Capturing the culture of polyandryThe real-life characters of ‘Co-Husband’ appear disconnected from modern Nepal.
We are all aware that in the Mahabharata, Draupadi had five husbands. Would it surprise you to learn that several husbands are still a common incidence for some women in Nepal's mountainous regions today?
The documentary ‘Co-Husband’ (Sahayak Shreeman) tells the story of the polyandrous marriage custom practised by Lama populations in Nepal's mountains. The 35-minute documentary takes us to Humla, where male siblings, regardless of their numbers, marry the same woman. The younger brothers refer to the bride as bhauju (sister-in-law) because their elder brother has also married her. Polygamy is frequently reported in Nepali society, but learning about this strange custom of polyandry may be novel to many.
Director Panday received numerous inquiries about his next project after his documentary, 'Bhagyale Bachekaharu (Nepal Earthquake: Heroes, Survivors, and Miracles)', received widespread fame and recognition, including the first prize and the public choice award at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF). After much contemplation, he chose to illustrate the story of the polyandry custom as he believes it is one of the many untold stories from the country which need to be heard and seen by audiences all over the world. This story piqued his interest because he discovered that similar customs exist in various districts of Nepal, including Humla, Dolpa, Mugu, Mustang, and Gorkha, through anthropological studies.
When the urban population is busy discussing women's rights, feminism, and gender equality, most of us are oblivious to the predicament of these women in Nepal's mountainous districts. "Although the family structure is matriarchal, a single woman must care for more than one husband. She also has children from multiple husbands. And, surprisingly, they appear to be content with their lives," says Panday and this is shown in the film.
The film's production began in 2016. Panday says the filming took four years because the team followed members of the communities through the seasons. "We attempted to follow them during their festivals and different seasons in order to capture the natural beauty of Humla as well as the raw narratives,” says Panday.
The film's real-life characters appear disconnected from the stories of modern Nepal. They lead an anachronistic existence, with little access to modernisation and sophisticated technology. Based on his interactions with the women and their husbands, Panday claims that they seem comfortable with their lives.
The short film received very positive feedback from the audience according to Panday. The film won best documentary film at the Nepal International Film Festival (NIFF), in February 2020, Grand Prix Award at the Kans International Video Festival, Russia, in August 2020, and the Honorable Mention Award at the 29th International Festival of Mountain Films Poprad, Slovakia, 2021, Best Documentary Film Award at the Nepal-Africa Film Festival, Best Documentary Film Award at the Simla International Film Festival, India, and Best International Documentary Film Award at the Cobb International Film Festival. Co-Husband has also been nominated in other international film festivals like the Gateway International Film Festival in North Bay, Ontario, Canada, the Signs International Film Festival in Keralathe London Mountain Film Festival in the UK and the Tatras International Film Festival in Slovakia.
“We created the documentary with a budget of Rs1 million but we are competing with big-budget international documentaries and are still bagging these awards. So, the problem is never our stories. We have plenty of untold stories. The areas of improvement are the technical aspects,” says Panday.
Documentaries are just as popular among genuine Nepali film fanatics as commercial films. Panday says that we simply lag in terms of exposure and marketing. “If Nepal could invest more in developing the technical aspects along with better scriptwriting, our films could find unparallel success,” comments Panday.