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‘Kalo Pothi’ movie review: A triumph of Nepali cinema

kalo pothi

After watching Min Bahadur Bham’s much-acclaimed Kalo Pothi, where two friends growing up in Mugu during the decade-long civil war set out on a journey to bring back a missing hen, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far Nepali cinema has come in the recent years.

After all, just a little context is needed to appreciate Kalo Pothi, which combines an erudite understanding of the craft of cinema, with the deftness of a well-woven narrative and then elevates it with a degree of personal involvement. All this evoked in me, memories of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, no less.

Our films have been recognised by various film festivals around the world for quite some time now. Most recently, the Bhaskar Dhungana-directed Suntali successfully combined the conceit of a telenovela with a tale of a village girl that was distinctly Nepali. True to its form, Suntali combined these two to a certain degree of success. But the audience couldn’t warm up to this as most failed to recognise the clever juxtaposition of these forms.

A few years ago, before movies like Suntali was possible in Nepali cinema – movies which drew the attention of the guardians of world cinema with their understanding of the craft and the vision to elevate it beyond the trappings of such – Deepak Rauniyar’s Highway gave a whole new generation of Nepali filmgoers what a ‘world cinema’ made in Nepal would look like.

Highway raised eyebrows with its sordid depiction of the modern Nepali society, and combined multiple narratives to its proceedings which had, until then, been the domain of directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu and Mani Ratnam. Most members of the audience shrugged off the movie, their reason being that the movie was ‘too foreign’. Even more could not stand the fact that director Rauniyar had chosen not to give his myriad characters a closure.

Even after the screening of the much-anticipated Kalo Pothi at a local multiplex, I overheard similar concerns– reason enough to say the audience has not completely woken up to movies like Suntali and Highway.

 …the film’s provenance maybe Mugu, where the languid air often belies the hardship of the region’s inhabitants and the resulting tenacity, its spiritual home lies in some of the most-revered piece of world cinema.

But having spent the preceding hours with an excitement that I had not felt for a Nepali movie in recent years, I personally feel such concerns will be short-lived in the case of Kalo Pothi. Or better, it will be only limited to a small section of the audience.

For one, director Bham’s leads are charmingly easy to relate to. Haven’t we all had that one inseparable friend while growing up who has seen us in the nude and couldn’t care less?

Two friends Prakash (Khadka Raj Nepali) and Kiran (Sukra Raj Rokaya), belonging to different castes (it should matter because we are in Mugu), bring to the simple tale a reminiscence of simpler times we all lived once.

And although, the film’s provenance maybe Mugu, where the languid air often belies the hardship of the region’s inhabitants and the resulting tenacity, its spiritual home lies in some of the most-revered piece of world cinema.

The movie evokes the works of Abbas Kiarostami in its apparent impassiveness of the camera work. During key moments, cinematographer Aziz Zhambakiyev’s frame only moves when it is absolutely required. These frames are, instead, keys to delving deeper into the inner life of the characters.

And in another sequence, a gleeful lot of kids watching a screening of a Rajesh Hamal movie evokes the love for the medium in a way director Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso so charmingly had.

But with what is the most stunning sequences I have ever seen filmed for a Nepali movie, director Bham elevates a simple tale to a different plane. In impeccably choreographed segues, we are shown the inner life of Prakash. Composer Jason Kunwar’s haunting score acts as the hymn for meditation in these sequences which is the key to the lives of these disparate characters, especially Prakash, living unaware of the immensity of life beyond the rolling cliffs.

In its beauty and precise staging, these sequences reminded me of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, especially his Domenico’s speech sequence from the movie Nostalghia.

What Bham has apparently done and succeeded in doing with Kalo Pothi not merely affects the appearance of a new form but he has, along the way, created a distinct style that will surely get better in the days to come.

***

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