakash, who fits right into the role. "I am just doing what my ancestors used to do, which is to go from village to village spreading the message through song, only my music will go all over the country through radio," Prakash said.

Katha Mitho Sarangiko BBC World Service Trust
Produced by: Dipak Rauniyar, Sushma Pandeya and Khagendra Lamichhane
Editorial Consultant: Kedar Sharma
Concept: Fiona Ledger
48 episodes will be broadcast over 70 FM stations including BBC Nepali Service from the first week of February.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)