Review: For indeed, what goes around, comes around. What you sow, you bloody reap entire. Sonam Phuntsho’s Samsara – A Bhutanese Tale – is something of a novelty really, in ways more than one, to put it unshrivellingly straight and necessarily unclothed. When good things happen, which is vastly not very often, laying them bare as they appear is perhaps the only honourable thing to do. And it is done.
The film opens with an aerial shot of a magnificent and breathtakingly beautiful rural setting in Bumthang, and zooms lightly and ever so ethereally into Gakiling, a fictional village where much of the film is based. This most powerful and wonderfully impressive picture of the real human settlement, far away from the madding crowd, was achieved with the use of a drone long before flying unmanned quadcoptors became an issue in the country and was condemned and banned altogether. What sadness indeed! Innovations will be there, and so the evolution – how they are used as they come must be defined by the shrewdness of the brains. Drones are designed to fly; let them fly. How really they are used, well, you get it right yourself.
At a time when the Bhutanese film industry is overwhelmed with toe-curlingly cheap reproduction of Bollywood and Hollywood castoffs, this film is a renaissance that will, or should rather, set the standard that is wholly Bhutanese. Sonam Phuntsho, also popularly known as Scherlock, did not dream Ngultrulms and Dollars when he got into the industry. He left his civil service job and got into film-making business purely because he enjoyed the art and felt the power of it all. And it shows.
Employment of good and talented actors defines the shape of the film because of the experience they carry with them, the worth and masterfulness of scriptwriting besides. Here the two have come together, gloriously dovetailing into the heart of the both. Pema Tshering, the producer of the film, is a slow talker, extremely so. He measures his words carefully and wears a face of a thinker of an age long gone by. Passion and patience, both are his strengths. No wonder the making of the film took almost half a year.
But it is trust that made this film a reality that shows how life and living really works. Sherlock had the free rein. Pema Tshering wanted the best from his director. Actors gave their best. And, so, this is what they made – Samsara – A Bhutanese Tale.
Agay Druba of the film (Karma Choechong), a notoriously successful womaniser, plays a lightly jocular character. The story flows from his mouth, from a cave where he is now atoning the mistakes of his life as a successful businessman. From down his hermitage, perched high at a waist of a sheer cliff, the scene shifts onto magical Gakiling where Samdrup (Sonam Tenzin) is tangled in a wed of complicated love affair. Debutant Deki Lhamo, who plays the daughter of the village bully Ap Drao Dorji (played by Nidup Dorji), exudes talent extraordinaire.
What is so relieving about this film is the absence of familiar funny faces and their slapstick humour. Effort has been made to keep it real, as natural as possible. Seyden (played by Sonam Choki) feels largely insecure.
The chill comes when Ap Drao Dorji has Samdrup almost as his last victim in a pit dug deep in a forest above the village. There is a sinister song of dark denouement as closely guarded family secrets gradually unfold. Nidup Dorji executes his role most proficiently. A deep-seated greed and fire started the game; with a fire terrible ends the film.
All in all, Samsara – A Bhutanese Tale is a feast that has quite successfully put together years of dream and months of making. As long as the world is populated with human, there will be love. So love there is in the film, in the main.
The 2.9 million project that was shot in 4K RAW format will appeal to the Bhutanese young and old. Samsara – A Bhutanese Tale is being screened at City Cinema and Trowa Theatre in Thimphu and Mig Cinema in Phuentsholing.