Despite its popular cast and characteristic comic one-liners, it is as if this is too serious a subject to be laughing about
There is a limit to how much you can laugh in a movie that looks at the lighter side of migration and its bleak reality. The scenes begin to weigh heavily on your conscience.
Revolving around the lives of five unemployed men in an unidentified village, Deepa Shree Niraula’s directorial debut, Chhakka Panja, never gets out of its weak plot and odd jokes. Despite its popular cast and characteristic comic one-liners, it is as if this is too serious a subject to be laughing about.
Deepak Raj Giri, who plays Raja, comes from a noticeably affluent family in a largely unemployed, poverty-stricken village during the post-conflict years. His three minions (Magne, Saraswati and Buddhi) played by Kedar Ghimire, Jetu Nepal and Buddhi Tamang respectively, and himself spend most days at the nearby bhatti playing board games and reassuring each other of reasons to remain unmarried, mostly because they do not have the means to support a wife. They drink their worries away, make jokes about the only married (and hen-pecked) friend Buddhi, and watch on as most male members of the village leave for the Gulf or Malaysia, or win a DV lottery visa to the land of dreams and opportunities.
As the movie progresses, the four friends are predictably pulled out from their cocoons and dragged into reality. Each of them either finds love, goes abroad for work or both. And while in most movies, this would have been the ‘happy ending’ that ties all loose ends together Chhakka Panja goes on to show viewers the lack of assurance any of this provides in a corrupt, chaotic state that cannot give jobs to its people, forcing them to leave the country.
The fact that this movie has lasted five weeks in cinemas amidst all the festivities does set it apart from other Nepali films of its kind. Chhakka Panja has the usual flaws: the transition between scenes is blotchy, characters and their trademark one-liners are unoriginal, the plot has loopholes, but what grates most is the trivialisation of hard-hitting issues that plague our society and country.
And while it has been categorised as social satire and you’re probably expected to take it all in good humour, some in the audience are left feeling bitter and guilty about having laughed at the pun on KC after you see Magne and his colleagues - One kidney less, but with a visible scar to remind them of the poverty they’ve been born into and the sacrifices they’ve had to make to survive.
Jokes are made, songs sung and dances danced and it all comes across as escapism during the festival. While the audience in the cinema breaks into guffaws, you are left curling in your seat with distress because the humour invariably wilts. We leave the hall wiping tears not of laughter, but of the tragic reality of a visionless state, corrupt politicians and the feeling of impending doom.