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Movie: Karma

Directed by: Tsering Rhitar Sherpa

Starring: Tsering Dolker, Jampa Kalsang, Ani Yeshi Lhamo

Like to share an excerpt of the Kathmandu Post about an inspirational and emotional stimulating movie: Karma. I watched this movie few years ago but still this movie message still linger in my mind. Hope some positive vibes can reach out to you. 


Even after 15 years of its release, the movie is still relevant, which makes the film-watching experience both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.


Based on the short story written by Sherpa himself, with a screenplay written by another prolific filmmaker Kesang Tseten, the plot of the movie is simple yet impactful.


The film revolves around Ani Karma, who is a nun at a gompa in Mustang. At the gompa, the revered abbess has just passed away. The senior nuns of the gompa decide to arrange a large religious ceremony to commemorate her death as well as to celebrate her rebirth, as they believe that she will be born again.


However, the gompa is short of money. It is later revealed that a trader from Jomsom, Tashi, (played by Jampa Kalsang) had taken some loan from the abbess, and so some senior nuns decide to send two nuns, Ani Karma and Ani Sonam (played by Ani Yeshi Lamo), to retrieve the loan so that they can carry out the ceremony.


But the nuns are polar opposite in nature. While Ani Karma is full of energy and is playful, Ani Sonam strictly adheres to a disciplined life. Despite their different natures, they accompany each other and walk to Jomsom from their nunnery, only to find that Tashi isn’t there and no one knows his whereabouts.The movie then shifts to Pokhara, where the two nuns believe Tashi has gone.


And this is mostly what the film is about: the two nuns on their journey to find this man called Tashi. And while their journey is filled with challenges and uncertainty, as no one knows what he does (however some believe him to be a trafficker) and whether he will return their money or not, there’s a sense of happiness seeing the two nuns navigating their journey.

We see them teasing each other, getting amazed by films, talking about Bollywood actors, getting enchanted by an aeroplane, and even posing like the models they see on hoarding boards. The chemistry between the two characters comes across as very organic.


 They are shown as real people with emotions, and this depiction helps viewers forge a real connection with them. The nuns are not only limited to being just nuns who are completely committed to their religious work, a rare depiction we see when it comes to the portrayal of nuns in cinema.

There’s one particular scene in the movie that stands out the most: In Jomsom’s only airport, the two nuns see an aeroplane landing on the runway. Their eyes reflect their excited and amused state of heart, as it's the first time they are seeing an aeroplane. After they are done watching the plane, they start walking to their destination. In the same scene, we see another plane landing on the runway. This juxtaposition not only stands out aesthetically, but it also underlies much symbolism.

The plane, which is an expensive medium of travelling, carries rich people, who have come to enjoy the beauty of Mustang. Their journey is filled with comfort. However, it's not the same for the locals, like the nuns, who even have to walk for hours on foot to get the basic things.

Going back to the plot: after they reach Pokhara, the two nuns come to know that Tashi isn’t there as well. There, Ani Sonam injures her leg, and as a result, Ani Karma goes to find Tashi in the Capital alone, believing that he has gone there. The movie changes its location as the plot starts thickening. And this change of locations from mountains to hills and finally to plains is captured beautifully by Ranjan Pandit, who also cleverly changes the frames, as per the location of the movie.


For instance, in the scenes when we see Ani Karma and other nuns in Mustang, the frames are wide, which depicts the vast landscape of the place. However, the frames start getting tight when Karma reaches the city, capturing the city’s congestion. Pandit also uses extreme closeup shots, creating a tense atmosphere; for instance, when the abbess is dying.


The film also touches on many issues, like girl trafficking, caste-based discrimination, and casual racism. However, these issues aren’t on-your-face to manipulate the emotions of the viewers, rather they are dealt with sensitivity, increasing its overall impact.

For instance, there's this scene when Ani Karma reaches a hotel, searching for Tashi, and interacts with the receptionist, who is from a dominant cultural group. Their interaction isn’t that long but it succeeds in depicting the casual racism faced by indigenous groups who are limited to a mere stereotype.


Likewise, she also never fails to present her opinions in front of anyone, and tries to denounce the casteist and sexist structure of society (in one scene she drinks water from a so-called ‘low caste’ family, who have been historically discriminated; in another, we see her giving it back to intrusive men who pass lewd remarks on her.)


Ani Karma is not like the regular type of a character you will find in Nepali cinema. She’s strong, opinionated, but most importantly a human being with emotions, rather than the regular trope predominantly used in Nepali movies, when it comes to representing a female character.


The character of Ani Karma is a focal point of discussion for a feminist reading, as we rarely see female characters portrayed as human beings with emotions, as they are either treated as objects or damsel in distress.


At the end of the movie, we see Ani Karma again at a cave. This circle not only completes the plot, but it also conveys a philosophical message of the film.


When we meet Ani Karma in the beginning, she is child-like, innocent, untouched by the realities of the world. Her perception of reality was shaped by her senses and what surrounded her. However, after embarking on the journey to find Tashi, her views about life change as she experiences the real world, beyond her nunnery.

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