Film industry mourns loss of pioneering director

Obituary: Tshering Wangyel, widely considered to be the country’s most prolific and successful film director, passed away, yesterday.

He was 43.

The director had been undergoing medical treatment in the intensive care unit in Thimphu for acute pneumonia, the past two weeks.

Born in 1972, Tshering Wangyel was raised in Thimphu and from an early age, began to display indications of a future associated with films. While he liked to take part in theatre, it was his attraction to cinema that would lead him to a movie that would carve his path.

Tshering Wangyel would bunk classes to watch Bollywood films being screened at Thimphu’s only cinema at the time, the Lugar theatre. It would be there that he would watch Gasa Lamai Singye and be inspired to later quit his government job and direct his first film, Rewaa in 1999.

Today, he leaves behind at least 50 full-length feature films from his 16 year career as a director. His filmography even includes a second part to the movie that inspired him to become a film director, Gasa Lamai Singye, besides other successes like the Golden Cup, Sergyel, and Tshering Meto, to name a few.

The director was working on one more film, Sang Magaybi Sem, when his illness struck. The film, mostly completed, will be wrapped up by film maker Talop Wangchuk and choreographer, Karma Jerry.

Tshering Wangyel can also be credited for finding and launching the careers of some of Bhutan’s most successful actors and actresses today, like Chencho Dorji, Tshering Phuntshok and Karma Choechhong, among several others.

The director was known for being prolific, directing up to four films a year on average and at relatively cheaper costs of between Nu 2.5-3 million.

Pema Rinzin, a fellow film maker and friend, said Tshering Wangyel was very good at marketing and convincing people to invest in making movies, and as a result played a big role in keeping the film industry alive and vibrant.

Sherab Gyeltshen, the former general secretary of the Bhutan Films Association, also pointed out that Tshering Wangyel’s films directly employed between 300-500 people every year. “His demise is a big loss to the nation and the industry,” he said.

But perhaps Tshering Wangyel’s greatest legacy will be convincing the Bhutanese public, especially the youth, to watch Bhutanese films rather than just Bollywood or Hollywood ones.

Pema Rinzin, who is one of the older filmmakers like Tshering Wangyel, said that when they first began their careers, others in the industry frowned upon Tshering Wangyel’s catering to the youth. “Now we realize, at this time, that it was important,” he said. “The impact he has made is really huge, what he has done is he has turned the youth into fans of Bhutanese films.”

Gyalsten K Dorji and Thinley Zangmo

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