Pranay Limbu admits that he submitted his documentary on Kuber Rai, Nepal's lost Adhunik singer, for Film South Asia 2003 just for fun. He certainly didn't expect Itihas Jitneharuko Lagi (History for Winners) would be picked to open the South Asian documentary film festival next week.
Pranay is self-taught. He spent hours pouring over books borrowed from the British Council and TU, recorded award-winning movies and watched them with a critical eye, getting a feel for how the pros did it. In a modest little flat in the back streets of Putali Sadak, Pranay and some friends set up the production house, RBA Films. Each year, the group puts their savings towards a camera, computer, editing software. This year, he was finally ready to invest in a film on the award-winning musician, Kuber Rai. It took the 29-year-old six months of hard work to put together a no-frills production using a single camera.
The camera tracks down Kuber Rai digging his field in Ilam. That evening, in his home lit by the flickers of a kerosene lamp, we learn that Kuber is a brilliant vocalist, one who had bested even the popular Ram Krishna Dhakal in a competition in Kathmandu. Now, several years later, Kuber has enough songs to cut a record and wants to give music another try.
As Kuber's story unfolds in Kathmandu, each time accompanied by the sorrowful tune of a solitary violin, we're introduced to Dhiraj Rai, a budding pop star. He is everything that Kuber is not. Dhiraj has no qualms about pandering to the media and has become an icon of modern youth culture. In an interview before he dashes off to a fashion show where he has been invited as the guest artist, Dhiraj admits there were times he thought of quitting, but he kept faith in his music and persevered for 12 years.
We become painfully aware of Kuber Rai's alienation in Kathmandu as he is shuttled from one music house to the next, each making empty promises. Arien Robin's lyrics sound clear: "I don't know what I am doing in this crazy city. I'm completely lost, confused." The newspapers stack up in Kuber's room, showing the empty days going by. Sixteen days later, defeated, Kuber decides it's time to return to his fields in Ilam.
In Kathmandu the curtains rise for Dhiraj as he proclaims, "History is for winners."
History was intended for Nepali television. "I wanted to make this film for the Nepali masses. I want to encourage young people not to lose hope just because they may be financially weak," Pranay told us. "If you have the dream, go for it."
Film South Asia has been holding bi-annual documentary festivals in Kathmandu, and this year 43 films from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka will be shown. Festival chairman, Kanak Mani Dixit, explains why Pranay's film was chosen to open this year's event: "First, History for Winners is a very well made film, and the alienation a villager feels in urban Kathmandu is a very powerful statement."
FSA 2003 will open on Thursday 25 September with a keynote address by Indian film director, Mahesh Bhatt, and will continue till 28 September at the Russian Cultural Centre.