Review: He has outdone himself again. Gyem Dorji has taken another namthar from the scholarly realm of Choeked texts and delivered it ready for mass consumption, complete with the veritable colours and sounds that film affords.
Chhogyal Dhoenyoe Dhoendup (CDD) follows where Gyem’s last similar offering, Chhogyal Drimed Kuenden, left off in several ways. For one, it seems set for box office skydom, audience turn-out and reaction at halls pointing to that likelihood.
Like its predecessor, CDD is a visual feast. From multihued costumes and garish make-up to v-effect conjurings of otherworldly backdrops, the film offers plenty to fascinate the increasingly hungry and demanding Bhutanese audience. This Norling Drayang production boasts what might be the best visual effects yet seen in Bhutanese films. Critical viewers, however, may find the computer-generated dragons, dzongs, rivers and waterfalls to be too deliberate, too clean and hence mildly distracting.
The story revolves around the early lives of two princely brothers whose varying careers take them through a journey across mysterious lands of saintly mystics and mythical creatures. As a story, that is compelling enough for audiences anywhere.
Much depends then on how the story is told. With CDD, Gyem Dorji proves that Bhutanese storytelling has come a long way. Whereas most filmmakers may indulgently stray too far into the fantastical elements of the story, Gyem Dorji holds steadfast to the existential questions of death and impermanence that stand at the heart of the original namthar.
There is also something about the plight of desperate children that pulls at one’s heartstrings, and the background music exploits that effectively.
Music is certainly a selling feature of CDD. The film deserves praise for how well it utilises the traditional poetic form of the lu, putting it to music in a seamless fusion of song and dialogue. This as an emerging form, a genre possibly, now brought to life by Bhutanese period films like CDD. Tasty and exciting.
Where the film loses the audience because of its namthar borrowings is in the dialogue, though only at some points where children and illiterate villagers speak in loaded riddles of philosophical double-speak. Perhaps the scriptwriter found it hard to completely shed the baggage of the story’s Choeked roots, or his own intellect.
The level of acting doesn’t help. Except for Gyem Dorji, almost all other faces in the film are relatively unknown and previously untested – a risky undertaking by any standards. In that respect, the cast resembles a pile of shabby garments all propped up on one hanger. Dramatic peaks in the story are thus often ruined by actors unable to convincingly portray the intensity of the scene or to emote the psyche of their characters.
It may be fair to say that Tshering Yonten and Dechen Wangmo, who play pair off as a romantic couple, hold promise both for their potential as actors and for their face-value.
In its entirety, Chhogyal Dhoenyoe Dhoendup is an extremely watchable film. It proves that you can sit more than two hours, transported from your own life into a make-belief world of fantasy, even though Bhutanese cinema hall owners don’t care much if you lose a toe or two from frostbite.
Dress warm. There is much in the film to warm the heart and the mind.
Kunga Tenzin Dorji