Saturday Features

New wine in an old, hackneyed bottle

  • Kalapatthar Mathi brings to stage a seemingly fresh story set in the Himalayas, but it is half-baked, half-hearted and ultimately, rather pointless
- Timothy Aryal
Kalapatthar falters when it comes to using the elaborate set to tell a cohesive story—the woes and worries of making a living in such difficult topography, the relationship between its characters, the heartaches of losing a beloved are largely superficial

Feb 17, 2018-How often is it that we get to see films, novels or plays set in the Himalayas? Instantly a couple come to mind—the 1999 film Caravan or the more recent Everest (2015). But when it comes to Nepali productions, Nepal’s mountains continue to remain largely ignored. While it is true that scenic spots like Mustang and Manang have become go-to destinations for music videos, the videos thus produced are by definition largely superficial. 

In recent years, Kathmandu’s theatre circuit has branched out to bring stories from different communities and localities. Take for instance Lati ko Chhoro set in the Tarai, or Hariyo Dhunga set in a Bhutanese refugee camp. Furthermore, stories based out of villages in the hills or in Kathmandu Valley are increasingly a dime-a-dozen. But needless to say, here too the Himalayas are grossly underrepresented. So, when Kalapatthar Mathi began staging at Mandala Theatre this week, many saw it as an important attempt to bring previously-unheard voices onto stage. Only, Kalapatthar Mathi is merely a façade. 

Kalapatthar is set in the Khumbu region. It is a village where the youngsters seasonally work as porters in mountain expeditions. At the heart of the play is the story of one such youngster, Dorje, who goes on one such climb, never to return. Dorje lives with his single mother, who repeatedly denies his proposal at first, but later succumbs to his persistence. (Dorje’s father and brother both, we are told, perished during the course of expeditions.) On a tangent, Dorje is in love with Pemba. And in order to be able to afford their marriage, he decides to work as a porter in hopes making enough money. This is the premise of Kalapatthar Mathi, the ‘boy-goes-away-leaving-his-beloved-and-never-returns tragedy.’ 

In sum, Kalapatthar is  as hackneyed as hackneyed gets. The producers, however, seem to have invested much effort to prepare the elaborate sets, which remain unchanged throughout the play, serving both as the village and the mountains. Both these details, which give a sense of how it is like living in the mountains, are promising. But Kala Patthar falters when it comes to using that elaborate set to tell a cohesive story—the woes and worries of making a living in such difficult topography, the relationship between its characters, the heartaches of losing a beloved are largely superficial. 

The actors speak in the borrowed accents, some fluently while others in a stutter. The relationship between mother and the son is not explored to the full; their dialogue barely scratches the surface of the mother-son bond. The mother’s unwillingness to let her son go away and the son’s determination to leave are exacted in a brief exchange where none of the characters offer proper logic to their say. The same repeats when it comes to exploring the budding romance between Pema and Dorje; it is exacted in “You look like the moon… I will be thinking of you whenever I look at the moon” cliché. Kalapatthar grossly undermines the gravity of such delicate human relationships. 

Then there is a surreal scene inserted into the interplay, where the spirit of the dead Dorje comes back; I am Dorje, the spirit tells his mother and helps her to bring firewood from the jungle and to till the family’s land. His mother is astonished as are the audience. What is it really? What is the point of it all? You are left scratching your head more than once.

Kalapatthar Mathi’s major dramatic conflict is that Dorje has to leave his home to earn enough money to marry. And at the end of the day, mountaineering can be an immensely profitable profession. But the play doesn’t explore how these expectations are inculcated into the community from a very young age; nor are we given any insights into the lure of the mountains that keeps men and women from the region returning year after year. 

All in all, Kalapatthar might be a fresh attempt in bringing to Kathmandu’s stage a story rarely staged before, but it comes off as half-baked, half-hearted and ultimately, rather pointless. 

Published: 17-02-2018 09:43

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