A must-see, and apart from a few inconsistencies, authentically portrays the hardships of Nepalis without romanticising it.
As the first independent feature-length Hollywood film to be shot almost entirely in Nepal, and with two Nepalis playing central characters, anticipation around Highway to Dhampus had been building up in Nepal and in the diaspora for months before its release.
Directed by Rick McFarland, the film’s setting plays a pivotal role in the storyline. Elizabeth James (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a rich, spoilt socialite, arrives in Nepal for charity work and photojournalist Colt Morgan (Gunner Wright) is sent along to document her stay to erase her notorious reputation back home in England.
They make their way to an orphanage in Ghandruk with Ajit (Raj Ballav Koirala), who becomes their personal pilot and guide for the remainder of the trip. In Ghandruk, they meet the orphanage’s headmistress Laxmi (Suesha Rana) who helps coordinate the gift distribution to her students.
Egos clash as Colt becomes increasingly frustrated with Elizabeth’s diva behaviour whereas a subtle bond develops between Ajit and Laxmi. As the plot unravels, circumstances change, and relationships evolve. Compared to the slow start, the second half of the film carries more emotional depth and explores the theme of love and loss. Since most of the film is in flashback, audiences can anticipate what is coming but they can never fully predict it.
Both Hurd-Wood and Wright give strong performances as the snobbish, British socialite and the seasoned photojournalist. Koirala is effortless, and has a smooth screen presence. Rana gives a nuanced performance as the headmistress, although her delivery could have done with some improvement. For Nepali audiences, hearing the actors converse in Nepali is a joy.
Despite the excellent performances, the characterisation is weak. Elizabeth is known throughout the film as the spoilt socialite, and she acts the part, but the audience never finds out much more than that. We are not aware of her past and of how she became a fodder for the paparazzi. Similarly, not much is known of Colt apart from the fact that he’s a war photojournalist.
Using the spectacular Annapurnas as a backdrop for the film, McFarland makes optimum use of the location with his cinematography. The stunning aerial shots of Pokhara and Dhampus, together with Sam Cardon’s moving original music, can make overseas Nepalis homesick. Highway to Dhampus is a must-see, and apart from a few inconsistencies, authentically portrays the hardships of Nepalis without romanticising it.
Highway to Dhampus is showing at QFX Cinemas and FCube Cinemas in Kathmandu.