Producer Changa; Storytelling Chet
Nov 17, 2018-
Nepali bureaucrats all seem to be under a malaise that invites much criticism—they do their 9-5 jobs without any conviction or any motivation to perform, since at the end of the month, they will be paid regardless. The team behind Changa Chet seems to be afflicted with the same syndrome.
The filmmakers, although skilled veterans of the Nepali film industry, seem to be doing the barest minimum. But these are not government officials approving applications; we are dealing here with the power of cinema, which reaches millions of Nepalis who will indisputably be affected in some way or the other. And that will have far bigger implications than just a monetary fine.
But maybe it’s our fault too, we who pay for the tickets and make hits out of sub-par films. So much so that now, they think anything will be accepted without question. Changa Chet lacks soul, and even though it attempts at social commentary, it gets nothing done. It seems as though the filmmakers feel they owe nothing to anyone. After a gruesome two hours and 25 minutes, you realise that the only person who actually had something to say was the film’s producer, Madhav Wagle.
Wagle has always been outspoken and undiplomatic. A few months ago, he was arrested for printing counterfeit currency, which he claimed was a prop for this film. His unapologetic nature comes through in a scene where the fake money appears, now with an accompanying message that says the producer was arrested for printing this money, and that the case is still in court.
As a producer, Wagle has taken many risks—he’s worked with young filmmakers and told new stories. His resume speaks for itself, with the Loot series on top. With Changa Chet, however, his risks were calculated. He hired Dipendra K Khanal, known for the Chapali Height series and for Pashupati Prasad, as director. Khanal seems most comfortable making films with low budgets, minimal locations, and a brisk shooting pace, resulting in most of his projects bringing back the money, regardless of content. He is the perfect producer’s director.
Pradeep Bhardwaj is the film’s writer, and he seems to be on express mode with more than four films in the last year—Lily Billy, Kri, Panche Baja and Jhanakuti. None of these was remarkable, but he tends to get the job done—he is the Nepali film industry’s white-collar script writer.
With Changa Chet, however, Bhardwaj joins the bandwagon of films that stack multiple protagonists into a soulless generic comedy. The film tries hard to be a comedy of errors but it fails—the basic plot being how a series of unfortunate events pile up on the characters because of their greed. The primary protagonist is Niraj (Ayushman Desraj Shrestha Joshi), who changes his name to Siddhartha to make it in the Nepali film Industry. He is friends with Udit Narayan Jha (Rabindra Jha) who has that name only for a series of lame jokes.
The film begins with these characters being arrested by corrupt police officer Mukunda Sanjel (Arpan Thapa). In custody, Sanjel asks the protagonists to share their stories, providing a convenient plot device for the film to put on the ridiculous stories of actors who have no bearing on the film whatsoever. All we need to understand is that Siddhartha, Jha, and Thame (Sandip Chhetri) are college students and they want money. Siddhartha and Jha meet Manisha (Surakshya Panta) who offers to multiply their money if they invest Rs 20,000 to train for a job that pays Rs 50,000 each month. When Siddhartha and Jha ask Thame for help, the latter introduces them to Sunny Don (Maotshe Gurung). The Don loans them the money at hefty interest.
Predictably, things go downhill as Manisha vanishes and they now owe money to the Don. To get the money, Siddhartha and Jha try to break into Siddhartha Bank’s ATM, under the ludicrous rationale that because the bank shares his fake name, it must be his. And then, they are caught. Thame is also arrested because he is carrying a khukuri in the middle of the road. We are given no reason as to why Thame is openly brandishing a khukuri—in a film like this, things just happen. From here, things go from bad to worse until the protagonists are literally sitting on a pile of money and Madhav Wagle claims innocence.
