Quality: Where Art Thou?

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A Perspective into the Cinema of Nepal

Two days ago, May 16, I walked out of QFX Cinemas at Civil Mall after experiencing a great horror titled Aawaran (directed by Subhash Koirala). Indeed a horrific show, pun intended, Aawaran could be a milestone movie for the Cinema of Nepal. The sad part, it would be a milestone of yet another horror of a movie that, although taking the mask of the mystical horror genre, turns out to be a brutal horror show, for viewers, and I claim that on behalf of every filmgoer that appreciates the quality of cinema. By now, I’d assume it’s clear what I mean by horror in this particular case. The sheer fact that Aawaran is a horror movie is a mere coincidence because either way, it’s pretty dire—a shameful exhibition of Cinema.

The year 2014 has been an eccentric year for the fraternity of cinema that calls itself the sensible division, a select caucus within the broad facet of Nepali Cinema. Amongst the many movies, that has hit the screens, we’ve got two names to cherish upon and on both occasions, not because those movies were classics, but they were an aberration from the wave that’s hitting Nepali Cinema. Those two movies, of course, are Jhola (Yadavkumar Bhattarai) and Red Monsoon (Eelum Dixit). Apart from these movies, we’ve really had a lackluster year, yet would it be wise to call it such a year, thus far, when this end of the spectrum has a recurring tendency to produce the most uncreative sloths known to cinematic viewers? That is, as they say, the million dollar question.

What is the issue here? Why do movies like Aawaran and Ritu (Manoj Adhikary) even come to the stage where we have to witness the torture? Who validates these movies? How these unholy creatures are allowed to grow beyond the treatment phase—that in itself is beyond my bordered comprehension. With that said and having been a stern follower of the Cinema of Nepal, it is mind-boggling for me, even today with the amount of utter mayhem we get in form of cinema. Anywhere else, this would guarantee that the business shuts down and we look into other pastures. But that’s not the case, is it? Month after month, we witness the inflow of Nepali movies, with trends growing and visions expanding. Amidst all of this, it’s become a rarity that a good movie would evolve out of this chaos.

Nepali-Movie-Kabaddi-2014

Last month a movie called Kabaddi (Ram Babu Gurung) helmed the screens… Was it good? It was okay. The audience response was positive and the critics rose to praise the movie as a shining beam amidst the density of darkness. My friend, Pragyan Thapa, wrote an apt account on the movie. It can be found at http://pragyanthapa.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/kabaddi-kaji-and-friends/. When we compare Kabaddi to genuine movies of its kind, it hardly matches the yardstick. Individually and in relative terms to other movies from Nepal, Kabaddi is one-step at the right direction. Despite receiving mostly positive reviews, I never found Kabaddi to live up to the expectations of the plethora of fans hoarding cinemas on that day. I wasn’t excited or anything. I was calm and knew what to expect. What I got in return was a tight first portion of a movie, which created the right atmosphere and managed to hold my creativity in appreciation of the first half. Things slipped out of hands in the second half of the movie, and from there on, the “Nepali Attack,” the stigma surrounding Nepali movies made its grand entry. Although the stigma stung this otherwise well-intentioned effort, I found grace in accepting that Nepali Cinema is growing, bit-by-bit, slow, but it is moving to the right direction.

As a social experience, Kabaddi is an archetypal Nepali drama carrying the vibe of Nepali foibles and positively authenticating life in the sultry hilly terrains of Nepal. The social experience was priceless, even if the movie lost the plot completely in the second half and turned into a self-indulging, smart pep talk session whilst using the medium of cinema to crack inside jokes and create a synthetic crime feel that was neither warranted nor called for, if only the creators utilized their creativity a little bit more. I hate to say it, but Kabaddi had the backdrop resembling European Art Cinema, which it didn’t wish to channel into and the end result was a tale of neither here nor there—a tale of two cities, only disjointed and devoid of semblance.

