News anchors are familiar but formidable faces. As they read from the teleprompter, they appear to know everything without being moved by any of it. Sometimes we forget that the faces mouthing the lines are normal human beings. They too are disturbed by what they show and see.
Dil Bhushan Pathak is one of the more perceptive news anchors in the world of Nepali television. Just reading the headlines every evening on camera wasn't enough, so he ventured out of the studio to see for himself what was happening to his country.
Sushila Jaisi died in Aachham but the manner of her death, callous and tragic, made Pathak restless. He decided to explore her story and made it to Mangalsen. Newsroom Bahira (Outside the Newsroom) is the documentary of his distressing discovery.
The film is about the sufferings of women, unsafe sex and motherhood, unwanted pregnancy and archaic methods of abortion still prevalent not just in Aachham but in many other parts of Nepal. In 23 minutes, Pathak has captured an individual tragedy that is the result of the vicious circle of poverty, ignorance, gender discrimination and fatalism. "Who cares if she dies?" says a man about his wife. These five words tell us more about gender relations in rural areas than the countless reports churned out by consultants over the last three decades.
Amidst breathtakingly scenic mountains of midwestern Nepal, the bucolic charm of village life as women wash their hair in a gurgling stream, the languid pace of a remote village is the stark story of everyday death. The narrative of deprivation and neglect is in contrast to the beauty all around. There is dialogue between community workers, health service providers and NGO-types. Some blame it on the lack of awareness, the health workers point out the perils of unsafe abortions without being judgmental. Pathak lets them tell the story, and Newsroom Bahira ends up being a shocking horror story.
While we follow the story, there is still the impression that Pathak hasn't sufficiently captured the depth of the tragedy of Nepali women. For some the film may be too long (we don't want to know about Aachham, tell us more about Sushila) or too short (more sociological dissection of a place that makes the Sushilas die in vain).
Pathak's second documentary about a 79-year young man's quest for education is more uplifting. Sukh Bahadur Adhikary comes back to his village in Kaski after being a lahure in India for 50 years. Lahure is self-inflicted exile to make a living but the word connotes a return to one's roots after retirement. But Sukh Bahadur refuses to spend the rest of his days reminiscing about the adventures of youth. He enrols in school with his grandchildren.
The film runs with the unhurried pace of its protagonist. The house, the family, the school and the livestock are filmed in their natural habitat. Sukh Bahadur does tell stories but they are tinged with the hopes of his youth rather than the sadness of a person in his twilight years.
Premiered last week, Pathak's documentaries have been selected for Himalayan Film Festival (4-6 November) in Amsterdam. Producer Shikha Parsai and director Dil Bhushan Pathak have shown they can depict both hope and despair in present-day Nepal with sensitivity and imagination.