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).
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.”
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.
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.
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
[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.]