‘I have worked hard to be where I am today’Far from Nepal, Hong Konger actor of Nepali origin Bipin Karma has been hard at work to prove his mettle in the Hong Kong film industry.
On June 23, ‘Look Up’, an anthology of four different stories, was released in Hong Kong. What made the film special for Hong Kong’s Nepali community was ‘Under The Lion Pole’, one of the film’s four stories. ‘Under The Lion Pole’ told the story of Chandra, a Nepali boy in Hong Kong, and his obsession with the traditional Chinese lion dance. Bipin Karma, a Hong Konger actor of Nepali origin, played the role of Chandra.
While many in Nepal might not be familiar with the name Bipin Karma, the actor is known among Hong Kong’s small Nepali community as one of the very few Nepali-origin actors to make a mark in Hong Kong’s film industry, where the majority of actors are Chinese origin.
Karma was only eight when he immigrated to Hong Kong from Nepal when he was eight years old. He has only been active in the film industry for a year but has already played prominent roles in two films.
“When I was growing up, I never imagined myself as an actor,” says 25-year-old Karma.
On a recent Zoom call with the Post’s Pinki Sris Rana, Karma talked about what it means to be a Nepali-origin actor in Hong Kong’s film industry, the challenges he continues to face in his career, and his future plans.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You have often said that you never dreamt of being an actor, and this was something fate had in store for you. Tell us how you ended up in the film industry?
Growing up, I was an introvert and didn’t really talk much. Because of this, many even thought I was a mute. I was also very much into martial arts, and it became my medium of expression. After my grandmother’s demise, I migrated to Hong Kong. I was eight years old at the time. Since I didn’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, I think I became more withdrawn than ever. When I was going through all this, I got involved in parkour and started making parkour videos. This was how I began exploring the field of visual media, and soon I started making short films.
After failing to get an actor for one of my short films, I ended up playing the role of the actor in the film. And it just happened that the casting director of the film ‘Hand Rolled Cigarettes’ saw the short film and approached me for the role of Mani, which was my first proper acting gig. At first, I didn’t want to take up the role, but after meeting the director and listening to his vision, I was convinced, and that was how ‘Hand Rolled Cigarettes’, my first-ever movie, happened.
Before you landed a role in ‘Hand Rolled Cigarettes’, you even worked as a stunt person in the movie ‘The Way We Dance’. Tell us about that?
As a young adult, I tried a lot of different things. I was and am a firm believer in becoming a ‘Jack of all Trades’ rather than becoming an expert in one particular field. This mentality led me to try parkour at the age of 11. And I got pretty good at it. And since ‘The Way We Dance’ was Hong Kong’s first proper dance movie, and the dance community was pretty small back then, I ended up as a stunt person in the film.
How challenging do you think it is for Nepali immigrants in Hong Kong to want to become an actor?
I think the Nepali mentality is the biggest hurdle Nepalis living in Hong Kong or in any other country face in pursuing their dreams. As immigrants, we have this mentality that we can only get blue-collar jobs. At one point in my life, I also fell victim to the mentality and seriously thought of giving up my education and getting menial jobs so that I could survive. I had to work a lot on myself to break free from that mentality.
How was your experience playing such a prominent role in ‘Hand Rolled Cigarettes’?
It was a challenging experience. I was a newcomer in the industry, and my Cantonese wasn’t that good. Mani, my character in the film, was an Indian residing in Hong Kong. Playing the role of an Indian character wasn’t that challenging because we Nepalis share a lot in common with Indians. But speaking in Cantonese, which has nine different tones, was extremely difficult, and the fact that I didn’t talk much made things more difficult. I had to practice a lot to get the tone and the feel right.
Do you feel accepted in the industry as an actor from Hong Kong’s minority community?
The first thing people say when they know I am a Nepali and an actor is, “nice joke.” That is how odd the chances are for Nepalis to work as an actor in the Hong Kong film industry. Non-Chinese actors are still rare in this industry, but the audience is becoming more accepting of actors like us.
I have worked hard to be where I am today, and so far, luck has also been on my side. But I know I have just started, and I am still far from making it as an established actor in the local film industry. I often fear how long I will be able to sustain myself as an actor.
How different was it playing the role of a Nepali boy in ‘Under the Lion Pole’?
Playing my character in ‘Under the Lion Pole’ gave me a different kind of satisfaction because I got to play who I actually am on screen. But having lived so far from Nepal for such a long time, I really had to dig a lot within myself to do justice to the role. When we live in foreign countries, we try to adapt to the lifestyle prevalent there, and in the process, we often leave behind things that make us Nepalis. And I had to do a lot of homework to portray that character best. Playing this character has made me feel close to home.
Have you ever thought about coming to Nepal and acting in Nepali films?
I would love to. After all, I am a Nepali by heart. I would definitely love to be part of the kind of films director Tulsi Ghimire used to make back in the day.