EkaDeshma: Screening Nepal

January 19, 2015 , by Jerusha Rai, Leave your thoughts
On November 8, Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre (KCAC) organized a Nepali film festival in the heart of the art hub, Camden in London. In collaboration with EkaDeshma and Subsonic Routes, the event sparked a lively discussion on the possibilities of Nepali film in the international arena, as well as the very concept of film amongst a diverse audience of young, old, Nepalis and Britons. Presented with a fantastic line up of lesser known yet innovative short films by Nepali filmmakers, the festival was, to me, a memorable cinematic experience.

The fairly large hall at The Forge was ringing with the baritones of two actors conversing in a taxi. As I clumsily made my way along the aisles to the last empty seat, nobody seemed to acknowledge my frantic apologies. In the flickering light of the screen, I could see the faces in the audience; engaged and intent upon soaking up the sights and sounds of lesser known contemporary Nepali films. I felt to be in good company.

I settled down as quietly as possible, careful not to interrupt the tense atmosphere that shrouds any good cinema. Organisers KCAC along with EkaDeshma film festival and Subsonic Routes had managed to turn the empty hall into a space that promises a great cinema experience, introducing Nepali films to a diverse audience of young and old, Nepalese and British.

The taxi conversation continued: a deliberately crude exchange between the driver and the passenger Sammy as they bluntly discuss the graphic details of the transaction taking place. Sammy is soliciting a sex worker for the first time and the driver takes turns mocking Sammy’s inexperience and assuring him of the "quality" girl he is taking him to meet.

These first few electrifying scenes from director Navin Tiwari’s 1 percent, maintained their momentum as the film progressed. Following panic-stricken Sammy as he tries to deal with the consequences of the exchange, Tiwari has tried to address the illegal and uncontrolled sex trade in Kathmandu that is leading to increasing HIV infections.

Nepali society is still too uncomfortable to discuss such issues and the alarming statistics surrounding STDs often go ignored. Tiwari’s efforts are commendable for taking on a taboo subject. 1 percent at times felt more like a public-information ad, nevertheless executed artfully with a strong script, persuasive acting and original soundtracks.

At the end of this short film, I checked the programme schedule. KCAC, Nepal’s first international arts charity, has been organising exhibitions, workshops and symposia granting bursaries to emerging Nepali artists. Its art reference library allows access to more than 5,000 books, the largest collection of its kind in Nepal. Private donors as well as Tate Britain have been contributing to the collection. KCAC officially opened in 2012 and is currently stationed at the Patan Museum.

This fantastic line-up of emerging Nepali filmmakers was put together in collaboration with EkaDeshma, who have been running an annual film festival In Nepal since 2012. They have successfully presented mainstream as well as indie cinema from around the world to Nepali audiences, but this particular event was its first attempt to highlight Nepali filmmakers to the London audience.

After rechecking the schedule, I found out that I had missed the two films that were shown earlier. The brief synopsis in the schedule informs me that in P is for Parrot, filmmaker Pawan Adhikari, dealt with subject of loss. In the other short film, director Min Bahadur Bham’s Bansulli, tells the story of Bijuli, a state of a 12-year old girl from Far-west Nepal following the decade long Maoist insurgency that had claimed more than 15,000 lives.

The Nepalese Civil War has also set the contemporary art scene in upheaval. We are witnessing a thematic shift from traditional portrayals of the country as Shangri-La to representations of the ongoing political and social turbulence facing the nation.

A shot form "Shuffle"
Younger filmmakers too have taken on the challenge of representing cultural shifts brought on by globalisation and the formation of hybrid and complex identities. Filmmaker, Shirish Gurung’s Shuffle depicts a day in the life of a Jumli (person from Jumla) boy in Far-west Nepal with an art house approach. The use of this particularly European avant-garde style of filmmaking to show the simple realities of remote Nepal gives one a novel experience in Gurung’s film. When the Jumli finds an iPod left by a tourist and shuffles through the songs with earphones on, The Byrds and Velvet Underground seems to fit seamlessly with the landscapes and the pace of life. The brilliant use of music includes deuda, a Nepali folk melody: an endearing shot of a village boy singing to the open hills of Jumla.
A shot form "Mulberry Madness"
Gurung’s most recent short film, Mulberry Madness opened the second half of the one-day film festival. Yet again, this film ties in a mother in rural Nepal to her son Bir in bustling London. An old Nepali song that seems to be playing out of a vintage radio amusingly underscores the sights of the busy, modern city. Bir snacks on mulberries sent by his mother back home as he watches a Hitchcock film, juxtaposing as well as blending in the varied cultural influences that inform the director’s generation of Nepalese youth. Hilarity ensues when the film takes a trippy turn as Bir starts hallucinating from the mulberries.

For these two truly original works, KCAC honoured Gurung along with the two leading actors of Mulberry Madness. Prominent artists like Subhash Thebe who were present in the audience were also called upon. When I later spoke to this talented crew, Gurung related, "The film festival was a great encouragement to young filmmakers, especially for those experimenting with new styles and themes that may not get any mainstream success".

A shot form "Fykah"
In any case, the audience present that day seemed enthralled with gasps and laughter punctuating the films shown, adding to the pleasure of watching films collectively. After the last two films, Fykah by Kusang Rai and False Springs by Bhaskar Dhungana, I discussed the audience’s rather surprising response with Silvi Subba of the organising team.

"We were expecting the films being shown to be quite new for general audience but we were pleasantly surprised to get such a positive vibrations. It just goes to show that directors shouldn’t dumb down films into formulaic or predictable plots to guarantee the film’s success. The audience is ready for something challenging and it is an exciting time for art in Nepal as we witness developments across all kinds of art forms".

This first attempt by KCAC and EkaDeshma introduced tasteful Nepali short films to a diverse audience simultaneously raising funds for KCAC to further support Nepali talent and provide resources. It sparked a flurry of conversation among the attendees who stayed back for the concert following the film festival. I eavesdropped on a few of these conversations and found the event had successfully led to discussions on the possibilities for Nepali cinema in the international arena. Indeed, there is an ever-present skepticism with Nepal lagging far behind other film industries. Nevertheless, the effects of even small scale events like these, will definitely cumulate well into the future of Nepali cinema.

Words by Jerusha Rai.
Follow Jerusha on Twitter


Tags: , , ,

Categorised in: Arts

Leave a Reply

Connect with:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>