Like in India, this Bhutanese film is also facing governmental flak | regional movies | Hindustan Times
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Like in India, this Bhutanese film is also facing governmental flak

regional movies Updated: Jan 31, 2017 15:26 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
Hema Hema

Hema, Hema is a gripping mystery drama about a sacred Bhutanese ritual, directed by the Tibetan Buddhist Lama and writer, Khyentse Norbu.

We in India feel that it is Indian cinema which has been facing flak – both legal and extra-legal. We were quite upset - and justifiably so - when Karan Johar’s Aye Dil Hai Mushkil was threatened with proscription, because there was a Pakistani actor, Fawad Khan, on board. Never mind that he had an insignificant part to play, but groups opposed to anything Pakistan, even art, said no. Till poor Johar had to literally grovel. Really sad.

And it is not just in Mumbai, but Tamil Nadu as well, where movie releases are frequently disrupted for the flimsiest of reasons. For example, anything, even remotely so, to do with Sri Lanka is not allowed to be screened, because the Tamils in the State share an emotional bond with the Tamils in the island nation. And it is felt that no director can ever do justice to the Tamil cause, a race that suffered during the 30-year strife in Sri Lanka. But then Indian cinema can take solace from the fact that it is not alone. The Bhutanese movie, Hema Hema, which sent audiences in Toronto, Locarno, London and Busan festivals last year on a delightful high, has been banned in its homeland.

The National Films Review Board and the Department of Culture of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs in Bhutan have proscribed the movie, because they felt that it demeaned religious symbols, which included the masks worn by the actors.

Hema, Hema is a gripping mystery drama about a sacred Bhutanese ritual, directed by the Tibetan Buddhist Lama and writer, Khyentse Norbu. The picture has mostly non-professionals, but for minor performances by the crowd-pulling Hong Kong star, Tony Leung, and Chinese actor Xun Zhou.

I have not seen Hema Hema, but here is the opening paragraph from a ScreenDaily review written during last year’s Locarno:

“Colourful, exotic and mysterious enough to keep audiences on their spiritual toes, the handsomely produced fourth feature by Buddhist preacher Khyentse Norbu (The Cup, Travellers and Magicians, Vara: A Blessing) looks sufficiently outlandish to draw the attention of every festival programmer and appeal to all those who have already enjoyed a taste of Norbu’s native Bhutan in his earlier pictures. Jeremy Thomas once again executive produces (he has been a supporter since the days of Little Buddha on which Norbu was an adviser). Jigme Temzing’s camera fully exploits the visual potential of the location, certainly one of the film’s best features”.

Thomas (founder of the Recorded Picture Company in the UK) condemned the ban. He and others, including Norbu, have sent letters to the Bhutanese authorities asking them to reconsider their decision.

Thomas told the media that “I hate censorship. I fight against it. I had no idea that Khyentse’s movie would be viewed this way and I was shocked to hear that it had been banned from the very people it was made for.”

Bhutanese producer Pawo Choying Dorj felt that “the authorities have totally misinterpreted the rules and regulations, and it is obvious that we have been banned for reasons that are not listed in the laws of our country...This is a direct effort by the authorities to undermine the freedom of expression in Bhutan...It is very discouraging not just for our film but also for all the artists of Bhutan as the authorities have sent a loud and clear message that in Bhutan, there are boundaries to one’s creativity and dreams.”

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Do we in India not know this, having seen the brutal assault on Sanjay Leela Bhansali recently in Jaipur when he was shooting Padmavati? Do we not recall Deepa Mehta’s plight many years ago, when she and her crew, including Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das (all tonsured and read to play Vrindavan widows), were driven out of Varanasi, because an extremist organisation felt that the movie, Water, was against Indian culture and ethos? Strange, the widows’ lives in utter degradation and poverty have been very well documented and written about the world over. But who is to argue with groups bent on not listening to saner voices!

Finally, Mehta made Water in Sri Lanka.

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