Monthly Feature 7: Kalo Pothi- A Movie about Friendship

Nepali is believed to have been evolved from language of the Karnali region. (Sinja valley of Jumla and more popularly known as the place of origin of Nepali language.) To understand the dialogues of a movie which used Khas language of Mugu (a district in Karnali zone) we had to take help of subtitles. We have deviated a lot from our roots. This month, I feature that movie- Kalo Pothi(aka The Black Hen in international film festivals).

Karnali Zone (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Summary

In 2001 A.D. (2058 B.S.), before the insurgency, the “People’s War” led by Maoists seems to have influenced Karkiwada, a village in Mugu district. Maoists, who have been working as guerillas,  organize a cultural programme to spread the word of “revolution”. Some school kids are influenced. One of them is Bijuli, the sister of a major character Prakash.

Earlier, the Mukhiya(chief) of the village had ordered the villagers to bring up all fowls to him but Bijuli had managed to hide one white coloured hen. This she had given to her little brother Prakash. They live with their father as the Mukhiya’s servants. The boy asks what name he should give to the hen. When she tells him to give whatever name he wanted, he names it Karishma, after the name of Nepali movies. Her movie- Saathi (Saathi means Friend) alongside Rajesh Hamal is about to be shown in the village and the little children seem to have been influenced by that.

The same night, Bijuli flees with her “comrades” to be a Maoist. The hen she had given to her brother Prakash has yielded an egg which he shows first to his friend Kiran, the Mukhiya’s grandson. The hen, however is sold by Prakash’s father to a Tenjing, an old Bhote for 600 rupees. The boys decide to get the hen back the hen by paying Tenjing but they do not have money.

After sometime, when they have half the money Tenjing had paid, they go his home and ask for the hen. Tenjing does not agree. The boys steal it and colour it black. The white hen becomes the black hen. Their act is caught and the hen is taken by Tenjing again.

Meanwhile, Ujeli(the Mukhiya’s granddaughter) is about to be married to Captain Surbir. The Captain, however is abducted by the Maoists. Prakash sees his sister as she and her friends drag the Captain away. Prakash still longs for the hen Tenjing had taken away. Prakash and Kiran go to him again and he tells them that the hen had been sent to his daughter in Serog village.

Serog is far but riding a horse, the boys reach a long way. They reach a forest, where firing breaks out between the Army and the Maoists. Several people are killed. The boys save themselves by smearing blood of the deceased. Later, they wash themselves in a lake and head to Serog. They find the hen but seeing the hen and with her chicks, Prakash, whose mother had died prior to the setting of the movie, says, “I don’t want to separate children from their mother.”

Themes

1. Friendship and Innonence

Prakash is a servant at Kiran’s house and a Dalit(so called untouchable) as well. But they are best friends. Kiran goes through everything to help Prakash get back the hen Tenjing has taken away. Prakash covers up his acts. Their friendship is strong despite the difference in caste and social status. Also, their act of colouring a white hen to black is sweetly innocent.

2. Humanity

Despite being a child of poor servant at Mukiya’s home, Prakash goes to school. Prakash and his family have been provided a place to live. They are also given warm clothes during winter.
But the humanity is waning towards the end. The Mukhiya warns Kiran not to befriend Prakash (he goes away to Serog, however). Policemen threaten to beat them up if Bijuli does not return the village. The Maoists are abducting soldiers who are not on duty, and the firing in the forest kills several people.

3. Transition from Peace to War

The movie shows the changes that occur when a society undergoes the transition between peace and war. The thoughts of people change. They come up to believe that the state of peace was due to their ignorance about the real affairs. They are inclined to change the society by whatever means they have. Some better-off people migrate to a relatively safer place. Those who can not afford, have to undergo whatever happens to them in their homeland.

4. Philosophy of “Letting Go”

After a long journey to Serog, Prakash leaves the hen and says, “Let it be, I don’t want the children separated from their mother.” Every journey of life ends that way. We let go something to embark a new one.

What’s there for the viewers?

1. The movie features a simple storyline. Almost everything in the plot is related with the hen. (Can I say hen is the protagonist?) 

2. Khadga Raj Nepali and Shukra Raj Rokaya have done an exceptional job considering their ages and their experience in movies. (They had never acted in movies before.)

3. The movie gives a lot of knowledge about the Khas language and culture.

Some disappointing factors

1. The story is simple but does not seem to be in a flow. The movie does not always stick to the storyline. The transitions between scenes are sometimes unclear and audience do not understand what and why the characters are doing the things shown in the screen.

