Nepali Times
Mask of Desire

Directed by Tsering Rhitar Sherpa

If Dreamworks had produced Mukundo ,we 'd have had Tripura Devi and Mahadev morphing and warping through cosmic vortices,all over the screen.Tsering Rhitar Sherpa has the advantage of living in Nepal,so he has no need to fake it.Instead,he turns his camera on the world around him.Spirit possession is not unusual in his world.

At the very beginning we are informed that the film is based on an actual occurrence.According to Kesang Tseten,who collaborated with Tsering on the story and also wrote the screenplay,the "actual occurrence " was summed up in a brief article in a Kathmandu newspaper some years ago stating that a jhankrini had killed her woman patient.Nothing more.

Starting with that tiny seed,the collaboration generated a tale that explores the universal dyad:Sacred- Profane,at the level of the individual and in the context of contemporary urban Nepal.Mukundo (Mask of Desire)is charged with a myth-like quality that recalls the classic 1950s film Black Orpheus ,where an extraordinary event is made plausible by setting it against the Dionysian background of the Rio Carnival.In Mukundo ,the Machhendranath Jatra is used to establish a similar atmosphere of communal ecstasy.

It is the myth-like quality of Mukundo ,and the universal noble element in Gita the jhankrini 's drama, that allowed me to project onto her (whether Tsering and Tseten intended it or not)the dilemma of all women torn between society 's constraints and their own human sexuality.

Gita (Mithila Sharma)is not born a shaman.The goddess Tripura possessed her while she was a traumatised unstable child-widow,unjustly blamed for the suicide of the sickly demented boy she had been married off to.With training,Gita learns to channel the power of the goddess and acquires the title "Mata " and a reputation as a healer who can cure where doctors fail.

The film opens on Gita,surrounded by ritual paraphernalia and offerings, possessed:trembling with the power of the goddess and locked in combat with a malevolent spirit that she is exorcising from the body of a suffering woman. She is ferocious and imperious in her holy trance:intimidating,threatening, as she binds and physically thrashes her patient,to dominate the demon and drive it out.

Later,when the trance passes,we find Gita,an attractive,unhappy woman,at her mirror,removing her shamanic regalia and expressing contempt for those she has healed.We learn that her special gift has become a heavy burden to her -she longs for the human love that is forbidden by her sacred calling.Her attendant priest (Nirmal Pyakurel)appeals to her social responsibility to use her gift to benefit others.He warns her that if she pursues her base desires,she will weaken the power of the goddess and that indeed, she herself risks being lost in the nether- world.

The movie then takes us into the home of the nicest,most uncomplicated,young family one can imagine.Dipak and Saraswati,with their two little girls,have made a simple nest of love in a small flat,on a small street in Patan.Dipak (Ratan Subedi) holds a steady job,as a night chowkidar, while the couple await the birth of their third child.Saraswati 's all-consuming wish for a son leads the couple (through a series of visually delightful scenes that feature ash-smeared sadhus,picturesque riverside shrines,and the magical landscape of Pashupatinath)to the feet of Mataji/Gita.The son that she prayed for has died,and Saraswati seems to be losing her mental stability.

The conflicted Gita,who is both the channel for a goddess and a flesh-and- blood woman,is drawn to the warmth that flows between the couple and magnetised by handsome Dipak 's gentle masculinity.The Saraswati-Dipak-Gita triangle and Saraswati 's oncoming breakdown is the dynamic that drives Mukundo to its stunning climax.

It 's a great movie.There 's so much in it.Is anybody going to accept Bollywood knock-offs from our Nepali filmmakers anymore?

(Mukundo is being screened at 5.30 pm,starting 1 September,at Hiraratna Cinema Hall,Kalo Pul. The film is sub-titled in English.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)