Naaka is a welcome change amidst the cornucopia of terrible mainstream Nepali films

*** Three stars

Naaka
Crime, Drama
CAST: Bipin Karki, Thinley Lhamo, Prakash Gandharva, Robin Tamang
DIRECTION: Amit Shrestha

 Among the new crop of Nepali actors, Bipin Karki is some­one who has made a giant leap in just few years. Starting with minor character roles, he has now established himself as a leading man in Nepali movies. He started off with a blink-and-miss role in ‘Loot’ (2012); the following year we saw him sink his teeth in a meatier role in the colossally disappointing ‘Chhadke’. But his breakout performance came in ‘Pashupati Prasad’ (2016), where he portrayed Bhasmey, a low-life gang leader operating inside the premises of Pashupatinath temple. If we sift through the characters he has played in his ten films so far, apart from Jatra (2016), he’s mostly played goofy delinquents.

In his latest film ‘Naaka’, his char­acter is—no surprises for guessing—a smuggler named Goldie, donning a mohawk. Goldie ticks off every box in a stock Bipin Karki character: a small-time crook with a colorful name, a flamboyant sense of style and a speech impediment. Goldie is a menacing anti-hero in this black-crime comedy featuring Nepali smugglers and Tibetan refugees.

Goldie and his lackey Hanuman (Prakash Gandharva) agree to help two Tibetan refugees (Thin­ley Lhamo and Shiva Mukhiya) cross the Sino-Nepal border into Nepali. Goldie is making the delivery on behalf of Lata Bob (Robin Tamang) and his henchman Ganesh (Ram Bhajan Kamat), who have promised Goldie five lakh rupees in return.

But the seemingly easy task turns into a migraine for Goldie, as he has to “karate chop” his way through revenge seekers, bent cops and double-crossers.

Director Amit Shrestha has plucked the news pages to ground the story in a contemporary context. He takes up the issue of Tibetan refugee influx and the theft of dzi beads (highly prized Tibetan stones) that have led to the murder of many Tibetan refugees. Shrestha with the help of his cinematographer Chintan Raj Bhandari resourcefully captures the world of the protagonists. The film’s grungy and grimy look must not have come easy.

There are number of odd-ball characters here and only a few are good-natured. The bonding scenes between Hanuman and the refu­gee girl Sonam make up the film’s most poignant moments. In an early scene, Hanuman makes a puffed face to make Sonam understand he is named after the Hindu mon­key god, not realizing that Sonam only speaks Tibetan and may not be familiar with any Hindu god.

Naaka largely stands on the broad shoulders of Bipin Karki, who gives the film everything in his acting arsenal. Karki’s blend of humor and menace is so compelling that movie-goers often end up rooting for a morally corrupt character. This is a clear sign that today’s audience is ready for bold, complex and nuanced roles in Nepali films.

But Naaka is also marred by prob­lems. It relies on a plot that is wafer thin and highly inconsistent. The first half is slow while the second is filled with hackneyed plot twists, as if the makers were in a rush to get to the climax. Many viewers may also feel that overreliance on slapstick humor undercuts the film’s other­wise serious plot.

It’s not a perfect film and I must say its characters deserved a better plot. But Naaka is a welcome change amidst the cornucopia of terrible mainstream Nepali films that have come out in recent times.

‘Every film we do is a reflection of our personal stories’

Award-winning filmmakers Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet on their cinematic journey, their creative process, future projects and why they like to stay away from the limelight—even after achieving so much.

 

by :Ankit Khadgi Published at : November 8, 2020  Updated at : November 9, 2020 06:56 Kathmandu

Since the release of their first short film, The Contagious of Apparitions of Dambarey Dendrite, in 2013, Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet have been on a creative roll. Over the years, they have swiftly moved from television to advertising to music. Their current medium of expression is cinema.

Currently working on their first feature film, The Whole Timers, which was picked at L’Atelier de la Cinéfondation at 2016’s Cannes Film Festival and developed within the Jerusalem International Film Lab, the duo have been regularly screening their work at prestigious festivals like Venice, Sundance, Toronto and Busan and others.

Their second film, Dadyaa: The Woodpeckers of Rotha, grabbed the special jury award for cinematography at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Likewise, their recent short film, The Big-Headed Boy: Shamans and Samurai, is also being screened at the International Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, which is going to be held from November 16.

In an interview with the Post’s Ankit Khadgi, the creative duo talk about their cinematic journey, their creative process, future projects and why they like to stay away from the limelight, even after achieving so much in their filmmaking careers. Excerpts:

The two of you have been part of films for years now. How has the overall experience been like?

Bibhusan: We have been working together for the past 10 years. Our overall journey has been filled with struggles, as it always has been a hurdle to get financial resources for our projects due to which there have been difficult and exhausting times as well. Sometimes, we wonder about how we have been able to financially sustain ourselves and create cinema all these years.

Pooja: Yes, every project has been an experience filled with struggles. Whenever we work on a new project, it feels like we again have to face another uphill struggle. However, to be honest, these struggles have been learning lessons for us, as we believe that if we didn’t endure these struggles, we wouldn’t have that hunger to make movies and express what we want to.


Ankit Khadgi

Ankit Khadgi is a Culture and arts reporter for The Kathmandu Post. He previously worked for The Himalayan Times.