Such a movie—as Kabaddi—received the votes of viewers and critics. It wasn’t for nothing though. Better than most other Nepali movies, even if the first portion was the only constructive aspect of the movie, Kabaddi is much better when you compare it to the melodramatic poison called Ritu or a pretentious falsification of epic proportions called Aawaran. Such movies would seem to wreck all the goodwill created by a select few filmmakers in their attempt to glide Nepali Cinema away from plodding stories and styles to an idiosyncratic flair that would aid in placing Nepali Cinema as a new type of cinema for the audiences of World Cinema. Ambitious much? Obviously, but for the love of trying, it’s only acceptable that you shoot for the stars in that attempt to fly above the ground.

awaran movie poster

Coming back to Aawaran, there are movies one wishes to critic, analyze—and there are some movie where one would be lost due to the sheer stupidity playing on the screen. Aawaran is that stupid movie. I’m not being, not at all, harsh in my branding of this movie that would raise severe questions in the quality of movies Nepal is churning out, especially when it comes from the “pseudo-intelligent” wing of Nepali Cinema. Surely, is this all we have to offer? Is there dearth of talent in Nepal? Is it an economic handicap? Is the vision of Nepali filmmakers shrinking? Each of these questions demands its own argument—a valid, strong, and defiant hearing for both parties… Would that solve anything though? Again, this is very subjective. It could and it will—only if we broaden our perspective. If we continue dogmatizing cinema, no, we’re stuck in this revolving door of inanity. The question is how we view films… How does the audience understand cinema? What do the makers know about cinema? And this brings me to the theoretical aspect of cinematic reprise.

Most Nepali filmmakers fail in the theoretical paradigm of cinema. In today’s world, technology is there for the taking. We are living in a world of technological ubiquity. A brainstorming app, a screenwriting program, a camera, an editing program, and above all, a computer to converge these into that dream; these are enough to come up with an unsophisticated movie. That’s all an average filmmaker needs, which is also why the incursion of moviemakers in Nepal has shot up the roof. It’s not a question of human resources anymore. The major question is of the vision of these filmmakers, how they perceive cinema. There are areas where experts lag behind, but again, following the thought of Cinema as Social Expression, would that have ever hurt a Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa, or Tarkovsky? I’d doubt it. These stalwarts of filmmaking grasped that thinnest fiber of theoretical filmmaking – an art that has gone missing in many of Nepal’s filmmakers today, and the scary part—the cosmos of filmmaking in this country still doesn’t recognize the value of film theory, not just as a discipline but also as a rendering of the ultimate purpose of films…

Depending if you view Cinema as an Art, a Social Expression, an Industry, a Form of Entertainment, or as an Agent of Social Change, whatever be the theory, unless and until you’re engrossed, diluted, and immersed into that theory from which every tissue in your being screams filmmaking; I would never expect any maker of cinema to become an artist capable of telling stories. Whether such a person is a minimalist filmmaker believing in the supremacy of storytelling, or a techno-craft advocating in a technical mode of presenting a story, without that foundational theoretical recurrence, I’m sorry but filmmaking becomes what we see today in Nepal’s Cinema. And, out of that, we shall never achieve the true form of cinema that we all want but are incapable due to various complications that arise along the path.

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Anybody can jump into the sea and act to become a fish for a while, but the only way you know and feel how it is to be fish is by living as a fish. That is not, in a million years, possible, but what is possible is gaining as much experience, knowledge, and wisdom on the field that amongst those that are not the warriors underneath, you have the next best knowledge, the second best experience. That alone could steer you through this ambiguous territory, the dangerous game of filmmaking because no matter what we make, we can’t ever aspire for perfection, but when you have that honesty engrained into your psyche, a wonderful boon of faith is born, then and there. That boon of faith enchants you with a confidence in favor of your vision and if your vision is crystallized, single-pointed, and a result of those many laborious hours of study, good or bad disappears and what remains is art, what remains is what you have and—take my worthless word for this—you won’t fail, never, ever. An art can never fail. An artist can, but an art—never.

