Guru of GurukulA large share of credit for Kathmandu’s vibrant theatre culture goes to director Sunil Pokharel, who is often called the “Pioneer of Modern Nepali Theatre”, and for good reason.
A large share of credit for Kathmandu’s vibrant theatre culture goes to director Sunil Pokharel, who is often called the “Pioneer of Modern Nepali Theatre”, and for good reason.
Pokharel established the country’s first drama school, Aarohan Gurukul, in 2002, which is a touchstone of the modern Nepali theatre. Gurukul was demolished in 2009, which, as director Bimal Subedi, one of Pokharel’s students, says, was a blessing in disguise. Within a few years, other theatre groups began to emerge, which were either operated by or featured artists who were Gurukul’s graduates: Mandala Theatre, Theatre Village, Shilpee, and Theatre Mall. Today, these theatre groups—Mandala, Shilpee—are staging plays regularly, while Theatre Village and Theatre Mall are soon re-operating their programmes.
After the demolition of Gurukul, Pokharel’s life hit a low point, as he says, “Those years were the most frustrating years of my life. I didn’t come out of the house, and I’d read four to five books every day–I read almost all the contemporary Nepali literature works that were published at the time, along with Hindi and English literature; and I’d just eat and sleep, and drink more than I used to. But with my delving back into work, the drinking is taking care of itself.”
These days, Sunil Pokharel teaches acting, this time with the group he established, Gya. Alongside, he is also directing plays; Pokharel directed two plays this Nepali calendar year—Jayamaya Aaphu Matrai Lekhapani Aaipugi and Hariyo Dhunga—both of which combined the traditional and modern theatrical sensibilities; both the plays, though disparate in many ways, were rooted in the Nepali folk culture, a signature of Pokharel’s style, and brought to light the stories of communities in the margins.
So far, in his long spanning career of over three decades, Pokharel has directed over 40 dramas. In person, Pokharel can be as eccentric as eccentric gets. He often makes light of things among his students, “My life itself is a drama,” he is often quoted as saying.
— By Timothy Aryal