11 - 17 December 2015 #786

Inside corridors of power

A sober screen adaptation of political leadership beset by familiar problems that plague the country today
Sarthak Mani Sharma

Singha Durbar, the new political drama being aired on Nepal Television, is not a racy story of deceitful politicians trying to plot each other’s downfall. It isn’t Nepal’s version of Yes, Prime Minister. It is a sober screen adaptation of political leadership beset by familiar problems of corruption, food insecurity and migration that plague the country today.

Much of the attention surrounding the series has come from the casting of ace actor Gauri Malla in the lead role of a woman prime minister. But, Singha Durbar is more than just a story about women empowerment. While Malla’s character is often snubbed by her male counterparts, sexism is not depicted blatantly, so viewers are left to wonder if these men simply envy her in the same way they would another successful man.

Each episode explores a new challenge faced by her government. In one installment, a rebellion in the fictional country of Subaha threatens the safety of Nepali migrant labourers working there, inciting riots back home. Though only four of the 13 episodes have been released so far, it is safe to say that the entire series will be about how a government under the premiership of a woman confronts crises case-by-case.

Singha Durbar is both a powerful commentary on Nepal’s politics as well as an infotainment manual for effective governance. The birth pangs of Asha’s new government include clashes over ministerial berths. Initially she makes compromises. But over time she learns to appoint ministers based on their competence, and not connections. She is also quick to respond to protests and upheavals, becoming more media savvy as she goes along.

Singha Durbar strikes home in reminding us that the onscreen problems are our own. Even with its sanitised image of politics, free as it is of large-scale corruption, political lies and betrayal, Singha Durbar makes a powerful case for improving our governance system and making it more inclusive and accountable.

Singha Durbar, which is funded by USAID, "showcases positive role models” says Ineke Stoneham, spokesperson of the US Embassy. "It is about democratic government that protects the rights of everyone.”

Gauri Malla exudes both poise and panache, and the other impressive cast members include the seasoned Pramod Agrahari, who is great as the rival politician and former RJ Alok Thapa, who fittingly plays a journalist.

But at times the dialogues feel stiff, spoken as they are in an unnaturally high level of grammatical correctness. It is also hard to imagine that politicians would speak so formally, using development jargon inside their homes and meeting rooms. Besides, Singha Durbar would also do well to take its viewers deeper into the actions of its prime minister in solving the countless problems. In the fourth episode, for instance, the crisis ends as soon as it erupts and we do not see enough of how the prime minister maneuvers to end that crisis. 

Otherwise Singha Durbar is an unprecedented and powerful political drama. With overtones of social justice and explorations of accountability, sustainability, healthcare, it is definitely, as Stoneham says, a “show for everyone”. Singha Durbar offers in these troubled times hope of a more equal and brighter future. 

Singha Durbar airs on Nepal Television on Sundays at 8:45 pm and can also be viewed on Youtube. It is directed by Tsering Rhitar Sherpa, produced by Search for Common Ground and funded by USAID