Nepali Times
Signs of life

When Kagbeni was released to critical acclaim in 2008, there were many who felt that the Nepali film industry was ready to stand up and be counted. But despite the enthusiastic reception of film festivals hosting new documentary and short film talent, Nepali films are, by and large, still dross. Even more 'modern' productions have not moved beyond hackneyed themes and characterisations within the framework of a musical.

It could be that Nepali filmmakers feel constrained by the ostensible demand for conventional Bollywood-derived fare. Perhaps this is why it took a British director to offer us a different kind of Nepali movie. The Nepali-language Sick City, written and directed by Murray Kerr, recently made the unlikely leap from the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (where it won the Juror's Prize) to Jai Nepal. Audiences had all of a week to judge for themselves.

That Sick City is a new breed of Nepali cinema is obvious as soon as we are introduced to the protagonist, Krishna (Arpan Thapa). He's on the run, weaving through Kathmandu's thoroughfares to his familyÖfrom whom he promptly borrows money to pay off his pursuers. Krishna is a drug peddler in the employ of a gangster, and Thamel is his playground. At least in the dance bars and alleys of what is now much more than a tourist zone, Kerr's vision of a metropolis where money means all and corrupts everything it touches is a believable one. The understated Krishna, constantly brushing off well-meaning, preachy types as he hurtles towards his doom, is a good a guide as any to Kathmandu's underbelly. And Kerr's handycam shots, imaginative editing and pulsating soundtrack are appropriate to the subject at hand.

Of course, one expects a realist movie to be consistently so. When Sick City falters, then, it stands out that much more. This is perhaps unfair, given the low budget on which the movie was made, and even more so in comparison to the stilted fantasies of Kollywood. Nonetheless, the linear narrative could have been streamlined further; a friend even suggested it could be completely remade for the international market.

That's for Kerr to decide. For the time being, as he declared before the premiere, he wants "to show Nepali filmmakers that there are other ways to make movies". With Sick City, Nepal finally has an indie movie on mainstream release. One hopes the momentum it has provided will encourage these Nepali filmmakers to take more risks and portray the other realities of a capital and a country that, while certainly afflicted to various degrees, is far from moribund.

Rabi Thapa

1. Sickened by sick city
oh dear, just the opposite of what i thought. in my opinion 'sick city' is a completely failed attempt to represent the 'underbelly' of kathmandu. it is so badly done it made me want to look away from the screen. i see what it wants to be, what it's aiming at, 'indie' and all that, but good aims alone can't make a good film. it seems the director has no sense of time and pace, no idea of cinematography (by which i don't mean pretty landscapes of course), and above all, no real knowledge of nepali society, let alone its 'underbelly'! i am truly dumbfounded by the hype, and am wondering about the jury who actually nominated it for a prize (!!) - could it merely the nepali syndrome of white-worshipping?

2. Thor
I was astounded by this film. The ending left me speechless and has remained deeply ingrained since. Sick City follows the tradition of urban indie movie debuts such as Scorsese's Mean Streets and as such is highly steeped in the integrity of a project made out of passion and love for cinema. That's it's made by an outsider to our society on a budget that couldn't even cover the salary of one Kollywood star, is not only commendable, but a wake up call. Stand up, take note and let's start telling our own stories. Drop the hate. Nepali syndrome of 'white worshipping'..? Have a bit more respect for yourself and your people. I suspect the previous comments coming from someone with a personal grudge against either white people or even the director Murray. Get a life. If your that moved/angered, pick up a camera and please show how it's done.

3. Murray Kerr
I know exactly who you are and greatly anticipate our next meeting. Until then, I'd like to give you a lecture on cinematography with a commercial I shot, directed and edited 2 months ago. Take care XX

Look forward to hearing all about timing and pace from you. Always willing to learn from a master!

4. sickened by sick city
thor: nothing against the director, man, i don't even know his full name. though i am beginning to suspect you are either the director himself or someone trying to save his reputation. anyway, no harm in that i suppose. however, i don't quite agree with your 'if you don't like it do it yourself' advice. that's the kind of retort given by second-rate amateurs -- 'if u don't like my book, why don't u write one yourself?' or 'if u don't like my song, why don't u sing it yourself?'. imagine having to produce a replacement for every novel, painting, dance, song, or film you didn't like! then there'd be no such thing as audience, no room for judgment or criticism. that seems like a much more frightening prospect for artists, including mediocre ones. as for the nepali syndrome of white-worshipping, if you didn't already know about it you must be either new to nepal, or one of those hyper-optimistic white people who think all is well as long as they have happy smiling natives around them. look around more! in nepal white-worshipping goes a long long way back, it predates colonialism!

5. sickened by sick city
murray kerr: i don't know which innocent person you are mistaking me for but honestly i am just an ordinary viewer with no personal grudges against you. maybe i was a bit harsh in my initial assessment of the film. i read the review right after watching the film so i guess it threw me off a bit. i expected the review to be more critical (for e.g. i felt some of the scenes dragged on too long). it was the review more than the film that elicited such a reaction. this is no personal war. i look forward to your next film.