Coming back to my original point, as a cinematic nation, we’re gaining notoriety locally as technical, practical filmmakers. I can’t help but look at this idea with disdain. Cinema isn’t merely taking the camera and getting to work. What about the stories we tell? What about the lives and times of people? I recognize and empathize that such may not be entirely possible in the context of modern Nepal, but the only thing that sets us apart from Hollywood, cinemas of Europe, Korea, Iran, Bollywood, et cetera is the content we have. The anecdotes we want to share; the way we want to express ourselves—that is the only thing distinctive about us, our true selling point—unique to the rest, very personal to us.

As a fan of the beautiful world of Cinema and a Nepali by birth, I don’t want a movie like Aawaran spreading the wrong message about my society, my culture. A pretentious, unoriginal, craptacular disdain in the name of cinema, Aawaran is one wholesome example of everything wrong with the Cinema of Nepal today. The state, the mentality, the execution, the narrow minded vision of filmmakers who take the audiences for granted, insulting their intelligence, whilst the shameful producer who—for lack of anything creative—decides to produce and pour heaps of money on these unspectacular spectacles of mockery, a fundamental sin in the religion of filmmaking. Harsh it may sound, if the Cinema of Nepal is to propel into an acceptable level, more of Uma (Tsering Rhitar Sherpa), Badhshala (Manoj Pandit), Jhola, and Red Monsoon need to come to the front and less of the sadistic tendencies that the likes of Ritu, Aawaran, Dhuwani, and Chadke tend to promote… I dearly apologize. I’m not a masochist and I speak for thousands of such critical film analysts, and buffs when I say this—stop wasting time creating garbage because if we’d wanted that, we’d just go visit Bagmati or such a place glorified by the throwaways of society.

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Cinema is a medium. In today’s world, it is perhaps the strongest medium—because unlike TV, Internet, Radio, and even News at times, people pay top money to invest their time and resources in watching something somebody has to offer. This statement could be rebuked, but the essence lies in the box-office number a movie generates worldwide. If one project can have such suitors, it must have some sort of an influence. I’m not merely talking of film as a medium of change, but as a medium of expression, of understanding, of conveying, of entertaining, and ultimately—a medium worthy enough to engage the viewer into a world beyond theirs, or about a tale amidst them, yet hardly reached. That is the power of Cinema—the romance, as they say, of films. You get to see what you’ve never seen, and sometimes you get to see something you’ve always seen in a fresh light. See anything, but be sure to receive a changing experience because every little detail those visuals throw at us, we change a bit, our thoughts modify. Is that not wonderful about Cinema? Is that not why we love Cinema? I do for those tiny details and those moments that can change my life, the way I think, the way I believe. Cinema is much more than gazing into the screen for a period in time. It’s an experience. It’s rewarding. It simply is—a moment of somebody’s life captured in footage. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that… Let’s just think about it for a while. Food for thought, eh?

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2 thoughts on “Quality: Where Art Thou?

  1. Depending if you view Cinema as an Art, a Social Expression, an Industry, a Form of Entertainment, or as an Agent of Social Change, whatever be the theory, unless and until you’re engrossed, diluted, and immersed into that theory from which every tissue in your being screams filmmaking; I would never expect any maker of cinema to become an artist capable of telling stories. Whether such a person is a minimalist filmmaker believing in the supremacy of storytelling, or a techno-craft advocating in a technical mode of presenting a story, without that foundational theoretical recurrence, I’m sorry but filmmaking becomes what we see today in Nepal’s Cinema. And, out of that, we shall never achieve the true form of cinema that we all want but are incapable due to various complications that arise along the path.

    YES, YES AND YESSSSSSSSSS!

  2. Only one Nepali movie out of twenty is worth the time, money and effort. There’s no denying we don’t work hard, but why work hard to give garbage when you could’ve use that same effort in doing something else!

    A Fearless writeup!

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