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A vegetable seller played by Aum Zam
A vegetable seller played by Aum Zam

Seven lives, one city

Thimphu, the new film by Chand RC, is a drama following the stories of seven different residents of the eponymous city. The film defies easy description.

It is a movie about the tensions between modern, urban life and tradition. It is a movie about family, as both a burden and a support. It is a movie about the links between people that often go unnoticed in the city. It is a movie about our own bad faith and hypocrisy and shortcomings. It is a movie about finding oneself.  One could even do a Buddhist reading of the film, arguing that it is a contemporary exploration of the first noble truth.

Ultimately the film is about how the messiness of life unites us all. Thimphu beautifully shows this through both its stories and its cinematography. There is a scene in the movie just outside the alley of vegetable shops in Hong Kong market where several characters pass by each other. The camera swivels fluidly between characters as a shopkeeper scolds a vegetable seller, movingly played by Aum Zam, for selling in front of his shop. The characters are tantalisingly close to each other, but ultimately distant. Their lives more closely related than they realise.

The film has both room and compassion for everyone—from the Bangladeshi laborers who make a small cameo to the rich but lonely woman who seems to live a life of comfort to the charismatic transgender beautician.

Characters make mistakes and in some cases mistreat each other. They fight too, but there are no villains in this Thimphu. Which means that for a drama it has a surprisingly light, loving touch. It also means that when it touches on social issues it encourages you to identify with the actors on screen, to feel with them and for them as you watch. It never feels preachy.

At the heart of all this are convincing performances by the actors. It is difficult to describe the acting without giving too much away, but the actors have made each character feel authentic. Frequently the actors have done this without any dialogue at all. In particular this happens at the climax of the love triangle that forms one of the film’s main stories. In that scene the viewer really feel the anger, sorrow, and shame of the characters.

Like its characters the film can at times be a bit messy. Though many of the stories interweave seamlessly, at other times the film jumps abruptly for one story to another. There are also a few unexplained linguistic shifts. Notably the hair salon owner Maya’s mother shifts from using Nepali at home to Dzongkha without any explanation.

But these are small quibbles with a film that is genuinely lovely, one that contains several shots of Thimphu that will become almost instantly iconic, to be flattered by imitation in many Bhutanese films to come.

In the end you will leave Thimphu feeling like you know or have met these characters. It is the type of film that has at least one scene that everyone can point to and say, “That’s what!”

Thimphu, which was partly supported by RENEW, Lhak-Sam, and the Chithuen Phendey Association, is currently screening at the Ninda Bioscope in Olakha.

Ten percent of the ticket proceeds will be provided to community-based support systems and multi-sectoral task forces in all dzongkhags.

Contributed by 

Jason Hopper

RTC lecturer

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