News Makers 2017

Hot emotions and cold truths

Deepak Rauniyar and Asha Magrati’s journey to making critically conscious movies

- Sandesh Ghimire, Kathmandu

If you ask Deepak Rauniyar how he became a filmmaker, he will answer with a story of a fateful day in 2004:

For what could have been another day at work in the newsroom of Nepal Samacharpatra, then housed near the Basantapur Durbar Square, turned out to be a chaotic day for Deepak Rauniyar which, as the then-journalist recalled, changed the course of his life. As Rauniyar approached his office, he saw an angry mob trying to break into the newspaper’s office. Rauniyar’s journalistic instinct was tempting him to go talk to the crowd, but a colleague, Subeksha Bindu, from his newspaper stopped him in time, and took him away from the scene. Later, he discovered that the angry mob was a group gathered by the producers of the movie, who were angry at a harsh review that Rauniyar had written on a sappy film that Rajesh Hamal had starred in.

After growing up in Udayapur and completing his education in Mahendra Morang Adarsh Multiple College in Biratnagar, Rauniyar had arrived in Kathmandu to train himself as an investigative journalist. After completing his training, he found work as a film reviewer for the Nepali fortnightly magazine, Himal. “Darpan Chayya was the first movie I reviewed in my career as a film journalist,” Rauniyar recalled. But becoming a film reviewer was not a de-facto choice for Rauniyar.

In Kathmandu, he was searching for work as a reporter, but reviewing films was the job he was offered. He became intrigued  by the process of watching a movie and subsequently writing about it. Over time, he started to dislike Nepali and Hindi cinema, and he also realised why: “They only taught us to escape the reality we are living in.”

Around the time he started as a journalist, he happened to rub shoulders with journalists Yangesh, Anup Subedi, Narayan Amrit, Dipendra Lama, Achyut Koirala,  Ashwini Koirala, who helped Rauniyar develop a critical film consciousness. “I was lucky to find myself among them—they were pursuing film journalism with a seriousness that is scarcely seen today,” Rauniyar says, “The movie reviews we wrote often became a launching pad for discussions on the qualities of a good movie.”

Better financial prospects took Rauniyar from one media house to another; nonetheless, he continued his role as a film reviewer. He started seeking films that were “more than passive entertainers” and filmmaker Nabin Subbha’s library became the source of first books that helped him understand film as an art form.

“With each review I wrote, my criticisms of Nepali mainstream cinema grew stronger,” Rauniyar said, “I found most Nepali movies to be overly histrionic, having no political consciousness. Why is there no authentic emotions and truths being represented in the movies? I often asked myself.   My reviews did not seem to be  making a big impact. So after the newspaper was almost vandalised, I decided to make my own films, but I scarcely knew anything about filming. ”

So, to better understand the filmmaking process, Rauniyar became an assistant director to Tsering Sherpa for Karma, with a hope that working for a film would help him in pursuing his own goals.   

Rauniyar recognises that his unofficial training happened in a “school of thought that was different than the one popularly practiced in Nepal,” yet for Rauniyar that did not justify the lack of socio-political alertness in mainstream movies—he had wrongly assumed that laxness of Nepali films could be fought by writing better reviews. Good reviews, as Rauniyar learnt the hard way, gave way to life threats and vandalism. He does not remember the movie or his exact criticism, but Rauniyar said that the incident at his office became an impetus to become a filmmaker. “I felt that our cinema wasn’t telling stories that are necessary and immediate, something that was closed to the lived experience.”

By placing in characters the urgency to fulfill a task, (In Highway, the urgency to reach Kathmandu during a blockade, and in White Sun the need to immediately take a corpse to the funeral ground) Rauniyar has discovered a way of framing what the essayist Carol Hanisch once said, albeit in a different context, that  the  personal is political.

 Through his movies, the director has been engaged in exploring hot emotions and cold truths, but becoming a director of international repute was not an easy journey. “Initially I had the confidence in becoming a director, but sorely lacked the proper skill or training,” Rauniyar remarked, “but working for Karma, I encountered a positive change in my life.”

It was at the sets of Karma that Rauniyar met Asha Magrati for the first time. By the time Magrati met Rauniyar, her future husband, she already had an illustrious career as a theatre actor, and a teacher. Having grown up in the Lahure Camps of Dharan, Magrati had developed a deep affinity for films. It was Magrati who first recognised the possibility of merging their creative forces to make a movie.

And since 2007, the two have done a few individual projects, but favour working together. While Rauniyar writes the script, Magrati takes responsibility of casting for their movies. They started their collaborative journey with the short film Threshold which opened the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival in 2008. In 2010, they both quit their well paying jobs to establish their production company, Aadi production, and since then they have become fulltime filmmakers.

“Being a love and work couple really helps,” Magrati shared, “other than the fact that we get to share a great amount of time together, it is also easier to navigate through difficulties. Oftentimes, we face a financial crunch and we both understand that it is a sacrifice we are making to live as artists. Our work is a true labour of love and

we equally share the joys and sorrows of living a life dedicated to creative pursuits.”

Today, Deepak Rauniyar and Asha Magrati are recognised as forerunners of the Nepali film industry. Their two feature films have been feted at platforms across the world, and their latest movie White Sun has won several awards in the international film circuit. 

The film was a success in Switzerland, Netherlands and has been performing decently in the US. The film is soon to be released in Belgium and several other countries, but despite the critical and commercial success abroad, the film has not been a commercial hit in Nepal. The duo have recognised some of the reasons for the film’s financial failure within the country. “Films are marketed here the same way. There are no cinematheques or museums in Nepal that would promote our film,” Magrati said, “our film was also released when the election fever was high—that was not a good time for any movie—but ultimately we can only guess why a film did or did not perform in the box office.”

 “Most people grew up enjoying the formulaic entertainers supplied by Bollywood,” Rauniyar added, “not a lot has been done to cultivate good taste in cinema. There is a habit of gazing somebody’s success by sizing the height of their home, but not by the intrinsic quality of their lives––there is a similar practise in the film industry.”

Nonetheless, the duo is satisfied with the film, especially given the fact they had to face while filming the movie. Because of the 2015 earthquake, they had to change filming location, and when the filming finally took off, the country was hit hard by the unofficial blockade imposed by India. The blockade severely hiked the production cost and the crew had to down-size the crew considerably. “Thanks to the help of people like Dayahang Rai, who lend a hand carrying the equipments whenever necessary,” Magrati said, “we were able to complete the shooting in such a difficult time.”

Rauniyar and Magrati don’t except their next project to be any easier. “We will persevere,” they said, “it is hard to live without making movies.”

Published: 2017-12-31 13:34:13