Producers of the new release Ramkahani have a unique selling proposition—their flick belongs to the rarely explored ‘horror’ genre. USPs may help companies popularise their products and beat their competitors, but they can never guarantee success. So happens with the movie.
At the start, the movie is quite appealing as it presents the serious problem of inhumane treatment that Nepali migrant workers are subjected to in the Arab world. It then gradually takes the shape of a ‘deep’ love story. But as soon as the second half begins, the movie ‘transcends’ into the world of the supernatural. This is the moment when the movie’s experiment falters. The end is miserable as it is lighter than what generally happens in any supernatural story.
Light use of magic realism
Essentially, it is not wrong to combine the natural and the supernatural. Historically, such experiments have received critical appreciation. The genre of magic realism holds a celebrated position in the western literary world. So what’s wrong with this movie?
Ideally, magic realism is a blend of magic and realism, in which neither of them can exist independently. But, this movie presents these two elements differently, one after another. The first half is totally natural whereas the second half is not. During the first hour of the run time, no one in the audience could guess how the movie would unfold in the second half.
Of course, a good movie has to create suspense in the viewers, but it should not go beyond the world of possibility and necessity. It applies to the supernatural art as well. Read classic supernatural stories and you will find that the supernatural forces are in existence since the beginning; that is why their presence looks possible, necessary and smooth.
Secondly, the handling of supernatural forces is weak and childish in the movie. This is most clear during the penultimate scene in which a man, standing-up and speaking, merges into a corpse inside a coffin. In the meantime, he continues to express his wishes for his family, beloved and friends until his body is cremated. It does not create any horror in the audience as the producers might have expected but makes them laugh at the foolish use of trickery.
What works well?
Despite the destruction of artistic quality with an unpolished handling of the experiment, some aspects of the movie are commendable. The movie makes an effort to bring problems of Nepali migrant workers into the mainstream of Nepali cinema, at least in the beginning. Its continuity can be fruitful to both foreign employment and cinema industries.
The movie balances humour and sadness; the balance is uninterrupted throughout. There is no place for the audience to get monotonous. Established comedians—Wilson Bikram Rai and Kedar Ghimire—have done their jobs quite well. Ghimire’s wit is sharp—it does not only make people laugh, but also forces them to think about various issues from different perspectives. Relatively new face, Rabindra Jha, proves his potential as a comedian.
The movie reflects Nepali society’s diversity realistically. Whereas releases of the past few months have shown stories of the well-to-do rich families without leaving even ‘marginalised’ space for the poor, this film has covered a wide range of social classes. Geographically, there are people from the mountains, hills and plains. There are Bahun-Chhetris, Janajatis and Madheshis. Women have respectable positions in this movie.
What could have been better?
Except for the ‘supernatural’ twist, this love story is clichéd. The scriptwriters have not bothered to make it different from what they used to see some decades ago. They have even forgotten to take into account apparent changes made by communication technologies including mobile phone and the internet. The hero and the heroine have conversations only when they are in the same place.
The story pattern is dull and predictable. There is a hero, a heroine and a villain. The villain wants to marry the heroine; he wants to impress her with his wealth and ‘prestige’. The heroine is not convinced because she likes the hero. The villain tries to win her after sending the hero off the scene. But, he cannot. Ultimately, the hero comes back and defeats the villain. This story is not different from a traditional formula. It does not appeal to the audience.
Family dynamics are also equally stereotypical. Generally, in traditional love stories, one of the parents opposes their child whereas the other supports. The hero gets the opponent in his dad whereas the mom is sympathiser. The heroine is in the vulnerable position in the family as the mom is dead and the dad paralysed. It seems she is waiting to be rescued by the hero.
While the movie is one step ahead of its contemporaries for reflecting social diversity, it has not become inclusive in true respects. The Madheshi has been portrayed as naïve and coward, the Janajati is concerned about food and drink only, but the Bahun is quite logical. His logic, however, is sexist—he takes chances to dehumanise women.
Technically, the movie is of average standard. Various aspects of cinematic technicality including camera works and editing, songs and dances, and fights are mediocre. Nothing is strikingly appealing. The songs do not contribute anything to the plot movement. Neither are they musically sound and hummable.
The hero, Aakash Shrestha, apparently lacks training. He is either immature or gentler than average people. He tries to crack jokes a couple of times, but his serious face and tone block the effect. The heroine, Pooja Sharma, is a bit better than him, but she also lacks naturalness in acting. Jitu Nepal is sandwiched between his established comedian identity and the villain role of the movie.
Ramkahani is an average film. It is a love story, tragedy, farce and horror, badly mixed up in a single work. Of course, you should respect the experimentation the producers have introduced in the Nepali cinema industry. But, expecting something great from such ‘unusual’ attempts might be a wrong idea.
Maybe you can leave the theatre at the intermission and be happy that you watched a nice love story!
Run time: 130 minutes
Genre: Love story
Director: Sudarshan Thapa
Cast: Aakash Shrestha, Pooja Sharma, Jitu Nepal, Wilson Bikram Rai, Kedar Ghimire, Rabindra Jha