Prakash: A story of Nepali Political Landscape

Prakash: A story of the Nepali struggle in the contemporary political landscape

‘Prakash’ as a movie and a character commentates on the issues plaguing Nepal since the Maoist insurgency and the introduction of democracy, or even before. It captures the life after democracy in Nepal in a remarkably realistic way.

Kathmandu: 

It’s not often that a Nepali movie manages to exceed expectations. Dinesh Raut’s ‘Prakash’ is one of those instances. Set in the rural backdrop of Jumla, the movie manages to capture life after democracy in Nepal in a remarkably realistic way.

When I booked a ticket to watch the movie on a Wednesday afternoon, I expected the hall to be half occupied at most. To my amazement, the seats were almost full, even at noon on a weekday. There were also many young people in the audience, which can be taken as an indication of the changing landscape of Nepali cinema.

The Plot of Prakash

The narrative of ‘Prakash’ revolves around the titular character played by Pradip Khadka, who manages to deliver an impressively realistic enactment of a young man from the Far-west. Prakash’s dad was a Maoist soldier who went missing during the war, but the family was still hopeful of his return years later.

Sita, played to perfection by Diya Maskey, had raised Prakash as a single mother through immense hardship, and they both dreamt of the day when Prakash would become a public school teacher. There are complications to achieving that dream due to political power plays and traditional mindsets leftover from the Panchayat era.

There are also themes of casteism in the movie. Prakash’s main love interest Radha, played by debut actress Renu Yogi, is from a so-called lower caste, which ends up being the biggest barrier in their relationship. The political shallowness of the postwar has also been depicted in the movie. Those who were in power in the Panchayat era are shown to still be in power, just under a new system of governance.

The movie showcases the obstacles that ordinary Nepalis living in remote regions have to go through to overcome abject poverty and chase their dreams of a better life. The storytelling is organic and authentic, which is a rare thing to behold in today’s movies.

Cinematography and Screenplay

The camera work, visuals, framing and visual pacing are all stunningly executed. Director Dinesh Raut manages to make the most mundane backdrops seem gorgeous. Even shots of plain or barren fields seem to have been taken with a lot of meticulous thought.

The lingering shots on the faces of characters manage to deliver more emotion than dialogues ever could. The conversations switched from Far-western to eastern Nepali dialect for the ease of understanding can be a little jarring for some. The movie also has a blend of rural and urban landscapes. There are a lot of scenes in the movie that are either interconnected or have a bigger meaning behind them. One of the first scenes of the movie is a funeral procession.

The screenplay and dialogue are naturally flowing and the movie smoothly moves from one sequence of events to the other. The events unfold naturally, and there is no overly explanatory tone in the movie. It also touches on many aspects of Nepali life post-democracy, and it does so from the perspective of an ordinary Nepali citizen. And it depicts the perspectives and personal struggles of each character through the unfolding of various events or through allegories.

Visual Symbolism in The Movie Prakash

There are a lot of scenes in the movie that are either interconnected or have a bigger meaning behind it. One of the first scenes of the movie is a funeral procession, in which Prakash is seen excitedly running through the funeral crowd while on his way to check whether his name was on the list of those qualified to give the exam for a public school teaching position. At the end of the movie, he is at a funeral procession for his mother. While once he was an unwitting onlooker, now he is an unwilling participant.

There are two scenes of Prakash getting dressed, both shot in the same sequence, but the context of the story makes them vastly different. In one scene he is excited and hopeful, while in the next he is dull and dejected.

In one of the pivotal scenes of the movie, Prakash is chasing Radha, trying to get her to talk to him. Radha tells Prakash that she doesn’t like him anymore. In actuality, it was the caste hierarchy that separated them. Radha is then shown crying while leaning against a Maoist graffiti. This scene speaks about how democracy was supposed to bring an end to caste-based discrimination, but how things are more or less still the same for those who are oppressed.

The Finale

The abrupt ending of the movie also feels apt with the theme of the movie. Issues regarding political turbulence, corruption, exploitation, caste-based discrimination, etc have neither ceased in Nepali society nor will they cease to occur anytime soon. The slow descent of Prakash from optimistic to dejected and tired of the world is a pipeline we have seen in many Nepali youths.

