Horror movies in Nepal are few and far between. But, at the end of 2021, Kollywood released a horror movie–Kathaputali: The Puppet– that sparked new hopes in Nepali movie lovers, with its trailer. People were excited to swarm into movie halls and watch Nepal’s yet another attempt in the horror genre.
But, the excitement drops tremendously in the first half itself. And, the rest is confusing as the movie tests your patience.
Kathaputali reels you in with a ‘once upon a time’ format and uses an animated sequence to set a tone of an ongoing revolution in a kingdom, in its very first minute. Nepali movies using animation is not common, hence the first minute reinforces the hope you walk-in with that this movie would be different from many other Nepali movies that have failed to impress you.
But, then, it shifts to a royal setting where a father and a son are discussing the enraging revolution. And, this is where your patience will be tested.
Sitting through about a good 20-minute lengthy setup, all about the revolution and their opinions about the way forward is just painful. It is more so when that lengthy setup is not even used later in the horror storytelling. The revolution basically plays no role; Kathaputali could have just avoided the whole thing and made it an hour-long movie instead.
Dhurba Koirala as the reigning king and Mahesh Shakya (Karma) as the prince share the screen for such a long time, but they seem uncomfortable and the dialogues are just flat. Karma’s abrupt shift in tone is just confusing. And, the royal setting and even the attires do not feel convincing enough to show that it is set in a historic time.
Karma’s approach to scenes outside the palace is also confusing. You have definitely seen better of Karma, and this is not his movie.
When Kathaputali finally introduces you to a new character, the movie shifts gears. Usha Rajak as a typical Newa village girl appears in front of Karma. Her first appearance (as Shova Maharjan) seems very caricaturish as her character speaks in an accent that is common in the Newa community.
But, unlike Karma, who drops character and honorifics easily, Rajak holds her character consistently and does not drop the accent. She does a convincing job without announcing that she is a lady from the Newa community.
The movie also uses the unnecessary ‘not show but tell’ approach in many of the scenes. The characters keep repeating the same dialogues or explaining what is going on, spending more time being awkward and slow. And the camera work and editing in these scenes are just disappointing. Rajak, Karma and even veteran actors Mithila Sharma and Gauri Malla fall victims to this.
Downsizing, probably due to shooting amid the Covid-19 scenario, also brought the movie down.
Kathaputali is full of disconnected scenes that go just back and forth, from a dream sequence to reality, from past to present, and from light to dark scenes with abrupt cuts, leaving the audience confused. Some sudden shifts in the tone of the scenes even score a unanimous cringe among the audience, and all could have been avoided or better portrayed.
The second half misses the mark
Compared to the first half, the second half is definitely eventful. More ghosts, backstories and the roles of the characters are explored more in the second half. Here, Karma’s hysteric, scared performance is also way better than his screentime as a royal prince.
Mithila Sharma also nails a few of her scenes in the second half of Kathaputali, such as her close-up where she emotes and narrates the story and her later scenes are great to witness. Scenes at the Rani Mahal of Palpa with eerie background and music is also a plus for the movie.
But before it gets eventful though, Kathaputali drops in a ghostly scene every five minutes or so–as if to remind you that you are still watching a horror movie. But, it is just Karma’s character seeing a supernatural apparition for a split second and that is it; it does not build up thrill. Everything going on just is not connected.
And, the horror scenes are not unique. The film did not shy away from borrowing the already-iconic scenes established by The Haunting of the Hill House or The Conjuring series or stories from your school books. The movie has Nepali-fied scenes with costumes but did not change the screenplay much.
The second half of Kathaputali also misses the mark in capitalising on the role and power of voodoo in the storytelling. The movie could have explored more about voodoo, used the show and tell approach to make it a powerful tool for a horror movie, from the start.
The tell-tale trailer
If you are thinking of going to watch the movie, it is wise not to watch the trailer. This is to say, if you have watched the trailer, it is okay not to watch the 118-minute movie. The movie is just a slow extension of the trailer with more dialogues and no surprises. Because of the poorly edited trailer, all the jumpscares and supposedly scary scenes are ruined except maybe one or two scenes.
Kathaputali is surely a great attempt for Kollywood and for those who enjoy horror movies once in a while. But, the horror-genre lovers will need a lot of patience and a whole lot of coffee to sit through the movie.
Director: Veemsen Lama
Producer: Prithvi Rana Magar
Scriptwriter: Sampada Malla
Cast: Karma, Mithila Sharma, Gauri Malla, Usha Rajak, Dhruba Koirala, Lokmani Sapkota etc