2. There are two dream sequences that are highly symbolic. The first dream is set at Pashupatinath area, where Prakash sees Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims one after the other. While the dream might represent a case of religious tolerance, it is highly unlikely that a poor boy in Mugu can dream of such a thing. Moreover, it does not connect to the plot thereafter. (Ten minutes time in the theatre, 25 lakh rupees need not be spend.)
In the another dream sequence, Prakash relives the funeral of his mother a year ago but the people have changed. For example, Bijuli carries a gun, Ujeli is a bride and Prakash’s father carries a hen. This dream connects to the end of the movie, when Prakash lets go of the hen.

3. Scenes in the movie are shot from quite a distance with still frames. For minutes, when the characters are conversing audience sees a house or a room or a hillock. While that could have been the director’s scheme, close-up shots could have it more remarkable.

4. Finally, (something everyone has been telling) a scene that was completely awkward and unnecessary- a kiss scene between Ujeli and the Captain. The movie might have wanted to represent love between them but because that is not the main focus of the movie, the scene was absolutely unnecessary.

Cast:

Khadga Raj Nepali
as Prakash

Shukra Raj Rokaya
as Kiran

Jit Bahadur Malla
as Prakash’s father

Hansa Khadka as Bijuli

Benisha Hamal
as Ujeli

Director: Min Bahadur Bham

IMDb Rating: 7.6/10

Personal Rating: 7.5/10

Sources:

  1. Movie reviews on several newspapers and magazines.
  2. www.mysansar.com
  3. Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

[P.S.: On June 9, I had watched the movie with my friends. Thanks you for your insights. I could not have formulated my thoughts on the movie without you guys.]

Monthly Feature: Maleficent- Really?

I talk about the art, music and movies that I have adored in the Monthly Feature. For the month of June, I present my views on a movie quite differently than I have done before.

What’s true love? Disney Animations and Pictures seem to change the notion that true love is always a romantic orientation. That’s what we saw in Brave, Frozen and Maleficent.

Maleficent: Meaning
The Dictionary.com defines maleficent as “doing evil or harm”. The dark fairy from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) is named and meant so. She is the villain who curses the beautiful princess Aurora to an infinite sleep only to be broken by “a true love’s kiss”.

Maleficent Revived

The same Maleficent was revived in the 2014 Disney live action movie of the same name. I had watched both the versions in the same year, unintentionally and I had felt that 1959 movie was more about the villainous Maleficent than the heroine Aurora. Yet, the movie seemed incomplete. I had not been able to understand why the fairy had to be angry at all.

Linda Wolverton, the script writer of the 2014 movie seemed to have noticed the same. So she added a back story where Maleficent’s wings are cut stolen by Stefan to gain powers for himself. The story adds details to why the fairy was angry with King Stefan.

The Villain

The king had stolen her wings- her pride and her fun. She even rescued a raven and named him Diaval. “You will become my wings,” she says something like that. She, however goes to the name-giving ceremony of the king’s daughter and curses that the girl would fall asleep on her sixteenth birthday after being pricked by the spindle of a spinning wheel. The curse could be broken only by a true love’s kiss. (She gives the condition of the breaking of the curse believing that true love does not exist.)

Wait! What was the little girl’s mistake? I don’t understand why Maleficent curses the little girl. Maybe she had psychological problems. (We do not know!) She has magical powers and all. She could have defeated Stefan then and there. Yet she chooses to curse the daughter. Maybe they wanted to show her association with the Princess who slept, which we see later. Maybe she did not like that particular child, we do not understand why. Thereby, Maleficent makes herself a villain.

But the land Stefan ruled must have suffered a lot. All the spinning wheels are thrown, dumped or burnt. Imagine the amount of clothes they could have produced in sixteen years. Forget Aurora and through the curse, Maleficent handicaps their economy.

Villain- Is She Yet?
To prevent the curse, the king sends his daughter with three pixies without even testing their competence. (What kind of father is he?) The dark fairy learns from Diaval that the little girl is not being taken care of. For her interest of bringing the curse true, she takes care of the child. But she also loves the child as her own as time passes.

Maleficent, when she understands that she loves the child, tries to break the curse. But she herself had told that it was unbreakable. Aurora, the Princess sleeps. The fairy brings up a Prince and tells him to kiss the girl. But it goes in vain. How could an attraction of some moments be true love? She knows she made a mistake. She asks for forgiveness and kissing her goddaughter’s forehead. Turns out Maleficent’s motherly love was true even if she had a selfish interest in the beginning.

So, is she yet a villain? Maybe Disney Pictures still say she is. Maybe Wolverton still believes in the villainous Maleficent. But the truth is that at the end of the movie, she does not remain a villain anymore. She has been transformed by the love she developed for Aurora. And she even regrets from having cursed her as a child.

That was the best thing about the movie for me. The transformation was the only reason I was able to forgive her act of cursing a child. Her name might suggest that she is still malicious. But she is not one dimensional word whose meaning cannot be changed. Maleficent is a fairy, cheated by a human. If her anger is justified, why not the change she undergoes? Wolverton still calling Maleficent a villain after a change of heart does not give her any justice.

