Film South Asia 2007: an experience

The Sixth Edition of Film South Asia 2007 kick started on Oct 11and ended on Oct 15 here in Kumari Cinema, Kathmandu. Though I heard it is the sixth edition it was the first I ever attended. I have vague memories of having heard that the festival took place in Kathmandu whenever that happened. Then “Film festivals” sounded like places I don’t like to go like posh hotels and grand shopping malls. Those were places the elites went to so I thought. But that was earlier this time I was all excited and ready to “Adda Jamaunu” in Kumari from dawn to dusk with my sister. We had it all planned despite the fact that even Rs 30 per documentary would mean wasting more than hundred bucks if we did that. According to her the price should have been Rs 10, according to me it should have been free!! That’s because I am only used to seeing documentaries in Martin Chautari (every Thursday 3 to 5pm) for free with the discussions after that or in college when the Devs Society or Rotaract do the screening. If you just said ” The Nepalese always want a free lunch!” then I heard you! Whatever the case I have my share of questions about the shows….

The FSA began with a documentary titled ” Every good marriage begins with tears” for me. It was about two Bangladeshi sisters ( Shahanara and Husanara) raised in London who are brought back to their country for arranged marriage. Then the next two documentaries were Eviction (about Bhutanese refugees) by Gredy Walker and 6 Yards to Democracy by an Indian filmmaker. For a 11mins long documentary “Evicted” had everything in it, just hit the bull’s eye and I found it to be smartest documentary screened in Kumari.

The second day of the documentary carnival began with “Shame” which is about Mukhataran Mai who tells the world about her rape. I watched it glued to my seat. It was simply inspired on knowing how an uneducated woman does so much for her community even after the traumatic experience. There was one documentary I really wanted to see that day which was titled “A Very British Bollywood” about an Indian director making an erotic comedy in Britain. I had thought the Indians would make me laugh by having a difficult time doing that, given the cultural differences etc but it was just the opposite. The Indian director rather had absolutely no problem with making the comedy ( I wander what element is has to make anyone laugh other than with embarrassment ), its the audience who have a harder time watching it. I mean, the audience like me who have never watched any blue or porn movie in their life.

So, having seen that my answer would be yes, I’ve watched porn after “A very British Bollywood.” How we (I and two friends) got to watch it is rather interesting. We had gone out for lunch and on returning back the tickets had all been sold out. But as I really wanted to see that( I feel embarrassed to admit it now) we went inside and asked the ticket collector at the door to re-sell the tickets to us! There were some seats inside so we bought the tickets and sat on the front row seats to watch it. It’s got an everything that could be porn intimate scenes between a man and a woman, lesbians and “halka” gay material too. Actually I never knew that porn was actually done ( in that way!), I mean live with the entire crew watching the actors. The Indian crew filming the scenes had expressions on their faces worth looking at while a British involved in the making would be seen flushing beetroot red as the scenes were shot. That was all which could instigate laughter (as in funny) from the crowd. It was an experience being exposed to “soft porn” as said in the documentary I admit. The film which was being made was “Private Moments” by the same director who did “Provoked” starring Aishworya Rai.

Now, let me talk about things that weren’t shown in the screen in Kumari. The tickets were priced at Rs 30. It is cheap by any standards, isn’t it? Even for students it is an acceptable price as only dramas in Gurukul is cheaper than that which is Rs 25 for students. Moreover 30 bucks to understand a bit of South Asia is a good deal to make. So I thought. So did many who attended the screenings. The venue is Kumari cinema which otherwise charges a good sum of Rs 140 for watching movies in the front stalls too. Don’t forget that a vegetable burger and a cup of coffee costs Rs 110 in total. So, I don’t need to be an economist to understand that the crowd the cinema wants is neo-rich or upper middle class Nepali folks. One distinct trait of the group would be “to talk more in English than Nepali”.

An example, on the last day of the FSA I was waiting to call a friend from the phone in the theatre premises. A guy was talking on the phone and once he was done he turned to me and said, “Sorry I took so long and made you wait.” A fair skinned guy with frameless spectacles in his early twenties was talking to me. “It’s alright” I told him but I asked myself “Why did he talk to me in English?”I mean how can he presume that I know English? Maybe that’s what everyone who comes in Kumari is expected to know. I have been to the cinema quite often; the last time was to watch “Transformers”. It wasn’t released elsewhere and though it’s a costly affair I have been kind of addicted to the luxury of the theatre so I keep going there. So, I belong to the other kind of audience the theatre receives who go there despite knowing the fact that they are doing exactly this “ Ghati heri haad nanilne” kaam. My types make up for an equally huge number of movie goers.

But when FSA has tickets priced at Rs 30 most would presume it to be for the larger Nepalese audience (who may understand English but have trouble communicating in it) wouldn’t they? As, the documentaries all had English subtitles knowing the language was a must. Now, it makes me think why did the organizers not think of having Nepali subtitles? Who was the target audience of the screenings? The diplomats in Kathmandu, the expatriates, the journalists, the foreigners or the Nepalese people? The jury had foreigners so was it for them? If it was the diplomatic and foreign community then they could have charged a higher price. However most were provided with free passes I guess.

Himal is such a huge publication house. I presume they have quite a few translators there. This is only one example but there are many others which clarify that “We” the “Nepalese” are more interested in impressing the “Foreign” community and be accepted by them than doing something for ourselves and being accepted among our people. Was pricing the tickets at Rs 30 and having everything done in English enough to lure every student of sociology in TU (as they’d have found it more relevant) or a homemaker in Kathmandu to Kumari? The other disturbing element for me was how the organizers only used English to describe the documentary to be screened next and the same thing while moderating the question answer session after the screenings. They could have spoken in Nepali and have someone translate it for the foreigners if they were so concerned about them. I know Nepal is not Japan where you have a tough time without learning their language but it isn’t India where most know English either. Inclusion lies in little things like these.

