“Individual narrative elements remain diverse; a love story, a crime thriller, and a social commentary on the state of Nepali youth all weave into the tapestry of the story.”
Note: A new Nepali film ‘Chini Kam Rang Kada’ which is directed by Nepali American film director Bibek Ghimire is slated to release during Dashain festival in Nepal. It’s Amazon Prime release on July 1st in USA and UK has received positive review from diaspora viewers. Nepalism has tapped another Nepali American student in film making to have a peer review of Nepali American director’s directorial debut film after his filmmaking study in United States.
by Nirlash Karki, Howard University, USA
As film goes, within the first 10 minutes of Chini Kam Rang Kada, we get two close-up shots of the lead character’s hands; in both instances, he is changing the chords while playing his guitar. This seems to be director Bibek Ghimire’s attempt at making us aware that Manav Ghimire, portraying Ajay, is actually playing the guitar. Director Ghimire’s direction mostly strives for this proximity to rudimentary realism: on-location shooting dominates; shots of real-life people engaged in their quotidian ways of being are interspersed with the meanderings of the central characters; diegetic noise stays unfiltered. Individual narrative elements remain diverse; a love story, a crime thriller, and a social commentary on the state of Nepali youth all weave into the tapestry of the story. What we ultimately view, however, is a film that in its attempt to not just be another commercial Nepali film ends up becoming just another recording of images and sound.
Ajay is a young musician with aspirations to provide music for Nepali films. He is an indie boy if one ever existed; mainstream Nepali film producers reject his songs because they are not made to be viral and that is how the film tells us to take him seriously. He is en route to breaking up with Smita, his girlfriend. Their plan of leaving for Australia is thwarted when Ajay gets an opportunity to provide music for one of his friend’s upcoming film. He then encounters Lalita (played by Anu Thapa Magar), a young woman who sells tea around Patan, and a romance ensues between the two. All while, a mysterious man roams around Kathmandu searching for someone and committing crimes. The narrative comes full circle when both of these arcs come together.
For the first half of the film, director Ghimire seems disinterested to complete the narrative. Instead, we get diary-like sequences, detailing the lives of these characters. He abstains from controlling the negative space during this portion of the film; sometimes, the frame doesn’t even position the main characters as subjects. The score feels out of place and the on-location noise adds to the sense of dissonance. It looks and sounds disorganized. One glaring exception is a shot of Lalita placing her thermos on the ground as she serves tea to Ajay and his friends. Following the cacophony of the scenes that preceded it, the image of a young working-class woman crouched on the ground in a public space as she conducts her trade is refreshingly pure.
Slowly, director Ghimire lets go of this tendency, paralleling it to the growing intimacy between Ajay and Lalita. The romance itself is handled with a breezy candor. It’s a romance that grows innocently over sips of tea that Lalita sells. In a slyly humorous use of camera movement, director Ghimire positions the two vacuum flasks that have accompanied the couple all along as voyeurs of their first sexual interaction. Both actors nicely play off each other. Anu Thapa Magar as Lalita is particularly impressive in a subdued performance, invoking a plethora of emotions with minute gestures.
Ajay and Lalita belong to two different worlds. In plenty of scenes, he interacts with his friends on roofs. Lalita, however, wanders- in elongated sequences- through the streets; even in her rented room, the floor is her bed. The altitudinal difference in the spaces they inhabit might signify their obviously different upbringings but that never becomes a focus in their romance. In one scene, she asks him what does he see in a tea-seller like her. He replies that he feels free when he is in her company. Exploration of their class differences is shrugged off in what feels like a missed opportunity.
The breakup of Smita and Ajay unfolds in what is probably the most hackneyed portion of the film. Director Ghimire tries to add visual layers by depicting their final confrontation by focusing on the character’s reflection but the whole arc is by the numbers and the acting doesn’t help either. Surya Thapa’s portrayal of Smita sticks out for all the wrong reasons; her mode of acting seems out of place and the writing does anything but helps her.
Sushil Sitaula as the mysterious wanderer is the clear acting standout. He manages to create an eerie sense of detachment around his character, making his portrayal chilling at points. The climax occurs when his narrative arc meets the love story bubbling all along.
Frankly, it feels rushed which sells the tragedy short. The resolution, showing evil escaping in the vastness of the city, makes for a more compelling ending.
All in all, Chini Kam Rang Kada is a film that never becomes something more than the sum of its parts. The text of the film is as much as an engagement with Nepali film culture as it is with Nepali society. The film refuses to be a mainstream Nepali film but doesn’t commit to being anything else. It seems to confuse minimalism with nothingness and thus succumbs to being a bit hollow. Inspired moments come and go, but in the end, the film feels more like an act of avoidance more than an attempt at being. If anyone relates to its characters strongly then I am just trying to be a critical peer reviewer. Happy Dashain and have wonderful holiday watching this new film.
Note: Nirlash Karki is studying Film/TV Production at Howard University in USA.