Irresponsible and immatureIn the digital age, Nepali filmmakers seem to believe they have to cultivate their audience—either by cashing in on the fame of a ‘superstar’, presenting a ‘unique story’, or tapping into contemporary mores.
In the digital age, Nepali filmmakers seem to believe they have to cultivate their audience—either by cashing in on the fame of a ‘superstar’, presenting a ‘unique story’, or tapping into contemporary mores. On paper, Jai Shree Daam ticks all boxes. The film presents a ‘superstar’—YouTube sensation Amrit Dhungana—along with other veterans. There’s a unique story—the blackmailing of a sexually-active religious celebrity—and a contemporary ethos—anger towards the establishment over a sensational rape and murder case.
In practice, Nepali filmmakers shamelessly attempt to recreate a film or genre that has worked in the past. But even Nischal Basnet, pioneer of the Nepali crime-comedy genre, has failed to recreate his breakthrough hit, Loot. The problem is Nepali filmmakers’ treatment, where they tend to botch the narrative—the storytelling device applied to convey the concept. They exhibit strange obsessions, like jarringly forced flashbacks or dwelling too much on underdeveloped elements. Worst of all, they waste valuable time trying to make scenes out of punch-lines, hoping to incite laughter. Jai Shree Daam, like any Nepali film released in the past five years, also suffers from this.
The film has two beginnings. The first is a loud TV interview, ‘Dhamal ko babaal’ hosted by Rakesh Dhamal (Ram Babu Regmi). Dhamal, an obvious parody on Rishi Dhamala, is angrily interviewing inspector Yadav (Pramod Agraghari) over a girl’s murder. Cinematographer and producer Rabin Acharya pans the camera, slowly revealing that the TV show is playing in a room where Amrit Dhungana’s Kamal is sleeping. Kamal is forcibly awoken by Jeewan (Binod Neupane), who asks him about a cellphone. And then we go to the film’s second beginning, a flashback to Kamal’s village a month ago.
Kamal’s girlfriend Sunita (Jebicca Karki) is vomiting while on a date. There is a lengthy moment where Sunita attempts to explain to the gullible Kamal that she has missed her period. Writers Amardeep Sapkota and Biplop Upreti, also the film’s director, now dwell on Kamal acquiring a pregnancy test kit, showing the audience how to use it, and then end the scene with Sunita telling Kamal she is pregnant. This whole ordeal behind Sunita’s pregnancy, however, bears no relevance to the plot of the film whatsoever. They use Sunita in various moments, only to remind us that she exists. But her pregnancy is never dealt with. It is neither a problem nor a motivation for Kamal or Sunita. It is not a plot element that gets recalled later nor is it misdirection. This is poor writing, and the first half of the film is full of such examples.
Sunita’s uncle, ‘Kaka’ played by Basu Khanal, borrows money from the village goon, Laxman Sauji, played by Bishnu Sapkota. Kaka convinces Kamal to keep his land as security, which Kamal agrees to. The loan should be paid within a month or else. Almost immediately, the screen displays ‘28 days later’, and Kamal is being chased by Laxman Sauji. Unable to find Kaka anywhere, Kamal escapes to Kathmandu, finding a cell phone on the highway. This cell phone contains a video of a religious personality, Bijogi Baba, played by Rajan Khatiwada, attempting to rape and murder a girl. Now that we’re all caught up with the first beginning, Jeewan and Kamal decide to blackmail Bijogi Baba.
The above plotline occupies the first half of the film. We painstakingly sit through the cliché-filled character-building moments with long scenes filled with irrelevant details. The makers tend to forget that the audience already knows much of the plot from the trailers.
But the filmmakers, as if they have to fill the feature-length quota, would rather weave lethargy into the plot rather than get to the point. The first half is neither funny nor entertaining. Compared to this, the second half of the film excels. First, the second half is shorter and second, it provides engagement and is better paced. There are unexpected twists and the film attempts to wrap up the primary plot with more of a focus.
This realisation should anger the audience. The filmmakers had the tools right in front of them and chose not to use it. However, I urge you to reserve your anger for their sheer immaturity instead. In the film, they portray the rape and murder of a girl—neither as the primary character’s story arc nor to tap into public opinion or to even convey an idea, but just as a plot point. At a time when the entire nation is reeling from an infamous rape-and-murder case, the filmmakers choose to use the issue in a film and not feel deal with it responsibly. The filmmakers do not seem mature enough to understand that portraying rape and murder so haphazardly in mass media will invariably desensitise the issue.
Rather than being responsible or even just providing entertainment, the film seems more preoccupied with becoming as disgusting as possible. The disgust begins with the introductory shot of Sunita and Kamal. Sunita vomits right above the camera in a top angle close-up. There are multiple scenes of Kamal defecating almost anywhere. It’s as though director Upreti, with cinematographer and producer Acharya, wants us to be disgusted by their film. Their poor production design also compliments the bland toilet humour. Bijogi baba is supposed to have blessed North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un and former US president Barack Obama. Baba’s space feels empty and cheap. Simple research on YouTube or even the Aastha channel on TV, would have provided the filmmakers with plenty of elements to portray the lavish lifestyles of controversial religious leaders.
The screenplay, coupled with bland directorial choices, doesn’t let the actors’ potential come across. You can almost fathom the instructions given to the actors—Amrit Dhungana was told to speak slowly and lazily to appear gullible; Pramod Agraghari was told to speak with in an angry to appear menacing; and Rajan Khatiwada was asked to appear horny at all times. As a result, none of the actors will ever claim Jai Shree Daam as their finest work.
Clearly, superstars and ‘unique’ content is not enough. Small additions to the same genre don’t work, as most films will look and feel the same. Also, not being responsible towards your audience is the biggest sin a filmmaker could commit. Using rape and pregnancy to advance your male character’s plot is just not okay.
By the time this review is published, Jai Shree Daam will be out of major cinema halls in Nepal. To the film’s credit, the film has employed a YouTube star as the lead. The film’s dismal showing in cinema halls might have been expected, and the filmmakers might have attempted to attract attention from other platforms. In any case, I hope they make their money back, and I pray that they become responsible storytellers. And, I honestly wish that they will think about the ethics of their content in their next film.
Jai Shree Daam
Director: Biplop Upreti
Writers: Amardeep Sapkota, Biplop Upreti
Actors: Amrit Dhungana, Binod Neupane, Pramod Agraghari, Rajan Khatiwada