Arts and Entertainment

Burned alive

  • Yadav Bhattarai’s Jhola comprises a believable and thought-provoking examination of the practice of Sati, a film that is authentic to the core, and populated by talented actors who do not disappoint
- Manisha Neupane, Kathmandu
Burned alive

Feb 12, 2014-


What makes the newly-released Jhola such a moving watch is not simply the competent manner in which it is able to portray the terrible practice of Sati in rural Nepal, but also how well it captures the era in which the story is set—the early 1900s—down to the smallest of details. The result is that nothing in Jhola feels inauthentic; from the locations, to the costumes and make-up, the dialogues and the performances, they all make for a believable and thought-provoking cinematic experience. 

Jhola, based on a story by Krishna Dharabasi, is directed by Yadav Kumar Bhattarai. The script examines the process and consequences of the now-abolished but once widespread custom of Sati, wherein a widow is immolated on the pyre of her dead husband. The story revolves around Harikala (Garima Panta), a young woman married to a widower (Dipak Chettri) 40 years her senior, a man whose son from a previous marriage is much older than his new bride. Not only does Harikala have to take care of all the household chores, but she also has to look after the old man, whose health has long been deteriorating. The only saving grace in her life is her little son Ghanashyam (Suraj Nepal), the apple of her eye. Unfortunately, she has to watch passively as the boy is constantly mistreated by her stepson and his family.

One day soon after, the old man passes away, and Harikala—only 27 at the time—must now be burned alive, as per tradition. Ghanashyam is devastated at the thought of losing his mother, and seeing him in such a state, Harikala’s sister-in-law (played by Laxmi Giri) tries to raise a voice against the custom, but she’s pulled back by her husband (Desh Bhakta Khanal), and told to keep quiet, lest she turn the village priests and other elders against herself. And so it is that Harikala is led away to the shores of the river where her husband’s pyre is laid, stripped of all her clothes and jewellery, doused in oil, and made to burn. The story doesn’t end there, of course, and a surprise awaits audiences in the latter half of the film, although the conclusion is far from a simple ‘happily ever after’. 

The way Jhola has been structured is fairly straightforward—it starts as a story that is being narrated by an older Ghanashyam about an incident that changed his life forever and circles back to him in the end—but that simple approach works in opening up what is a complex subject, unearthing the savage realities of an essentially inhumane practice. The actors are all consistently impressive, some even outstanding, like Panta, who embodies Harikala’s spirit with great conviction. Your heart goes out to her character throughout the film; despite a lack of heavy dialogues, the actress is expressive enough to convey a host of conflicting emotions. Giri, as a sort of rebellious foil to Panta’s submissive persona, does a terrific job too. 

Thanks to an effective script and convincing execution of the same, Jhola stands out among most current Nepali films. It works both as a fictional piece and as a historical document of sorts that lays bare an abominable facet of religious dogma, and in that, is a must watch for everyone. 

Published: 12-02-2014 09:04

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