The only time I heard any Nepali in the interactions was when a journalist inquired about the river shown in “Hami kunaka Manche” (we corner people). The answer was of course, given in English. There was the same old question about why the government was not doing anything. And I for one am sick and tired of complaining about the government. Moreover the DDC (District Development Committee) was said to have provided 3 lakh 21 thousand rupees for the construction of the bridge. I was wondering what the girl/woman who asked the question was doing when that was clearly stated in the documentary. Perhaps she did not understand Nepali? However what was most interesting to me was when the facilitator of the show said we in Kathmandu have the habit of regarding “development” as “development”????????? And that we shouldn’t be as cynical about it as a Bridge did mean something to the people in a community. It isn’t just the “development” we perceive here. There seemed to be a lot of anti-development vibes in the hall which was interesting for me as a student of development studies. Whatever the case creating a language barrier is the first step of systematically marginalizing the larger mass.

I missed two days of the screening as I had gone to Lamjung. Though I had only been invited because “I write”(it’s been a real long break now). I could be of some help to the organizers of the program as “translation from English to Nepali” was required. I had no preparation and didn’t know a lot of technical terms too still I did manage to help the people understand by interpreting about Transitional Justice( Sankramankalin Nyaya) with a bit of help. And it felt so good.

I was back to attend the Music Videos Screening in the last day (Oct 15). The shows were a mess. Me and my sister bought tickets for the short documentary film about legendry Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (”Nusrat has left the Building… but when?” by Farjad Nabi in 1997) and it was the most bizarre documentary I ever watched. Songs of Nusrat were played in the background, with sketches of him dancing with the rhythm; a guy goes inside his room, plays a short piece of music by Nusrat, buildings, gallis ….that’s it. It is over. I concluded, well “yesta pani documentary hunda rahechan”. We were to watch the “Girl Song” (Jazz nights in Calcutta) by Vasudha Joshi but there were some technical “gadbadis” because of which they told us to leave the hall and be back at 3:15 when it was only two or something.

Once we were out they again told us to go to Hall A where Pakistani music videos were being shown. There was no need to purchase tickets after that so it was Rs 30 only for a day in Kumari. Lucky I must say as the Pakistani videos were really good. Farjab Nabi was the curator of the video and it was interesting to know that as Pakistan doesn’t have a formal music industry there is more room for creativity. It clearly showed in the screenings too. The best video according to both me and my sister was “Raba” by Mekaal Hasan Band. Their songs have the Sufi lyrics, such great music and creative video. The good news is they are the “Next Big Thing” in Channel V these days. So you get to see the song now and then. I want to learn some Urdu now!

It was followed by “Music Videos-The Bombay Outlook”, curator Paromita Vohra. It was a long session where videos starting from Alisha Chennai’s “Made in India” to Hardcore’s “Move your body” for the movie Johhy Gaddar were shown. The guys sitting beside me were getting excited for no reason when ” Pardesiya” remix which features Rakhi Sawant was being shown. I mean, everyone has probably seen the video a thousand times so what’s the excitement about? There was one video titled ” Vande Mataram” the shitty version. It was literally the shitty version showing people cleaning shit and all with Vande Mataram being played in the background. The music video began with these words “When one India celebrates false euphoria, there is another India that suffers humiliation silently”. There were other satirical videos, one from Manipur (the makers were really thankful that it would be screened in MVF in Kathmandu Paromita said) and another satiring The Almighty USA titled “America”. I specially liked one line which said “God save us from American peace and liberty”. The crowd really seemed to enjoy the video.

The program wasn’t going on according to schedule though. To compensate for it the organizer announced that Free Beers would be served at the end asking us to call our friends. “Beers” I thought, (the presumption that everyone wants it) and also how that could compensate the delays as we wouldn’t be able to get the bus home if Late. Looking around it seemed as though if anyone had a problem of transportation it would have to be only me and my sister. The MVF crowd was really small and I could experience the CLASS difference instantly. I mean you easily get that you are in the wrong place with the wrong people. So, we left before the best 10 nepali videos (according to Suraj Singh Thakuri and Asif Shah) were shown followed by the premiere of other Nepali Music Videos.

That’s all that I got to say about the FSA 2007 and The MVF (Music Video Festival). Hope the organizers have a clearer target audience next time. It is a good start, let it be better. Let the good things be within everyone’s reach as the Bikase’s say and that’s possible if the prominent ones of the “Civil Society” widen their perception of what “Development” is. It’s not only about a bridge in Rasuwa but “screening a documentary” in Kathmandu too!

My experience and observation.

It’s been such a loooooong time since I started writing. Time to stretch my body now…. I think it will make a boring read. Whatever…….m tired of thinking too much…

Similar writings : Entertaiment options in Kathmandu

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3 comments

  1. Hey!remembered those gud old days of film festivals on russian cultural centre and gopi krishna and in kumari.Missin those moments.
    Regarding your blog
    I’ve been reading contineoulsy from last mnth(quiet late)and even thought of writing myself and made a personalized site in blogspot.
    Zaded you really rock.
    I’ve a blog bout you and wagle dai on my blogspot account
    check it if u’ve time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. It’s “Eviction” as far as I remember. Rather than a documentary, for me, it was like a news report.

    You remember how freaky Shahanara was? Her words still reverberate in my ears.

    You remember the pumping heart of the slaughtered ox?

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