Good Bye, Hero of Dolpa!

On the fifth installment of the Monthly Feature, I have the story of an extraordinary gentleman whose life was a caravan, just like the movie he had acted on in the 1990s.

image
Photo Source: http://kamzangjourneys.blogspot.com

The life of the people living in the Himalayas is difficult. These people do not have proper educational, administrative and medical facilities, because they lack motorable roads. The hardship faced by the caravans in Dolpa was realistically transformed into a movie, Himalaya Caravan (aka Caravan). The movie starts with the death of the son of Thinle, the chief of the village, by falling off a cliff. Who would have thought Thinle would die two decades later, in a similar manner on the banks of Shey-Phoksundo.

Almost every Nepali who is interested in movies and music, know Thinle (Full Name: Thinle Lhendup Lama) as the powerful actor of the movie Himalaya Caravan. The lives of the Himalayan people had been pictured by it’s director. When the movie was nominated under the category of Best Movie in Foreign Language for the 72nd Academy Awards, Thinle became a superstar. The unsung hero of Sallang, Dolpa had stepped on to the spotlight.

Early Life

Thinle was born in the year 2001 B.S. in the Upper Dolpa region in the village of Sallang. His family was traditionally yak-herds. It was a lifestyle for the people in his village.

But he was a star that could not be hidden by the clouds. He insisted on gaining education and his family agreed. They sent him to study in Tibet. When he returned, his perception of the world had changed. His people would not just be limited to Dolpa but would shine all around. He soon became the chief of the caravan the villagers used to move between Dunai, headquarters of Dolpa, and to Tibet. He carried an aura of charm and intelligence, which was shown to the world by a Frenchman, Eric Valli.

Valli and Thinle

What would have happened if Eric Valli had not come to Kathmandu? What would have happened if he did not have the spirit to visit Dolpa, still remote to Kathmandu? What would have happened if he hadn’t met Thinle? Maybe the movie would not have been made. We might never have a chance to acknowledge Thinle, Nepal’s first Global Superstar.

Eric Valli loves trekking in the Himalayas. It is also his passion to bring up the real lives of people on screen. While he came to Dolpa in 1981, he met Thinle who was leading a caravan that had brought in salt and rations from Tibet. After he returned France, he published a travelogue. The travelogue became famous. When he told this to Thinle later, the man from Dolpa asked, “Why don’t you make a film on us?” Sparked by the idea, the movie Himalaya Caravan was made in 1999. The simple yet realistic lives of people in the movie caught the attention of the world. Valli and Thinle rose to fame as their movie was nominated for the Oscars.

Thinle and Nepathya

The lovers of Nepali music praise Nepathya for their folk-pop songs, which focus on the actual setting on which they are sung. ‘Sa Karnali‘ is one such song about the Karnali zone and the lives of people there. Amrit Gurung, the band’s lead vocalist, who is also an adventurer, and a photographer, was called on by the director Bhusan Dahal and they shot the music video around the Shey-Phoksundo with Thinle. The song and the video left in the minds of many teenagers (including myself) the images of beautiful Dolpa.

Thinle and Gurung in particular were forged into a strong relationship. Gurung called him ‘Kaka’ (uncle) and was among the first to publish an obituary in the name of the Dolpali hero.

Thinle and Politics

During the years of his stardom in the 90s, Thinle was also involved in politics. (I was shocked to know this!) Thinle, who always kept his Dharma above anything else, helped bring some changes in the villages of Upper Dolpa. With his influences, he was able to provide the villages with drinking water and electricity. The Dolpalis revere him for the great man that he was. Even last month, he had come to Kathmandu to seek help from the government in resolving problems of Dolpa.

Thinle, the Caravan

Thinle left the material world last Sunday. He had fought cancer. The will of seeing a good transportation facility had kept him alive. The prayers of his people had kept him surviving in the harsh mountain life. But on that fateful day, death had come to him in the form of a mule. He could not escape.

He was returning Sallang from Dunai on a horse. As he was going up on a cliff above Shey-Phoksundo, a herd of mule came from opposite direction. He gave way to them, himself at the edge of the cliff. All the mules passed but the one which was his death pushed him. The hero of Dolpa fell from the cliff down on the bank of Shey-Phoksundo. Thinle thrived with caravan. He died with it. He himself was a caravan, a traveller who traded his life of hardships with a life of heroism- both on-screen and off-screen.

References
1. http://kantipur.ekantipur.com/news/2016-04-24/20160424192121.html

2. http://nepalitimes.com/news.php?id=13437#.Vx15wjNw31Y

3.Amrit Gurung’s post on Facebook

4. http://setopati.com/samaj/45713/

5. http://www.pahilopost.com/content/-15863.html

6. http://kantipur.ekantipur.com/news/2016-04-30/20160430094026.html

7. Himalaya Caravan (IMDb)