The K-Town’s Midas

November 28, 2014 , by Pragya Thapaliya, Leave your thoughts
For quite a long time, Nepali cinema had needed a shift. A shift to get rid of exchange of sophisticated dialogues that makes one awkward, a shift to make us believe we are veering off from a mundane plot that bears no resemblance to the society we live in or are grown up with. Nepali cinema needed a shift to distance itself from the same old struggle of a poor lover against his/her suitor, the dramatic group song at the suburbs of Kathmandu and an over-doing of action scenes that are supposed to work as dessert for a tasteless meal.

Nischal Basnet has managed to provide a much needed intervention in the Nepali movie industry. The tales that his movie tells bear resemblance to the locality itself and it was generously accepted by the mass that was awaiting the shift. His direction has been hailed and his acting has been praised. Basnet is the Midas of the K-Town whose touch so far has turned everything into gold. DREAMS caught up with him to reminisce the story of his childhood, his struggles, his journey as a director and an artist and his upcoming projects.


The Trailblazer

There was a time when the working class population and people with lower income were the prime audience of the Nepali movies. A common pattern dictated these films. There was a male protagonist, his love interest, and an antagonist who tried in every possible way to make sure that the couple did not get together. After a series of struggles with society and the villain, the story always ended on a happy note. The movies were garnished with cheesy dance numbers topped with fight scenes.

Apart from the works of one or two alternative style filmmakers, most writers and producers have followed the same beaten path. These movies could not satisfy the older generation who had a penchant of excellent movies such as Prempinda, Basudev and Paralko Aago. The appeal was also lacking amongst the younger mass that grew up with Bollywood and Hollywood movies.

In other words, Nepali movies became alien at their own territory. Fortunately, these formula-based movies slowly subsided.

Over the course of time, mainstream Nepali movies started to change their track and became more reflective of the Nepali society. Nischal Basnet is one of the prime catalysts responsible for this change.
Nischal Basnet – The Inside Scoop

As a kid, Basnet was very mischievous. A smile started flashing on his lips as he recalled: “I used to be interested in everything except academics. I hated anything that had to do something with numbers, so mathematics was not really my forte. I was any angry boy. Since I have a dark complexion, people used to call me “Kaley” and that really ticked me off. But as I grew up and started the eleventh grade, the anger began to subside.”

Basnet was involved in various ventures before he tried his hands in filmmaking. He had always wanted to play football for the national team and after finishing high school, he even trained for three months with top tier outfit Sankata Club. Unfortunately, he was limited to the bench for three months in the ‘A’ Division League and he left the club. Basnet adds, “There was also a phase when I also wanted to become a singer. I even recorded four songs but then the music company collapsed and my hopes went down the drain.”

He tried his luck in the business sector and started a gaming station while he was studying in Apex College. Unfortunately, it closed after a few months. Later, he enrolled in a course for Computer Information System but left because of the Mathematics involved in the study. It was soon followed by his desire to go to Australia and learn 3D animation, but things didn’t go as it was planned and he ended up enrolling in Hospitality studies in a university in Australia.

With few months left before his course completion, the Australian government withdrew the license to his university. “All these years I spent doing something that I wasn’t really interested in, and in the end, I was left without a degree in my hands," Basnet revealed.

“I had been always referred to someone who initiated something but could never complete the tasks. My life has been a colourful montage of failures that came one after another,” he shared.


Nischal Basnet – The Artist

After the setbacks he endured in every other field, Basnet decided to take a six-month long Multimedia course and eventually return Nepal. Basnet’s friends had a farewell dinner planned for him on the eve of his flight to Nepal. He remembered sharing his newest endeavour with his friends.

“I told my friends that I am going to make a movie within five years. After three years, Loot came up. For someone who had never managed to complete one after another tasks, the completion and release of Loot gave me an immense satisfaction. It was not because the film was a commercial hit or got critical acclaims. I saw a lot of errors in the movie and even thought for a point that it was a sheer luck to be a successful movie. I had finally stuck to something that I had started and completed it.”


When Basnet returned to Nepal, he knew what he wanted to do. He was determined to do it no matter what it takes. “After I came back, I knew almost no one from the film industry but still I wanted to be a film maker. I even readied myself to pay for being a spot-boy. That’s how eager I was. And then I found Oscar film school and got enrolled to learn about movie making."

