Reeks of the old high-art-low-art debate. Bollywood-isation is like scratching at a rash; you know you shouldn’t but so many people do.
Standing up to all seductions: Nepal tries to retain its identity
By ADVAITA KALA
I am presently in Kathmandu for the NCELL Nepal Literature Festival, Nepal’s own festival for writers, with 125 Nepali writers attending.
It’s clichéd to speak of the exuberance one finds, but its young organisers Niraj Bhari and Ajit Baral, are well aware that what they have begun is meant to last and will only grow bigger.
The halls are packed and the audience is receptive and engaged. It’s my first literary fest in as many years and what brought me here is nostalgia.
A monk feeds pigeons near Boudhanath Stupa in Katmandu, Nepal
I lived in Kathmandu as a child when it was a very different city – our last days were spent as witness to political turmoil and routine blackouts.
That Nepal was about to change was evident to me even then. Now here again, after twenty years, I am struck by the changes; the list is endless and evolving but I shall concentrate on Nepali popular culture.
A perusal of the morning’s lifestyle section carries the imprint of popular Indian culture. Bollywood chatter, a visit to the city by Zeenat Aman, it is like reading a condensed version (only one sheet) of one of our daily entertainment supplements.
It’s a change from my times, when I learnt how to sing a Chinese song as a child, the words to which I still remember.
The streets are crowded with Maruti 800 taxis, Moti Mahal Delux restaurant now sits on the prestigious Darbar Marg and across the road there is a Van Huesen Showroom and a Citywalk shoe shop.
All those years ago, the only Indian presence was Nirulas, with its ‘localised’ yak cheese pizza.
The Palace this evening, is in darkness. It is a museum, I have never seen it ‘unlit’ and it’s an eerie reminder of the incidents that unfolded there.
Its neighbour The American Club hides behind a double barrelled gate, ‘Can you believe it’s a social club?’ my Nepalese companion points out to me disapprovingly.
I know what she means, the Nepal of the past, had little room for vanities of this nature, even the Palace was visible through its tall gridded gate.
But times have changed, and these changed times have come to Nepal. Indian presence, though always a fact and mildly resented when I was a child, has found its place in popular culture.
The latest Nepali film release is a movie called ‘Bodyguard’ with a bare chested man with a suitably intent expression seemingly in the throes of doing push ups (channeling Salman Khan?)- a heroine with a pained expression is watermarked into the poster.
That’s a staple I am told, most actresses usually get ‘rona dhona’ roles in Nepali films.
I mention the film to a journalist I meet and he tells me that most Nepali films have been ‘corrupted’ by Bollywood. It’s an interesting use of the term, there is something heartfelt about it.
Not dismissive in the way we speak of Hindi movies being ‘inspired’ by Hollywood.
It is irksome to some Nepalis (as it should be) to see their popular culture giving way to a mass marketed Bollywoodised identity.
The actress Jharna Bajracharya Rashid, tells me that there is an independent film movement finding its feet, but it will take some time.
Jharna was Miss Nepal in 1997 at the age of sixteen, and has been in the public eye ever since.
She has evolved with the glamour industry in Nepal, in a lot of ways she has walked by its side.
She was the first Ms Nepal to go to Miss World, and played the lead role opposite Sonu Nigam in the film – Love in Nepal, where she dies before the interval and does an item song, as well as dons a bikini under a see through shift dress.
It led to an intense backlash. She tells me, she was accused of selling out, letting down ‘Nepali womanhood’ by wearing a bikini and doing an item song.
It was very difficult. I ask her about her public persona. ‘I am considered ‘bold”. She’s wearing a tube top under a summer coat, her hair pulled back in a tight pony tail; she is a beautiful girl, her mixed heritage of Newari mother and Bangladeshi father having worked to her advantage.
She exudes free spiritedness and could be a girl you would meet in New Delhi or New York, right now she is in Nepal – single and 31 years old, with similar pressures and the usual societal judgment.
She went to Mumbai to pursue a film career, but a combination of the sheer desperation of the business, the casting couch and sleazy encounters, had her tuning out and she quit.
She has done over thirty Nepali films and twenty music videos and is recognised everywhere she goes, bumping into another film actress who discusses her recent weight loss for ten minutes and asks for tips.
It’s clear that she hasn’t escaped the glamour world entirely. But she has tried; a practitioner of Theravada Buddhism, she gave up alcohol, tobacco and embraced celibacy.
For four years she withdrew into a shell, meditating for hours on end and doing the occasional music video to make some money.
A few months ago she went to England, to get ordained as a Buddhist nun; she enjoyed the experience but decided to go to another monastery where she could get fully ordained (331 precepts).
Two days before she was to leave, she changed her mind. I can’t help but make the connection between Jharna and her country. Both in so many ways have had identities superimposed on them by seductive forces.
And both are trying to find ways of standing up to those seductions and making space for their true selves. May they succeed.
From the Daily Mail >