They call him TulkeIt should come as a relief, both to director Nischal Basnet and fans of his work that the new ‘Talakjung Vs Tulke’ proves very much worth the three-year wait since ‘Loot’
That also meant, however, that anything Basnet did next would be put under severe scrutiny, and the rather long interlude leading up to his second release (although he produced and acted in several other productions in the meantime) makes sense in that regard. It should then come as a relief, both to the director and fans of his work, that “Talakjung Vs Tulke”—inspired by Chinese author Lu Xun’s “The True Tale of Ah-Q”—proves very much worth the three-year wait. It does suffer a somewhat uneven second half, and it still falls short of what “Loot” was able to achieve, but it’s far more effective and a great deal better executed than the sort of local fare we’ve been offered in a good, long while.
“Talakjung Vs Tulke” opens in a village in western Nepal, introducing us to one of its more eccentric inhabitants, Tulke (Khagendra Lamichhane), although he’d much prefer you call him by his formal name: Talakjung. It would be understating it to say he has something of an oversized ego; his family was once the most influential in the village, but fortunes have since turned and he now works as a labourer for the predictably nasty zamindar (Prakash Ghimire). Still, Tulke walks around demanding respect, is baffled when others refuse to indulge him, and gets into constant fights over the fact. Being the butt of everyone’s jokes isn’t his only issue, though; the girl he likes (Reecha Sharma) seems to have another suitor (Sushank Mainali), and poor Tulke can barely stand it.
There are, however, much bigger things brewing. “Revolutionaries” are cropping up and recruiting young men to their cause, promising to free them from an unequal system; red flags soon flutter in the farms, slogans are scrawled on walls. Tulke too is drawn in by what he sees as the answer to all his problems: joining the revolution will no doubt teach a fine lesson to all those who mocked him. But he doesn’t see the very real danger that lies ahead, how high the stakes truly are, until the village is suddenly engulfed in the flames of the insurgency. Houses are divided, gunshots and explosions ring in the air, and the quaint little pebbled pathways are soon slicked with blood.
Lamichhane, who also penned the script, carries the film with such exuberance and conviction that anytime he is off-screen, you’ll be counting the seconds till he returns—particularly in the first half, when he has a veritable hold on you. His Tulke turns the concept of the idealised ‘hero’ on its head; this is as flawed a character as ever was—exasperating, foolish, maddeningly self-centred—and Lamichhane makes him exceedingly likeable, and real enough to touch. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by a talented supporting cast (barring some weak spots) that is able to meld so well into the milieu. And if one of “Loot”s highlights was the lively banter between characters, dialogues that didn’t feel lifted from countless other films and which upped the authenticity of the premise, it’s been replicated in “Talakjung”; people actually sound like people, rather than the cliché-spouting robots we see too often on screen.
Unfortunately, the energy and pace waver somewhat in the second half. Things get increasingly somber as the scope of the film expands to encompass the horrors of the conflict. But while it makes for some poignant commentary on the illusory promises of the revolution—particularly when considered in the harsh glare of hindsight—zooming out also means losing touch with what made the first half so compelling: Tulke. With him retreating to the background, and politics pushed to the fore, “Talakjung” informs but struggles to engage. Also distracting is the sequence featuring Dayahang Rai as a gang leader in Kathmandu; although meant to chart a significant step in Tulke’s evolution, there is a sense of overfamiliarity about the plotline, and the insertion of an ‘item’ song only underscores that feeling.
Basnet might not have the sort of hit in hand here as he did with his previous film, and there is certainly visible room for improvement, but “Talakjung” is a pretty solid effort overall. Watch it for Lamichhane, if nothing else.