10-16 June 2016 #812

Narrating Nepal

Rendezvous with director of critically acclaimed movie Kalo Pothi.
Smriti Basnet

Shooney Films
FINDING KARISHMA: Prakash (Khadka Raj Nepali) holding the white hen gifted by his sister (Hansha Khadka)

Min Bahadur Bham remembers refusing, as a school student in Mugu district, to join the Maoist army but recalls most of his classmates abandoning their homes to enlist. With many youths leaving, shops forced to shut down and police patrolling the area every night, life in the village got increasingly dangerous. Twenty years later, having found refuge in the realm of cinema Bham (below) revisits the past and gives the world a rare glimpse into his life’s journey.

“That was the reality of our society then. This movie is my way of releasing all those pent-up emotions,” said Bham, whose directorial debut Kalo Pothi has gained wide acclaim in Nepal since its release last week.

Set in 2001 in a war-torn village in Rara, the story is about two friends, Prakash and Kiran. The plot unfolds as they embark on a quest to find Karishma, the hen gifted by Prakash’s sister who later joins the Maoist army. The movie skilfully explores the intricate relationship between two boys from contrasting social backgrounds, which Bham contextualises within a narrative of the political situation in the country. It makes for a compelling and heart-breaking story of camaraderie and loss.

The story is one close to Bham’s heart. The chronicle, with its vivid and memorable characters, has been sketched from his personal experiences. Recollecting his childhood days, he revealed how — like in the movie — his friendship with another young boy in his village, which played a pivotal part in his life, was despised because of their differing castes. “His father always pushed us both to excel in our studies because he felt guilty for not completing his,” said Bham who in the movie also tackles themes such as caste, religion and education.

“While unique, the story has a distinctly local appeal. Although set in a far-away village in Nepal, everyone can relate to it because the tale itself, of friendship and tragedy, is universal,” said the film's German producer Anna Kachko, who also produced award-winning movies like Harmony Lessons (2013)and Zhauzhürek Myng Bala (2012).

Leveraging on natural sounds and utilising amateur actors, Bham succeeds in infusing the production with the real look and feel of his native region. It is this authenticity and realism that strike a chord with the audience.

Bikram Rai

Kalo Pothi won the Best Film (International Film Critics Week) award at the Venice Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Asian Feature Film at the Singapore International Film Festival and for the Grand Prix award at the Fribourg International Film Festival. Bham’s short film Bansulli (2012) had been nominated for the Venice Horizons Youtube Award at the Venice Film Festival, but did not attract the same measure of popularity.

Nonetheless, getting to where he is today has been a struggle for the director, who ran away from home after completing his tenth grade. “I was scared my parents would force me to join their business or enter politics,” said the 32-year-old who put himself through film school and theatre after coming to Kathmandu. “The struggle as an artist continues throughout life, first you fight with the family, then with society and then sometimes even with yourself.”

While shooting the movie, Bham faced difficulties relating to accessibility of the location, obtaining permits, and also the sceptical and wary attitude of Rara’s local political leaders. “They were worried about what we were really trying to show,” he said.

Despite all the challenges, the positive response the movie has been getting is inspiring and motivating Bham to venture into new projects, particularly to share untold stories of Nepal. He hopes that the younger generation of film-makers will also reap the benefits of the movie’s triumph.

He explained: “If such movies are successful in attracting an audience and generating a profit, our pool of talented film-makers might be encouraged to pursue bold and innovative ideas.”

Watch trailer: