Interview with Naresh Kumar KC - "Nepali movies making a mark on the global stage"
Filmmaker Naresh Kumar KC, after directing several documentaries, is finally making his big screen debut with 'Dying Candle'. The film, titled 'Nibhna Lageko Diyo' in Nepali, narrates the story of love between two siblings and is set in upper Himalayas of Nepal. Starring Srijana Subba, Lakpa Singi Tamang, Saugat Malla, and Aarpan Thapa among others, this film has already won the Best Cinematography in a Feature award at the sixth Queens World Film Festival and Peace Award at Cinema Verde Film Festival 2016. During its international festivals visit, the movie got some amazing responses from the worldwide critics and now the film is finally opening for all audiences in theaters this Friday.
Just a day before the release, Rahul Raut talked to Naresh Kumar KC - the director known as a proponent of the realistic approach to filmmaking - about 'Dying Candle' and the emerging Nepali film industry. The interview was more focused on the difficulties in Nepali film industry for independent filmmakers. He talked about how hard it is to make a film on our own cultures, how finance affects the storytelling and why mainstream cinema will remain the best source of entertainment. Experts:
Tell us something about ‘Dying Candle’. The film has a good pre-release buzz among the trade and audiences.
‘Dying Candle’ is a flash of life between a brother and sister. This is a story about the sacrifices of a brother and a sister. It’s about how much you care about your siblings, how far you go to make him/her happy. But, yes, it’s also of course more than that.
As you said, ‘Dying Candle’ deals with the love between siblings. This is something we rarely see onscreen. How the idea of this movie emerged? What inspired you to come up with such a unique storytelling? Tell us some behind-the-scenes.
When I was studying at the University of Southern California, my teacher used to say that every country has their own cultures, arts, values and those are the things that need to be told in the world cinema. Being a film student for six long years I thought I should be making something that has been made like innumerable times. And because siblinghood is something that we in Nepal especially celebrate quite a lot than any other country (I guess they don’t have any sibling’s day like Bhaiduj), I thought this could be something that should be ours and ours only, and it would be original and organic. I don’t think they have a movie that especially deals with something like this. Being a film student I should think about it as our kind of recorded social cinema. And another thing, of course, is about ourselves. We don’t want to make a story that has been recognized by so many countries. This is us, this is who we are and this is who I am.
The film has received some amazing responses from critics and festivals. Nepali actors Shristi Shrestha, Keki Adhikari, and Reecha Sharma have also praised the film and showed their excitement on social media. What kind of responses are you getting for this movie? What’s the best compliment you’ve received so far?
I am happy that so many people have come forward to praise this kind of film. I had not expected that. I tried my best, we tried our best to make an honest film that doesn’t get into the glamorous, business, guy-meets-girl kind of film. With all those responses that we got at festivals, from the University of Southern California, here in Jay Nepal last year, I am touched and moved.
The best compliment I’ve got so far is...I remember when a friend of mine’s mom, after watching the film, gave me 1000 rupees and said, “I want to pay for this movie, please. Let me pay. This is so beautiful.” She said she’s proud of this movie. I didn’t intend to do that but it touched people and I am so glad.
Your stories and visuals portray the murky depths of rural lives of upper Himalayas of Nepal. How difficult/easy is it to make a film on our culture?
It is not actually difficult, but the difficulties are created by the social norms, the industry and the kind of chain of film-making and distribution system. I think that every filmmaker in Nepal won’t find it difficult to make a movie on our own culture because that’s something who we are. We don’t have to do long research. Many Hollywood filmmakers came to Nepal and studied for 10-12 years and made the film. If we make a film, we don’t have to do that, we don’t need that 10 years of research. We know what it is. Maybe we need research but not that long. So by saying that, I believe that not many people would find it difficult to make a film on our own culture but the reason like they won’t get distribution, they won’t get theatrical business or so on, make them scared. This is not something that we should do.
Nowadays, many Nepali films are not only getting selected at international film festivals but it also wins awards and receive standing ovations from worldwide viewers and critics. Be it ‘Highway’, ‘The Black Hen’, ‘Dadya’, ‘White Sun’, these films have got huge appreciations from the world. How do you think “the showcase of Nepali films at international film festivals” is promoting our industry?
I am a big fan of Deepak Rauniyar and Min Bham. They are doing amazing jobs. They have conveyed the industry too far than we had gone and I feel that. But you know by saying that the praises we got and the praises they got are at least at some level outside the border. We have Nepalese films, our mainstream films that get released within our country, if it gets to the other country as well, it’s in Diaspora, it’s between Nepalese communities. It doesn’t show to the foreign audiences. We are actually making some mark in the world cinema and people are noticing that Nepal has started making good films that can actually connect with the world audience, which is amazing.
