When I first got to watch the trailer of Jhola, I was far from impressed. The trailer was rather poor and the big trailer moments appeared as sequences of melodramatic loudness. I don’t quite know what provoked me to watch Jhola. Perhaps it could be the short story from Krishna Dharabashi, or simply the drought of good cinema in theaters. I did watch it and as predictable as it may sound, it was the best decision I took on that day.
Jhola is a short story adapted on film by Yadavkumar Bhattarai that deals with the issue of Sati pratha, which would typically be a windowed woman immolating herself in her deceased husband’s funeral pyre—a tradition that was shamelessly prevalent from the 1700s until early 1900s in Nepal and India. Kanchi (Garima Pant) is the window through which Krishna Dharabashi reveals the sanctity of such inhumane customs of the era. Forced to burn in the pyre of her dead husband, Jhola tells the story of a boy, Ghanshyam (Suraj Nepal), observing the cruelty of human hypocrisy and his adventures groping with wrath and the pangs of society in the name of God and religion.
The movie opens with an unknown person (played by Krishna Dharabasi himself) coming across a bag left by a stranger at his house containing a manuscript that becomes the gateway into the story of the movie. While the opening sequences are unnatural and cringe worthy, once we enter the world of Jhola, the 1920s, the movie narrates a gripping story about a typical rural Nepali family plagued by circumstances and cornered by tradition. I was amazed by the tight and precise screenplay (by Deepal Aalok) of this hard-hitting story, which doesn’t deviate or go haywire as many Nepali movies tend to moments into the clock. The execution is silky, almost artistic, capturing the rustiness of Nepal during that period, and each scene, or sequence takes the overall actions to the peak with a nice flow and a rhythm that is refreshing to watch.
Jhola’s story isn’t merely that, a story. The overall presentation of the movie captures the reality of Nepali life—covering many aspects of society from the dreaded Sati pratha to the caste and class based discrimination as well as the tradition of slavery in a starkly male-dominated society. Jhola also hints at the custom of inheritance and the subsequent causation of quarrels and rivalries due to dissatisfaction of distribution of ancestral properties—rather embarrassing. While telling a story, a beautiful story that is tragic and triumphant at the same time, Jhola scatters tidbits of Nepali society that is both nostalgic to watch, for an admirer of history, as well as through-provoking for those carrying sociological imaginations. These ingredients together make Jhola a lyrical rendering of the history of Nepal—its times and traditions.
Many times, one would feel, perhaps, the performances could have been subdued and toned down. It can get a bit too gaudy at times. But that would be nit-picking. Some minor inconsistencies here and there aside, Jhola catches the essence of storytelling and articulates a story that is true and touching, and I use articulate specifically because the entire movie is a lyrical ballad, as close to any you could find from Nepal. Consequently, the direction of Yadavkumar Bhattarai has to be applauded for giving us this tiny little wonder that made me joyous because it’s something Nepali Cinema has been lacking and here, we have a fine little example of good national cinema. In an age when many Nepali movies bite the seesaw dust mainly due to poor writing, dry stories, and amateur execution, Jhola is a welcome change—a breeze amidst the scorching humidity of dearth of good cinema.
A rural, historical social drama, Jhola is arguably the best Nepali feature movie to have seen sunlight since Uma (2013) and a movie that Nepali Cinema has most desperately needed and here, it has received. It’s not perfect—nor is it a magnum opus of an artist, but you cannot deny its artistry and the delightful way it charms the viewer and aids in raising the consciousness of people on the issue, especially the younger generation from urban centers who may yet be unaware of the pangs of Sati pratha, life as a Nepali during those ages, and above all the social relevance of the story even to this day. Jhola is rustic and expressive with a strong story and a beautiful adaptation of the story—a warm and commendable job by all associated with Jhola.