6. Red Lantern
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I agree with 'sickened by sick city' as I too became the victim of false promises through its overblown reviews.  It is one thing to encourage a work of a 'potential' but preposterous to elevate it to the level of veterans even in a green field such as Nepal's! I don't belong to filmmaking academia but as an ardent movie buff and an avid supporter of indies, artsies, etc., what I do know or want from my movies is a strong grip on story, creativity and if not, then, at least a sense of consistent rhythm in it. What starts to annoy you from the start in 'Sick City' is the apparent sluggishness in the edits of the movie, or was it intentional to include the clumsy bump sound of the camera/tripod in a crucial scene? Had the director paid attention to the extraneous noises and made appropriate cuts, the movie could have stirred the right emotion on its audiences instead of complete detachment, which I felt. Small screen tends to forgive loose edits but to have a theatrical screening and expecting your audience to let go of the rough spots is unforgivable. On a positive note, I liked the plot or the story and its relativity or similarity to any young man's struggle to make it big in the tough urban jungle and his downfall when he chooses the 'fast-track'. However, what might have looked promising in the script has failed to deliver on the screen possibly because of the lacking sense of 'continuity' or 'smoothness' in the story-portrayal and its baffling 'logic'. One small example is the crazy blind daughter of the big don who walks around in the middle of the night in Thamel, carrying a bunch of keys that unlock the doors to her father's night club and not to forget the 'loaded' safe box!?! okkkk....and the most baffling one: the whole movie is shot in the night light,  I assume, symbolic to its somber theme- the sleaziness and crimes of a night life in thamel...hmm, but the climax of the movie, where the don is going to commit the most gruesome crime happens in a broad daylight on the Bagmati beach! much for the smart big don. No wonder he trusted his crazy daughter with the keys to his safe box! The tempo and the mood of the movie at the end remains the same - dragging, despite our hero whose dreams and hopes have just been shattered into pieces.

I hope there are more out there (and I know there are) to point out to Murray where he has stumbled, especially amongst his own well-wishing circle. Nothing personal but a friendly suggestion for him to work harder in his next projects. Show us what you really got.  If he wants to make better movies, he had better buckle up for harsher audiences, and not to take their intelligence and tastes for granted. Most high hopes are often followed by disappointments but next time I would love to be proven wrong.


7. t grg
using a handycam and with the given budget cant ask  for more than this totally beats the bollywood melodrama remakes...
     kudos to Mr.Murray kerr.....

8. Nepalipan
I watched the movie and came out really depressed. The movie has portrayed our city Kathmandu as a filthy depressing druglord's dungeon. So many people have come to Kathmandu and felt it love with it and got inspired. Bob Segar has written song about this city. But the movie (I would never recommend any friend to watch it and I will never watch it again). Good movies are something that I would love to watch it again and again and again and recommend friends and family to watch it. But this one a BIG NO! I don't think there is anything to be appreciated in this movie except for Krishna's excellent acting. Thumbs down! 

9. Murray Kerr
As the director/writer/camera man of Sick City and as a white man residing in Nepal, happily married to a Nepali I feel a more than a slight compulsion to reply to 'sick of sick cities' ascribing the success of my small film to 'white worshiping'. What is this phenomena with which my film has apparently been so blessed...? Could I include examples such as the time I spent a Dashain in a Brahmin village and was made to sleep in a barn, because to allow a white man into their house would have made it ritually unclean...? Or could it include the countless times I've sat in 'Bate's' taking the same momo's as the man sitting behind me and I hear the whisper of 'Khaate Kuire'...? Or could it even include the time some drunk fool tried to start a fight in a restaurant with me because I was gai ko masu khanne manche sitting with a Nepali bahini...? (I promise you he wasn't standing for long) I'm totally perplexed, and slightly disappointed with my lack of experience in facing this form of positive discrimination. Your term wrecks of a low self esteem in your national identity and a blind attack at the success of my film. So we got the award for best Nepali film at KIMFF. Guess what, the jury were white, and while they were very polite while meeting me, not for once did I have the feeling of being deified. You might be surprised to know that the primary art house cinema in Copenhagen, Denmark, Cinematrak wants to take on SickCity as their film of the month. This being cultural the home of Lar Von Triers/Dogma 95, as a filmmaker I am truly honored. I'm not sure about the ethic make up of the selection committee, but then again their probably not sure of my ethnic make up, so  whatever 'white worshiping' is I'm certain it has nothing to do their taking on of my film. This film has now been playing for 3 weeks in Kathmandu, is doing well commercially and very well critically. It might surprise you to hear that some people like this film, and I mean really really like it. Whatever qualms you have with my film dramatically and technically, I fully appreciate, and encourage debate. But if you attack the success of my film on the grounds of my race then that is an entirely different matter and is something which I will simply not tolerate. Sorry the film depressed you Nepalipan, but if you read the title on your ticket, or perhaps any of the reviews, you can't really be that surprised as to the narrative content. I don't know what part of Kathmandu you live in, but try 6 months in Thamel and you won't be working for the tourism board. Next time you make a decision to go to a cinema, spend a little more time finding out about the film you are going to watch.     

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)