The film’s only saving grace is its production design. The film looks economical in a good way. Small details, like Sunny Don’s car, and the dirty gritty outlook of the film gives it a very real and grounded feel. All the hard work, sadly, is overshadowed by the terrible narrative. The writing is lazy and convenient. We never care for the characters or their interests. Things happen in the film with irrelevant sub-plots, an extremely stretched-out second half, and plot-holes galore. The acting is loud and there are cringe-worthy sound effects that make you wonder how this filmmaker ever made a gem like Pashupati Prasad. But then again, he made Chapali Height too!
None of the actors do anything commendable. Rabindra Jha, playing his regular Madhesi stereotype, has nothing to offer. He’s basically the same character he was in Jatra or Kohalpur Express. Sandip Chhetri derives most of the laughs in this wannabe comedy. However, not far into the film, his antics get boring, even irritating.
It seems director Dipendra K Khanal has no idea how to deal with female characters and they exist in his films just for the heck of it. Forget the Bechdel test, Khanal and screenwriter Bhardwaj turn all the female characters into objects for the men to conquer or exploit. It wouldn’t matter to the plot if all the female characters were replaced by logs, or even if they never existed.
I am especially disappointed in Benisha Hamal for doing this film. She had so far chosen to play stronger characters in film, proving her acting mettle through Kalo Pothi and Jhanakuti. But here, she is not even credited, anywhere, not even as a special guest appearance. She plays a seductress who hears the expositional back story of the actors while sitting on Arpan Thapa’s lap. The next and only time we see her, she is in a car snuggling with an older man, prompting the men in the film to immediately define her as ‘characterless’. To top it all, her introductory shot is a close-up of her backside. If you can imagine how cinematographer Niraj Kadel shot this scene and how Dirgha Khadka edited it with Dipendra K Khanal’s approval, it tells us a lot about the men making this film.
Similarly, there’s Paramita Rajya Laxmi Rana, a ‘social influencer’ in real life. If you visit her Instagram page (@paramita_pam), you will find a fashionista, an empowered and seemingly aware young woman. You will read posts where she claims ‘You are a winner’ and comments from thousands of young girls who want to be like her. However, her character in the film, Urmila, is literally a trophy for Thame to win if he ever gets a BA degree. She is there for a dance sequence and anytime Pradeep Bhardwaj wants to remind us of her existence, she says the same thing—she asks Thame when he will pass so that he can marry her. I hope all the young girls who follow her, and are watching this film for Paramita, do not take this character to be their role model.
In comparison, Surakshya Panta’s character, Manisha, has a more prominent role. She is the only one wearing pants, quite literally, and is seen kicking men between the legs in poorly-directed fight sequences. However, all her efforts are undone when the camera lingers on her body in a cringe-worthy dance sequence, ‘Evergreen Jawani’. The poorly-designed item song is a callback to yesteryear’s cliché tropes of the seductress aiming to pacify the evil man with a dance number.
Priyanka Karki’s character, Arya, gets the shortest end of the stick. At first, Siddhartha says to her face, “Khalti garam huna de, pasina nikalchu tero” (Once my pockets are warm, I’ll make you sweat). Like any Nepali girl might, she reacts angrily to this bit of eve-teasing, hating the hero. However, one imaginary song, ‘Gojima dam chaina’, later, she is seen in bed with Siddhartha, without any inkling as to how she got there or what Siddhartha did to change her mind. To top it off, she turns into his annoying needy girlfriend.
This is not just lazy writing or careless directing. The filmmakers—editors, directors, and producers—all watch their films countless times before sending it off to be exhibited in cinema halls. This is the filmmakers thinking that the audience is at best too forgiving, or at worst, too gullible. Either way, they’ve committed the most unforgivable sin—taking the audience for granted.
I pray that young Nepalis of the future, people 20 to 30 years from now, do not judge us based on the media we consume currently, especially Nepali commercial films. Our films have no respect for storytelling or acting or, in the case of Changa Chet, respect for women.
Director: Dipendra K Khanal
Writer: Pradeep Bhardwaj
Actors: Ayushman Desraj Shrestha Joshi, Rabindra Jha, Sandip Chhetri
Published: 17-11-2018 08:10