Prakash as a movie and a character commentates on the issues plaguing this country since the Maoist insurgency and the introduction of democracy, or even before. Moreover, its warm reception shows the warming attitude of the Nepali public towards more slow-paced, artistic movies. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it tells a familiar story in a refreshing way and is a shining gem among recent Nepali movies. 

Director: Dinesh Raut

Writer: Bikash Subedi

Artists: Pradeep Khadka, Pradip Raut, Deeya Maskey, Prakash Ghimire, Rajan Khatiwada, Renu Yogi

Cinematography: Rajesh Shrestha

All stories do not have a happy ending, and this week’s new release Prakash is one of them. That is a spoiler for the story’s end, but the rest is a wholesome experience. Go watch it if you have time.

Set in the village of Jumla, Prakash unfolds in a post-loktantra time of Nepal’s political history. Throughout the film, the local tussle between the people who have a love for monarchy and the new, hyped loktantra and concerns for the future in the changing times is constant. So are the events of the political influence, political affiliations and political pressure.

The village has its roots in the conventional rural setting, where people still make a living from agriculture and animal husbandry. But, modern city life and technology can be seen along the way.  The film also plays around with the impacts of class difference and an organically budding romance.

But, the major story revolves around Prakash (Pradeep Khadka). Prakash has a troubled life living in a poor economic background, does labour, and wants to be a teacher. He soon realises that it is not an easy dream; he is reminded of it time and again. Yet, he wants to achieve that position and the respect that comes along with his qualifications. 

Characters and Acting

Actors in the film embodied their roles and convincingly picked up the mannerism including the local accent pretty well. There are some ways in the accent, but the inconsistencies do make it easier for people, unfamiliar with the accent, to understand what is unfolding on the screen.

As claimed, Khadka has redefined himself in the film. His role is different from the commercial movie persona that has almost stereotyped him and he has done a very plausible job. He has adapted and consistently executed the quirks he picked up for the role. It is fresh and promising to see his development. 

Deeya Maskey (as Sita, Prakash’s mother) has also done an exceptional job. She portrays a mother that is a selfless one that is always worrying about his marriage and does all that she needs to provide for her child. But, Sita has her own struggle and is in search of her “missing” husband. Throughout the film, her acting and mannerisms are natural. 

Debutant Renu Yogi has been a real surprise and has performed convincingly. She has encased the innocence, romance and helplessness of being a victim of a class divide. Her interaction with other characters is organic. 

The characters played by Prakash Ghimire and Rajan Khatiwada show the “realistic” side of society. People do not always get what they want and it is because of the characters that take every advantage of the innocent, powerless and gullible. They both have done their parts well as well.

The characters shine more in the scenes that are shot in a go. With a background in theatre, the actors get into the scene and really give depth to their characters.

The Ray of Hope

Prakash is a refreshing film experience for the Nepali audience. It ditches a lot of the overused tropes and lets the scene, the character and the chemistry between them grow organically. 

While Nepali films are majorly about romance and drama, they easily mess up their courtship and give people false expectations on how relationships should look like. But, this film can actually show how relationships can grow organically with some smooth, cute courtship process. And though at an expense of a relationship, people can actually learn a thing or two about respect.

The film also avoids defining emotions of love, sadness or tragedy with unnecessary use of (internal) monologues or thoughts, all the overused techniques. And, has beautiful landscapes, and uses wide shots to capture that beauty.

It was also refreshing that the creators juxtaposed elements and used symbolism very well. Be it two people divided by class on either side of the wall or the bridge that one has to cross towards their dream… be it the contrast between the speeches or the state of national flags and political parties… all add more layers and contexts to the storyline.

Within the film, scenes also wrap up neatly and do not feel jumpy, something that filmgoers regularly have to complain about in Nepali films. But, the gap is closed by the use of the background score that connects the two scenes. Even when the scene changes, the faded background sound keeps it connected to what is happening in the new scene. The climax of the movie might be an exception for many in this regard.

Many might find the pacing slow, or find the issue with the lighting, but it is justified for this film. As it is refreshing, the film is worth watching for Nepali spectators who seek a realistic, heartwarming experience.