We all hear so often about the lack of original stories in the world. That we’ve all “seen-it-before”. How do you stay fresh in the face of an idea like that? Is there anything that you do to subvert the process to keep it original?
That’s true that there is a lack of originality in the world. It seems in Hollywood and even in Bollywood if we count mainstream and not the kind of art films in India. But with Nepal, I think if we start to delve into our cultural values, if we go to the geographical diversity or ethnic diversity, I don’t think like there are any scares, I don’t think we are lacking. We have plenty stories that can actually make the whole world like ‘aww’ and that’s possible. We haven’t started it yet. We are just starting it out with our own stories. I think we have sufficient stories for next 20 years or something.
Our film industry is growing rapidly. Some filmmakers are experimenting different kinds of cinemas and they’ve succeeded in this as well. Min Bham, Dipendra K Khanal, Deepak Rauniyaar – their unique style of storytelling is changing the way of mainstream cinema. What’s your take on this?
I would not like to personally go for a change in mainstream cinema. There’s nothing that should have to change in mainstream cinema. I just want to believe that there has to be a parallel cinema, there have to be movies that would speak about culture, about values, about our nationality and diversity. I don’t think mainstream cinema should be replaced or something. The mainstream cinema is the one which took the film industry this far and it is still the main source of entertainment for the theater going audiences. So we want them to sustain and we want them to have parallel cinema also at the same time so that people have choices that “Okay I want to watch this and I don't want to watch this”. There has to be all sort of audiences who have their own taste. Hollywood and Bollywood has been doing this for years.
How much do you think commerce affect your art? I mean, how much do you have to compromise as a filmmaker because of financial restrictions?
No, it does. Commerce affects the arts, especially in movies. I mean it affects everywhere--in painting, dance, music, et cetera. Because movie making business requires a huge team--from pre-production to production to post-production, marketing, distribution, it’s not a one-man job. It’s like 40-50-100 people working for one film and then you want to make at least sufficient money to pay them their salary, their due for their hard work and you want to survive their family to keep going. So I mean if you make an art film or an off-beat film and then go for a bank robbery, that doesn’t make any sense because you can’t make it again then. So if you want to survive within the industry and keep making movies, whatever form or whatever genre it is, then yes it has to be commercially profitable.
What makes a great film for you? Are there any certain qualities that make a film better for you?
To me, business wise, any film that caters the audiences, that flux the audiences, is good to great, because they are doing what they are supposed to do. But it doesn’t mean again that it is a good film. If it is a commercially flop and no one see it then, of course, it is a bad film. Being a box office success depends on so many variables--the choices of entertainment and so on. There could be a Nepal band, there could be a strike, socio-political drama going on, so we actually can’t know. Take an example, ‘Reshamm Filili’ was a good film and that could have been a blockbuster if there had not been the earthquake. So you can actually bow for the business but what you can do is that there is a certain level of threshold of quality (in terms of the genre, in terms of the story that you are portraying) which has to be there.
If there’s one or more thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?
I think we need a very good theater chain system that could easily support art house cinema so that younger generation wanting to make their own kind of cinema can get inspiration. They make the film but they can’t release, due to which their work just rust in hard-drive and their desktop which doesn’t make any sense. If you put your money, your time and effort to make a film, it has to reach out to the public. So you need a proper platform where you can show the film. And of course, we need the legal official box office that can handle the nation's entire theatrical change and keep the exact worth of the collection the film makes.
It’s your first film as a feature film director. What’s the expectation from it?
I am really divided about this. Sometimes I believe it’s going to be a very good film in terms of box office collection as well, but other times I think it will fail because my film is not actually a mainstream movie with glam sham, songs, and dances. It is not the kind of film which has huge audiences, it’s not the kind of film that becomes a huge box office hit. This film finishes in an hour with four characters within one evening. That’s very challenging and this is something which never has been tried, so it could be a great thing and it could be a hit. But again, I think, oh no! This is not something that people want to watch. There is always these two sides that keep fighting. Whether this is going to be a good film or just a come-and-go film, I actually don’t know. But I’ve expectations that people will love it.
Any project in the pipeline?
Yes, I am starting my next film called, ‘Romeo & Muna’. It’s going on floors in the second week of Falgun. Hopefully, it will be out in the next six months or so.