Imagination lives by risk, including the risk of incomprehension. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche (DJKR), whose movie ‘Looking For A Lady With Fangs & A Moustache’ was shot in Nepal and released on virtual cinemas recently, talks to the writer about the challenges of finding the right alchemy of creativity and risks. Those who succeed can entertain and instruct and enlighten all at the same time. Which is something he has tried to do with his latest film that explores the Buddhist view of reality and the transformative power of the feminine energy embodied in that wisdom. The movie can be watched through online cinemas.
Rinpoche, how satisfied are you with the way ‘Looking For A Lady With Fangs & A Moustache’ turned out in the end? How much of your original vision took shape in the final film?
I guess one is never fully satisfied with one’s work. In many ways this film was experimental. So, some parts of the final version may not have turned out the way I originally intended, while other parts unexpectedly did more than I’d thought possible at the start.
What is a dakini? What were some of the challenges Rinpoche faced in bringing out this unique vision onto the screen?
It is believed that the original Sanskrit term dakini was derogatory – like calling someone a bitch these days. The tantric wisdom of non-duality recognizes that what we conventionally consider “good” and “bad” actually has no substantial existence. So, dakini is not just a woman, as is popularly thought. It is actually beyond our ordinary way of measuring and assessing things.
Rinpoche, can you run us through your filmmaking process? What goes into it? How much time do you invest in your film projects given that you also have a full time job as a Buddhist spiritual leader?
In one sense, my job as a Buddhist teacher doesn’t necessarily contradict my film-making because, to begin with, I’m not a good practitioner. I am always distracted and I am always distracting myself in communicating with people. But as human beings, we always want to express ourselves, to communicate, and sometimes even to impose our opinions and ideas on others. We do this all the time. So, for me, film-making just happens to be one way of doing that.
As for what goes into it and how long it takes: Well first, it takes me quite a lot of time just to write the story, because I sometimes get so busy and also because I’m lazy. And then, for that story to become a film, the pre-production also takes time, because you then have to think of locations, actors, crews, equipment, and the rest.
I can’t afford for the filming itself to take a long time, because independent films like mine are made on very small budgets. So, we try to shoot the film as efficiently as possible. After that comes the editing, where I’ve been very blessed to have lots of good friends who really give me a lot of assistance with that part.
The next part – how to present the film to the larger world – is probably the most difficult, because most distributors, critics, and audiences are more interested in certain formulas, which my film doesn’t fit. It’s like people who crave a coffee figuring that Starbucks is their best bet rather than some obscure, newly opened, boutique coffee shop, however interesting that might sound. So, it takes time to actually get this kind of film exhibited.
Do you worry that you run the risk of incomprehension when you make a film like the ones you make and in the format you choose to make them? Art films are a dying breed, isn’t it? Why not package your movie like some of the mainstream movies and still say the things you want to say? Wouldn’t that give a chance for more people to connect with your message?
Well, that is a very challenging question, which is exactly the point I was trying to get at when I just spoke about formulas. We always have to juggle between how much we should give in to the audience’s desires and how much courage we can muster to express the world exactly as we see it.
So, for instance, drama is the central ingredient of any kind of story-telling. But there are so many different kinds of drama – it’s infinite. There are dramas like 007 conquering a mad terrorist. But there’s also the drama of what goes in your head between the four walls of a dinky hotel room in which you’ve been quarantined for 21 days. But the latter, if you can express it, could sometimes be not only entertaining but also awakening and liberating.
Rinpoche, why do you use amateur actors in your movies? Don’t you think professional actors may be able to do more justice in bringing out the many layers of meaning in your movies? Is it the budget?
Well in my case, the reason is mainly because of both the nature of my story and also the location of my premise. The reality is that I just don’t have much of a choice in finding good actors, and that has a significant impact on everything. Even from the time you write the story, you already have to compromise. That’s what the mind does. Though we have been told not to think about these things, we can’t help but do so, because at the end of the day we have to be practical.
Having said that, working with non-actors can be quite challenging but also rewarding.
Your previous film ‘Hema Hema: Sing Me A Song While I Wait’ was shot in Bhutan but was banned in the country on the grounds that religious masks were used in the film. What are your thoughts on it?
I still don’t really know why it was banned, except that it had something to do with culture. But filmmakers often face this kind of challenge. That can actually be quite good for the film-makers, because the more you are restricted and confined, the more you are almost forced to be creative. That said, it would probably help if there were clear guidelines on what you can’t do and what you can do.
Rinpoche, you’ve been saying that you are going to one day make a movie on the Buddha. Is it true that Buddha had blue eyes (Google says he had) and that you are wrestling with how to portray that in your movie?
Yes, the aspiration to make a film on the Buddha is still there.
Whether or not the Buddha had blue eyes really doesn’t matter so much, because we are talking about somebody who lived 2,500 years ago. Most probably he did have, because even our own Buddhist texts talk about him having blue eyes.
Anyway, if I do manage to make a film on the Buddha, I am already anticipating so many eyebrows being raised, with criticism on every aspect of it, from the costumes to the way the Buddha looked, to what he said or didn’t say.
Contributed by Kencho Wangdi (Bonz)
The writer is a former editor of Kuensel and can be reached @bonzk on Instagram