The Guardian Of The Traditional Roots

June 2, 2014 , by Pragya Thapaliya, 1 Comment
The Guardian Of The Traditional Roots » My Dreams Mag
With the uprising modernization, a dilemma has sprouted. People invest more time and energy to gain competence in the areas that are more demanded by the global market that can provide us a tangible return. While doing so, they forget to cling to their traditional values and undergo the phase of identity crisis. People are having doubts on which side of the threshold to stay.

Amidst a mass of people, who have been encouraging their children to have conversations in English at the dinner table, moulding themselves in the Western ways, trying to be everything they were not born as, some people stand out. These people have a soft spot for their homeland, their mother tongue, customs and culture and they understand that your identity runs parallel to these factors. Sunita R. Shrestha ‘Junu’ is one of such people. The first female director of Nepalbhasa movies, performer of various dance styles, an artist in music videos and movies, she has been spending her time and resources in the promotion of Nepalbhasa, Newar tradition, culture and literature. Her movie Bhintuna has won Critics Choice Award in the Indigenous Film Festival 2008.

Dreams caught up with her to talk about her struggles, achievements, and her current and future plans.


How did you get in to the field of performance art?

I was into dancing from the very childhood. I would frequently take part in school programmes. When I was young all I needed was some music and I would start tapping my foot with the rhythm immediately. My friends often said that it was an inborn quality. Later I decided to groom myself and took modern dance classes for a few months. Later I also took a year of Bharatnatyam classes. When I started getting involved in the field of dance, I also got interested in the movies and when some offers came on my way, I accepted them. When I was in Grade eight, I did a role of a child actor in a soap called ‘Chorus’. I also did an appearance in the movie Rajamati alongside the lead actor Hisila Maharjan who was a good friend of mine. And slowly I got interested in performance.


While a lot of people have been inclined to the Western culture and want their children to polish their English skills rather than gain excellence in their mother tongue, how did being involved in the promotion of your own language and culture come across your mind?

It was not an intentional thought that crossed my mind one day. I belong to a Newar family and grew up with Nepalbhasa as my mother tongue. When I was studying in Shankar Dev, there used to be a group called ‘Chakana Sahitya Pala’. Chakana means ‘aura’ or ‘halo’. When I was involved in the group, I used to do dramas for fun. After I completed my studies, I started working at a bank and during that period, I got an offer for a music video called ‘Thaun Waila Kanhey Waila’. After my debut on screen performance, a lot of offers came my way, but I had some prior commitments and had to go to the USA and couldn’t take the job but I did a lot of on-stage performances while I was abroad. When I returned back, I understood that our identity comes due to the uniqueness of our culture. Post that, I started teaching my daughter (Shlesha Shrestha) Nepalbhasa. Later, I joined Masters in Arts with Nepalbhasa as my major in Nepalbhasa Kendriya Bibhag, Tribhuwan University, Patan Dhoka, under which was a wing association, called ‘Lumanti Dabu’, where I served as a chairman for two years.

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How did you switch to direction after working in the screen? Which one gives you more satisfaction?

I’ve worked as an actor in various Nepalbhasa films such as ‘Taremam’, ‘Nhaykan’, ‘Dhaubaji-2’, ‘Gantantra’, ‘Patachara’ etc. In 2008 June, I took part in a week long workshop on movie direction given by ‘Indigenous Film Archive’. Subsequently, I made a short film ’12 Days’ which revolved around the story of the Bara tradition. Then I started to work as a director cum actor of the Nepalbhasa soap called ‘Dhaubaji 3’. Later I also worked as a director in ‘Bajyaya Gway’ and as joint director in ‘Vintuna’,Dhaubaji 4’, ‘Dha:sa Patya Maju’, ‘Mikha Dumha Kaan’ and ‘Maya’. There are times where I worked both as an actor and a director. It’s a little hectic to do this dual role.

I have more zeal and passion for performance. I can never get the rush I get while I am doing stage shows, while directing a movie or acting on screen. There is interaction and immediate feedback at stage shows and I love to see the smile brought on to people’s faces after my performance.


Do you think your dedication in the preservation of your language, customs has been paying off? Can you see tangible differences in the lives of people?

Yes. There are some changes. While I was in the USA, I saw that the Non-Resident Nepalis were trying to uphold their culture. The effort that they were putting to make their children familiar with their traditions was plausible. When you are in a foreign land, you do not take your roots and traditions for granted. There are efforts being made but there is yet to be done.


What sort of challenges did you have to face in your life? Despite these challenges, how did you manage to stick through your passion and creativity?

It has always been a ‘man’s world’ out there. As a daughter of a traditional Newar family, I was told to limit my interactions to private spheres. But it became a little easier after people started recognizing my abilities and my works started getting recognized. A few years after my nuptial ties, my husband went to the USA. We had to be separated for four and a half years. I continuously applied for visa to visit my husband but it got rejected time and again. I finally got a dependent H4 visa but by the time I reached there, my husband was battling with lung cancer. That was the darkest phase of my life. With an eight year old daughter to look after and a cognizance that I was about to lose my husband in a short time, life felt very unjust and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Even during this time I was associated with Newah Organization of America (NOA), Virginia where I used to teach Nepalbhasa to the kids. I used to perform frequently in cultural shows. After the demise of my husband, I was emotionally drained. Unable to deal with the trauma, I came back to Nepal. I also did not receive much support from my in-laws although I was promised so. But I had a dream and a very supportive daughter, Shlesha. So, I continued to strive for excellence in my field.


What new projects are you involved in right now?

I have recently directed a musical short movie called ‘Jheegu Bhaay Jheegu Mhaseeka’, which means ‘Our language Our Identity’ which is based on ‘Byaanchuli Raag’ (a music which wakes people up at the dawn). It is almost six minutes long and made to wake people up for our language from sleeping act. Even though it is a song, it is educational, inspirational, entertaining and emotional. I have also done a character role in a Nepali movie called ‘Love Sab’ which is yet to be released. I am also working as a research assistant for Prof. Christoph Emmrich, Associate Professor, Buddhist Studies Chair, Numata Program UofT/McMaster University of Toronto, UTM to do a comparative analytical study on ‘Girl Children and Young Women as Religious Agents between Burma/Myanmar and Nepal ’. I have started a new kindergarten called ‘Aankura Kindergarten & Day Care’ where we not only promote the concept of fun learning, but also we give priority to our languages. We teach the children Nepali, English as well as Nepalbhasa.


Would you like to impart a last message to our readers?

I have seen parents discouraging their children while they are speaking their mother tongue because they think it later affects their English accents. Our language, traditions, customs, art and literature are the reflections of our individuality. So, one should always keep in mind that in the years to come their own kids will have an identity crisis and will question them the reason they do not fit neither here nor there. So, the least we can do is attempt to hand it to our generation. We can save ourselves a lot of regrets in future.



We have been trying too hard to blend in when we were born to stand out. Each of our customs, cultures and languages has uniqueness. It is not wrong to be familiar with other’s traditions but assimilating in the foreign ways and becoming just another Xerox is not a right thing to do either. We should all see the logic behind our indigenous practices and even though we cannot dedicate our life for the preservation of our roots like Sunita R. Shrestha ‘Junu’, we could always put a little effort from our side and follow the path she has led.


Text by: Pragya Thapaliya
Image Source: Sunita Junu

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One comment on “The Guardian Of The Traditional Roots

  1. Ram Ram says:

    Its a great article.

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