"I was frustrated because despite expanding in volume, Nepali movie industry was way behind in portrayal of character and tone. Loot was a by-product of my frustrations. I firmly believe that if you think there is something wrong with the way things are happening, you have to step in and bring change. You cannot just sit around indulging in chiya-guff.”

Basnet was also involved in other projects prior to his mainstream directorial debut Loot. He worked as a Production Assistant for a movie named Goodbye Kathmandu that never got released. He also acted as a clap-boy for a movie Jai Hos and was the Chief Assistant for Laltin and worked for a short film titled Innocent.

Innocent was a narrative about the prevalence of gun culture in the alleys of Kathmandu. The movie adopted a guerrilla style film making which is also seen in Basnet’s movies Loot and Talakjung vs Tulke.

The original intent was to make Loot a short film. By the time the script was done, the project demanded a lot of time and an immense budget which was when Basnet and his team decided to make it a full-length-feature.

Loot brought a fresh wave to the Nepali cinema industry. The story of a bank robbery was not necessarily new but the presentation undoubtedly was. The release of the trailer created hoopla among the youngsters dragging them to the theatres. They were not disappointed. The wry conclusion, the agonist that bore no morality, the clever dialogues and the characterization of Kathmandu made the viewers fall in love with this movie.

The repetitive viewing and the word of the mouth promotion helped Loot gain one of the biggest box office collections in Nepali movie history. It became the movie that caught the eye of the white-collar audience and boosted the multiplex culture.

The movie industry made Nischal not only a director, but expanded his radar and introduced him as an actor. Tall, dark, handsome and clad in striped blue and black cardigan and jeans, the director-turned actor Basnet recounted the tale of his journey.

Basnet wanted to learn the perspective of an actor and the art of how things get done in front of the camera. Before he proceeded with it, he wanted to take some classes to start out. Later Anup Baral asked him to be a part of his directorial debut Fitkiree as one of the actors. Basnet was exuberant but was also taken aback sharing the screen with established actors like Saugat Malla and Deeya Maskey. After an acting workshop with Actor Studio, Basnet did the movie and received positive response.

A-movie-old actor, Basnet played as one of the leads in the movie Kabaddi. “Making your presence obtrusive when you are working alongside clever actors like Saugat Malla and Dayahang Rai takes some effort. They are very innovative and add their own element every time they go on screen. Keeping up with them was an ordeal for an amateur like me.”, he shared.

Billy Wilder, the screenwriter-director of classics like Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot has wisely said, “A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant and a bastard.” The ability to visualize your character, relate to it and limn it into the psyche of the target crowd is critical and Basnet felt that it might be necessary to see things from the other side of the spectrum.

When Dreams asked Basnet about the indispensable traits that made him a director, he simply replied, “I watch a lot of films.” From an early childhood, Basnet used to go to the theatres and watch movies, be it Nepali or Hindi.

“I remember watching movies like Ta ta Sarhai Bigris ni Badri and Dui Thopa Aansu and loving them,” he recalled. A lover of Priyadarshan’s Herapheri, Basnet also happens to love Quentin Tarantino’s non-linear story lines and his unconventional works. Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained are among his favourites.

The director is also reputed for getting the best performance out of his actors. His modesty and friendliness make him extremely easy going and he can get the right yield from his co-workers. “I like working with people with whom I have a good rapport. A director needs to be commanding but that doesn’t mean that he can dictate the entire movie making process. There needs to be a resonance among the crew.”

One might think that he has a hard time with people who take him lightly because of his young age. Nischal begs to differ with this notion, “Age is just a number. What comes out of your mouth, the words, the delivery and the weight of the content is what shapes how people perceive you.”

“A film takes its shape as it is made. The expectations and outcome never fully converge in a movie and if any director tells that their idea of the movie fully overlapped with the end product, they are probably lying. But, the effort is always there to make these two intersect at a point and the satisfaction you receive depends upon the proximity of your visualization and the depiction.”

Filmmaking has always been called a compromise between two extremes – art and business. When asked how difficult it is to find a middle ground between these opposites in the Nepali movie industry, Basnet elaborated: “Bollywood movies dominate the Nepali market. For a Nepali movie to do good commercially, the movie has to stand out among the lot. In order to do this, one does need a good story and an excellent team. But if we start making art movies, it will be difficult to sustain in the market."

"If you have someone else investing in the movie, you owe it to them and hence good collection is the quintessential. For me, I try to make the best out of the resources, whether it is financial or human or time. My idea of a successful movie is the movie that can fetch the maximum audience in the screenings. So, sometimes we do need to diverge from our original idea to present something that jibes with the expectations of the audience.”

