Nepali Times
"Why should a film be real?"



"In each and every house in Kathmandu, you might find a Radhika," Deepak Rauniyar, the director of Highway, says of one of his characters. "A woman whose husband has been working out of the country for two or three years, a woman left alone. How can we blame her for needing love?"

Highway follows a bus full of strangers across Nepal to Kathmandu. The characters are unusual: a young gay man, an unfaithful wife, a transgender victim of sexual violence, a wealthy divorced doctor slowly losing his mind. These are not the airbrushed clichés of Bollywood-style movies. The fragmentary narrative of Rauniyar's film plunges the audience into deeply personal vignettes of each character aboard the bus.

"Each character is a window into a hidden facet of Nepali society," Rauniyar says. The viewer gets vulnerable portraits of these outsiders, reel after reel of secrets. A woman gyrating on stage at a dance club as her eyes fill with tears, a young girl about to become a bride smoking a cigarette alone in a locked bathroom. These visceral glimpses into the secret lives of the passengers are performed with the same violence with which the film attempts to redefine Nepali cinematic identity, against the overwhelming, homogenous presence of imported cinematic formulas from South Korea and India.

Highway embodies the changes that Rauniyar wishes to see in contemporary Nepali films. "First and foremost, we have to start telling our story," he says. "So many directors are watching Bollywood or Korean movies and using those formulas to make movies for Nepalis, but we need our own stories."

This is not supposed to be an easy film to watch, said Rauniyar, acknowledging his intention to frustrate viewers accustomed to smooth plots with the interruptions of one banda after another, and repeated recordings of failed cell phone network messages as a secondary soundtrack for the film.

"A banda is a great example of selfishness, of forgetting the rights of others," explained Rauniyar. Highway's realism extends to its cinematography. Jump cuts stitched together create jolting exchanges between characters, and the camera bounces with the uneven road. "The road is not smooth, just as life is not smooth in Nepal," says the director.

Rauniyar was surprised about the censors excising the part with Limbuwan activists. "Why censor in films something present in everyone's lives? Nepali people hear this stuff on the radio, on the TV, everyday, so why can't they see it in a movie?" Rauniyar quoted one explanation he received from a bureaucrat in defense of the censorship: "He told me: 'Why should a film be real?'"

There is a unique freedom that the bus ride provides, away from the constraints of society, bringing together a cross-section of individuals with diverse economic and cultural backgrounds. During their journey the passengers transcend shortcomings and inertia through collective imagination. When the bus arrives in Kathmandu, they are cut off from each other, disappearing into the dark, urban sprawl, each drawn back into the solitary enclosures of their private lives.

There are no happy endings. The young gay man pulls back the rubber sheet to identify the dead body of his transgender friend. The army lieutenant tracks down his wife run down by a car and finds she has lost a baby not his own. The band is left, unpaid, in full wedding dress in the rain.

"This lack of a resolution reflects the betrayal our society is experiencing," explained Rauniyar, "I wanted the viewer to feel as lost and alone as each of the characters, if we are not together, we are nowhere." And yet the viewer is left with the sensation of hope, a memory of all that was possible within the bus.

Highway has encountered anger and criticism on its Facebook page. 'This is the worst movie of all time', says one. Another commentator accuses the film of being un-Nepali because it was shot by an Indian cinematographer and produced by an American, even claiming that Rauniyar intended his film to cater to a European audience rather than a Nepali one. There are also strong arguments in support of the film's innovations.

"Like it or dislike it," Rauniyar said, "you cannot avoid it."

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1. Rituraj Sapkota
For god's sake, you have spoilers in here... I was looking so much to watch the film the next time I am in Nepal and you had to tell me how it ends?????????????????

2. rishav
 i think i was the only one who liked this movie from the whole theater it definitely is a taste of reality and this is nepal where there are so many problems that we cannot even ensure safety, everything this so uncertain that even the marriage dates have to be postponed well ...its hard for a nepali audiences to face because its shows what is going in the country and rather than trying to avoid it just faces it .....

3. carr
they may not be the airbrushed cliches of hollywood movies, but they are cliches. sounds like you got one of each flavor: trans, gay, divorced doctor, dance club girl. you just needed a black, southeast asian and disabled person to round it out. not that there's anything wrong with it, as they are themes not really explored in nepali cinema before. Let's hope that the themes resonate with nepali audiences and get them thinking. 

4. Isha
horrible movie!

5. DK Bose
The movie is a breath of fresh air from the unbearable movies like The last kiss and Kathmandu, but i doubt Nepali audience would like to watch a film like Highway that wants viewers to use their brains... At a time when no brainer hindi movies like Dabaang, Bodyguard and Bol Bacchan are joining the 100 crore club and running to packed theaters in Nepal and encouraging nepali film makers to firmly stick to nonsense script, films like highway is most likely to make rounds at the film festival circuit but not really be a choice of the masses. Although the film maker's maturity is reflected in the movie, it could have been lengthend a bit for the home crowd. I think a fine actor like saugat malla was terribly wasted with so many of his screen space being chopped and given instead to the easily forgettable role of the crazy doctor played by rabindra mishra. however, i applaud the highway team for bringing OUR stories on nepali celluloid!!

6. Kamal Joshi
Nepali film goers always have this pre conceived notion that it's just a Nepali film and it will be bad before they enter the movie halls. In many ways, Highway is much better than most of the Bollywood flicks that our Nepalis really enjoy and when it comes to Nepali films, even the best ones have never been appreciated. Even a great film like Prem Pinda and Nuwafung failed to get much appreciation from our Nepali audience. I just want to congratulate and encourage Mr. Rauniyar for his bold attempt to bring this movie to a Nepali audience. Please continue to bring us more quality films like this. 

7. Baajey
We're not looking for films that are real but films that are realistic. And Highway is certainly eralistic even though its weaknesses are evident.

While protagonists in other Nepali films join fight clubs that don't exist in our society to escape from poverty, a Lahurey - man of legendary prowess and ability - dealing with impotence is particularly fresh.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)