Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Soshan: film review

A critic of Nepali cinema can't really afford to be critical. To pick on the problems that plague Nepali cinema would really be to miss the point. It doesn't really matter if the flashback to the hero's mid-90s childhood involves flat screen televisions. Nobody cares that the music from the dramatic points are taken directly from other films (tunes from both Star Wars and Indiana Jones made it into Sashan without a shred of Post Modern mashup irony). And lose plot points don't really bother anyone (where did the female lead's grandmother disappear to during interval?).

So if we're to ignore the plot errors, shoddy editing and occasionally woeful acting then what's left? Well clearly more than enough for Nepali audiences, who exhibit an enthusiasm that Australians usually reserve for a game of football. It's completely appropriate to cheer on the hero as he rescues the love interest with some improbable fighting skills. It's fine to turn to your friend and offer your opinion of the film as some kind of live audio commentary. And if it's getting dull call your friend and offer a commentary to them.

Sashan is the story of a rich man and his son. Our hero turns up at one of his father's villages to open a new hospital dedicated to his mother. There he falls in love with a local village girl. Cue many song and dance numbers and many costume changes (which are a way to show off ones budget). The hero stops a local bad man from kicking the girl's family out of the village (by grabbing the sharp end of a machete - Nepali heros have some improbable qualities), and realising their love for each other they get married. Our hero must dash off overseas for something important, leaving his new wife waving goodbye as his helicopter flies off over the mountains (again helicopter = impressive budget).

This would probably be enough material for a whole film, but it's just setting the scene. The girl's family are eventually bested by the baddie, and seek help from the hero's father. When they arrive at the palatial house nobody knows about the marriage. the son has a girlfriend and is frankly rude to the woman who loves him. The rich man lets the girl and her father stay. While there we watch her heartbreak - then the hero's older brother kills the girl's father because he finds the hero drunkenly harassing the girl who's really his wife. The police find the girl with her dead father on the road and arrest her for murder. By this point she's also quite clearly pregnant, to add to her woes.

Still following? Just when things can't get worse it transpires that the hero has a twin brother, thus solving the mystery of his rudeness. But our hero is heartbroken when his dad tells him that she is dead - it's ok, nan breaks down and tells him she's in jail when she can no longer bear the guilt of knowing that the hero's mother was killed by his father because he thought she was sleeping with the chauffeur. And the hero's older brother? Actually the son of the chauffeur. The elder brother goes crazy and kills the whole family as a very slowly delivered revenge. He kidnaps the hero's very pregnant wife and stages an improbable death for her - letting the hero have a chance to come in, guns blazing, and singlehandedly shoot down a battalion of thugs and save his beloved - who has quite forgiven him for not being his nasty twin. Cue happy ending with hero, heroine, cute new baby and hero's nan who has somehow survived. There was also something about the UN security council but I can't say I understood that.

Nepali films are generally fairly similar to each other. They all have a good mix of fighting, romance, family drama, song, dance and unpredictable plot twists. Like Desh, this film had several didactic monologs from the hero exposing the many virtues of good Nepalis. Like my favourite Nepali film Kusume Rumal this film also had one dance scene full of cross dressing. I'm not sure if this is a common feature of Nepali films, but I'm sure there's a great thesis in it.

One thing I've noticed is that every time I go to the cinema I understand more. I can't say I really follow the intricacies of the plot - UN security council? And how did the girl not figure out that the hero had a twin? - but I can figure out how people are related to each other and the general gist of what they're saying.

Going to see a Nepali film is like I imagine Indian cinema was 30 or 40 years ago. In many ways it would be a shame if they stopped dubbing the dialog in post-filming, and if car breaks didn't squeal every time a car stopped. The charm of Nepali cinema is not in the quality of its production, but in the enthusiasm that the audiences bring to it.

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