Talakjung vs Tulke – The Saga of a Loser

After the immense success of Loot, there were a lot of expectations from Basnet. While the larger mass thought Basnet was there to change the face of the Nepali movie industry, some people also were sceptical about its success and thought it was a mere fluke. There was a pressure to rise up to these doubts and a need to prove that he was not just a one-hit-wonder. Nischal Basnet did exactly that through his latest project – Talakjung vs Tulke.

Talakjung vs Tulke is a one-of-its-kind ‘dark comedy’ movie in the Nepali movie industry. Based on the episodic Chinese Novella ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ by Lu Xun that revolves around the Xinhai Revolution in China, the movie tells the tales of how the laymen get affected by the revolutions.

Exception to the larger-than-life protagonists of Nepali movies, Talakjung, who is usually referred to as ‘Tulke’ in the movie much to his dismay, is a character who succumbs to those who are superior to him and feeds on the fear of the feeble. He starts out as a chump and doesn’t end up being a messiah either.

His self-talk seems to be a camouflage for his insecurities and nothing more than self-deception. The delineation of the tale of the revolution and its impact on the city and hamlet as seen from the eyes of Tulke is transfixing. Like Basnet’s first movie Loot, where two characters ‘Haku Kaley’ and ‘Gophle’ made an imprint in the Nepali crowd, Tulke manages to emboss his character in the head of the audience.

Whether it is the curse words spoken in the alleys of Kathmandu, or the colloquial language of the Gandak region, the movie has a natural depiction of them on the screen. The family photographs framed on the wall, news pieces by the radio, Tulke’s comeback from the city with an out-modelled Walkman in his hand and the classic background tracks like ‘Kattar kattar ma timro swaudo jwai ayo motorma’ makes the movie very authentic.

Khagendra Lamichhane, Richa Sharma, Sushank Mainali, Rabindra Sing Baniya and Daya Hang Rai’s work is commendable. Basnet’s latest project has been receiving warm acceptance from the Nepalese population, within the nation and the diaspora from Finland, Denmark, Australia, USA, Korea, Japan, Canada and Dubai where it has been released.

Basnet has also been a source of inspiration for a lot of new-generation filmmakers. The release of Loot triggered the idea that if one has the calibre, he/she can prove it in the Nepalese film industry.


When asked what an upcoming filmmaker should know before entering this field, he replied: “It’s a plus if you take a film making course but you can also learn a lot from the scene itself. There must be an urge to acquire a lot of knowledge. If you want to utilize your artistic liberty to the full potential, go for short movies initially. That way your budget doesn’t restrict you. Always try to intersect the visualization and execution. Never underestimate your audience. Always be up for self-analysis. Be critical and know where you stand.”

Additionally, Basnet has a proffer for the movie industry. “There is a lot of internal politics in the movie industry. It is difficult to get halls to release the movie. There are people who come and say a word of praise but eventually they are the ones who make it difficult for your movie to sustain in the market. We must all evolve from this and remember that this is going to harm us in the long run and make an adverse impact in the movie industry."

"There are too many committees and boards that only exist because of the perks that come along with the position. Yes, the government has been taking positive steps and nominating movies for international film festivals which provide the film more recognition but even more needs to be done. We all need to rise above our selfish reasons and think about the greater good.”

Basnet now wants to focus solely on a comedy movie. He has been working on a script with high entertainment quotient. In a movie industry where only a handful actors like Rajesh Hamal and Rekha Thapa have the star quality to draw the audience into film halls by sheer fan following, there are almost negligible movie directors who can attract the crowd. Basnet is one of the few.

Basnet can truthfully be called as a man with the golden touch. Crowd can easily relate to his presentation of characters and stories, resulting in critical acclamation and amazing box office collections for all of his films. After the awe-inspiring reception of Loot, his name has become a brand in itself, helping in the promotion of movies like Kabbadi and Talakjung vs Tulke.

Nischal Basnet is the exemplar of success for all the unparalleled minds that have the courage to dream the dreams that haven’t been dreamt before. We hope he continues to add tremendous achievements to his already impressive list, and continues expanding his horizons, inspiring more filmmakers in the coming years.

In conversation with Pragya Thapaliya.
Follow Pragya on Twitter


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Categorised in: Arts, Interviews

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