Finally, after a decade, filmmaker Anil Budha Magar attained his dream of bagging the most coveted award at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) on December 12. His documentary Aagney (The Iron Digger) was awarded Best Documentary in the Nepal Panorama category of the festival.
Receiving the award, he deeply remembered his 63-year-old father, Tejendra Bahadur Budha, who currently lives in Takasera, Rukum West.
In 2017, when Anil Budha Magar’s film Lomba was selected for the 15th edition of KIMFF and newspapers covered the news, his father travelled for two hours to Rukkum’s headquarters to buy that newspaper. This time, it was more than a selection, so he says, “I wonder how my father would feel about my achievement this time.”
It was not only an achievement for his father but for Budha Magar himself too, a dream of showcasing his birthplace in the reel has come true. He, now, hopes to explore the art further and ensure remote Nepal’s representation in the art industry.
Being a filmmaker
Filmmaking has not been an easy journey for Anil Budha Magar. To follow his dreams, he had to go through a lot including going against his parents. He recalls the humiliation he had from his relatives when he picked up filmmaking as his career.
“This achievement has retaliated against all those humiliations,” says Magar.
His father always wanted him to join the British Army. To make him happy, he even joined a training centre. However, at the end of the training session and during the time of selection, he ran away. Why? He had dreams of his own, the dreams to make films and make a name for himself.
But, this decision broke his father’s heart.
“He didn’t speak to me for a year,” he says.
After he ran away from the British Army selection process, his family wanted to send him to the US, but on one condition – he had to quit filmmaking. He agreed. But, the journey to the US was not going to be as straightforward as he had to get to the US illegally via Mexico.
Anil Budha Magar left Nepal, but soon his US dream was shattered when he got caught and landed in a Thai prison for a week before being deported to Nepal.
He saw this as an oracle telling him to continue filmmaking. Hence, in 2017, he released Lomba which he had shot before his attempt to get to the US. This film got recognised by a few film festivals such as KIMFF, Pokhara International Mountain Film Festival (PIMFF) 2017 and Nepal America International Film Festival (NAIFF) 2018.
Lomba did great, but the projects he pursued after it did not. That frustrated him and in 2019, he decided to quit filmmaking and opened a cafe in Jawalakhel.
“I was certain I would not make films again,” he says.
Overcoming his frustration
Anil Budha Magar then began spending his entire day in the cafe, which slowly started to frustrate him.
“I began questioning myself,” recalls he recalls.
One day, he got a call from Jelbang Sewa Samaj, a social organisation at Jelbang, Rukum, asking him if he could direct a documentary on the iron mine in Jelbang. He accepted the deal, went to Jelbang and found 87-year-old Raja Bahadur Magar, the main character of his award-winning film Aagney (The Iron Digger).
It was difficult for Anil Budha Magar to direct the documentary, making an octogenarian a protagonist. In the beginning, Raja Bahadur was not comfortable in front of the camera.
“He was so uncomfortable when he couldn’t speak when the camera was rolling,” says Anil Budha.
But, Anil Budha Magar knew that to make him comfortable, he needed to befriend him. Hence, he started to spend a lot of time with Raja Bahadur. He walked with him, stayed with him and even ate with him. He gained his trust and explained what he was trying to do. This made Raja Bahadur more comfortable and made things a lot easier for the aspiring filmmaker.
The documentary Aagney (The Iron Digger) showcases the impact on the lives of the villagers after the closure of iron mines by the government of Nepal. Despite winning the award, Anil Budha Magar knows he could have done a better job with how he presented it.
“I think it’s a mediocre documentary and I wanted to take more time to complete it,” he says.
Despite his dissatisfaction, the pressure from producers compelled him to complete the post-production of the documentary as they wanted to participate in various film festivals. And to his surprise, the documentary got selected for Film Southasia 2022.
“I can’t describe that moment in words,” he says.
Besides getting selected for film festivals and winning awards, Anil Budha hopes that his documentary has also brought up an issue of Rukum that has never been of concern to filmmakers.
Rukum, especially in movies, is always shown as a central place of the Maoist insurgency period. To this, he finds it unfair being a native of Rukum. One major thing that propelled Anil Budha Magar to become a filmmaker is his thirst for bringing out the beauty and other less-explored dimensions of Rukum.
“Rukum is full of beautiful things, but filmmakers have never explored it. It is culturally and traditionally vibrant,” says Magar.
He says that the people there are extraordinarily dedicated to preserving their culture.
Meanwhile, he is currently working on his father’s story.
“My father’s story is special and it is not only because it’s my father’s story but it is a story directly connected to Rukum’s beauty.”
And, he says he does not want to reveal more about it, yet it has importance to the whole nation.