In a happy coincidence, Shakespeare is making a double comeback in Bhutan. Removed from the curriculum nine years ago Shakespearean plays will be reintroduced in secondary schools from 2017.
Former Kuensel editor Kencho Wangdi now turned filmmaker had found the exclusion inexplicable and a loss to literary culture in the country but now that it is back, his latest movie Singay dha Gawa is his serendipitous contribution to Shakespeare’s reentry.
“What better way to stoke a student’s interest and curiosity in a Shakespearean play than this Bhutanese version of Romeo & Juliet,” Kencho said.
It’s a first, the way Singay dha Gawa starts off. Four men in comfortable silence, which can come only from long acquaintance or brotherhood, and a fly buzzing for all its worth over a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround (another first) sound gave the cinema hall the feel of a scene from a Akira Kurosawa or even a Quentin Tarantino western that can only be the precursor to a calm before the storm. True to form, a panting messenger disrupts the idyllic scene with news that shakes the brothers into a wild run.
The screen follows their long agitated run in one smooth glide, rather uncharacteristic of a Bhutanese movie which seems to prefer such scenes to switch abruptly between the back, front and a small drain over which the men fly in slow motion, to a man being pummeled.
These and scenes throughout the movie reflect the hard work that the self (and Youtube)-taught filmmaker and his cast and crew has poured into his debut and is worth watching for the cinematic experience alone.
A Bhutanese adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the plot revolves around the hatred between two families, a hatchet so old that everyone has forgotten how it was dug up in the first place but still chose to wield it. And the village of Tang, Bumthang, halved by a large stream is the perfect choice to depict the rival families’ domain.
Enter College educated Singay (Tshering Phuntsho) and Gawa (Tsokye Tshomo Karchung) who bring common sense and love but their families, of course, call their attempts to dissuade the violence as putting on airs; Singay almost gets a china cup broken on his head for his efforts.
Portrayed with sincerity, the cast has gone miles from the cringe-inducing robotic dialogues and overblown affectations that our film industry never seems to get enough of. Tsokye Tshomo is particularly convincing as a Juliet and her Dzongkha rendition of the classic “What is in a name” line is something one just can’t miss.
Shot in 4k resolution, a video rate that many Bollywood films use, Kencho’s no expense spared strategy has succeeded in upping an average moviegoer’s expectations of the quality of film they see on screen.
Speaking of the lengths that he has gone to, Kencho said, “We didn’t have to but we wanted to up the game.” While not the blockbuster that he was hoping for the director, writer, producer, singer rolled into one says that his first foray into the movie world has been an educational experience and fulfilling. The Nu.3.5 mn film, double the industry average, has so far recovered two thirds of the investment from ticket sales in Thimphu and a smart product placement in the film and is expected to break more than even with the national tour.
Having ended its screening in Thimphu this week, the distributor will be taking the movie to cinemas across the country from January 2017 starting in Phuentsholing and Gelephu. It will be an entertaining 2hrs 15mins for all love movie fans, Shakespeare fans and particularly so for students.