The scam from Kathmandu: an honest film review from an actual man from KathmanduThe story is a revenge plot reminiscent of 90s Bollywood. Bunty aka Faisal Mustafa (Jose Manuel) comes to Kathmandu to look for his father but the city is full of crime and the primary reason is politics.
In your email’s spam folder, you are bound to find at least one message that promises you a very attractive sum of money. The sender has recently come in possession of great wealth, and they want to share a percentage with you, provided that you pay them a small deposit up front. If you’ve ever wanted to reply and see what happens, I would strongly advise you not to.
But if you’re feeling adventurous, and want to know what it feels like to be scammed, you could go watch The Man from Kathmandu.
I, an actual man from Kathmandu, was gullible enough to buy into this scam. Now, in my defense, the film was marketed like anything. The film’s poster featuring a man in a lakhey mask was everywhere and I think they’re cool. All the cashiers at my local supermarket were wearing the film’s t shirt, constantly reminding me to go watch the film. I wasn’t a big fan of the trailer, but I respected the fact that they didn’t reveal much of the story.
In the same trailer, the film features dynamic fight choreography and picturesque locations along with Bollywood legend Gulshan Grover, Pakistan’s Abdul Hameed Sheikh, Nepali heartthrobs Anna Sharma and Karma, and veterans Neer Shah and Mithila Sharma. So much was promised for the price of one measly ticket.
But all for naught. The viewer—especially if you are a man or a woman from Kathmandu—is certain to be offended by the gross misrepresentation of your town, depressed by the lifeless plot, disconnected by one-dimensional characterisation, and angry at the filmmakers for thinking that Kathmandu residents are so naïve that they will pay to watch their own insult.
The story is a revenge plot reminiscent of 90s Bollywood. Bunty aka Faisal Mustafa (Jose Manuel) comes to Kathmandu to look for his father but the city is full of crime and the primary reason is politics. Gulshan Grover’s Abu Mia Siddiqui and Hameed Sheikh’s Pundit Harshavardhan are the city’s two political kingpins. Bunty steps into conflict when his childhood friend, Namrata (Anna Sharma) is molested on the streets by Sher Thapa (Karma), a street thug operated under the auspices of the political elite. And when Abu murders Bunty’s grandfather (Neer Shah), he wants revenge against everyone involved. Amidst all of this lazily written, redundant plot turns, Bunty is the only one who can somehow save the helpless people of Kathmandu.
Barring very few exceptions, films previously shot in Kathmandu by an international crew have long followed the ‘white saviour’ narrative—a white messiah rescues a non-white, exotic community from all unfortunate events, eventually learning a great deal about themselves in the process. But all too often, the messiah doesn’t even have to be white—The Golden Child (1986) had Eddie Murphy in the lead—or even a man, Kathmandu—A mirror in the sky (2011) had Verónica Echegui as its lead. In case of The Man from Kathmandu, the messiah is not a Christian. And I also cannot confirm if Bunty learns anything in the process of saving Kathmandu.
Let me attempt a step-by-step account of my feelings during the film’s first few scenes. It opens and closes with handy-cam footage of Bunty, who is being interrogated by someone with a distorted voice. Many-a-time, a great film will announce itself from the very first scene. This is not one of those cases.
What ruins the scene is Bunty’s dhaka topi. For an international film, the entirety of the Nepali identity is apparently summed up by this piece of clothing. My enthusiasm is already at a low, but I muster on.
In the next scene, Bunty is in the United States where he gets into a brawl with random people over parking space. Here, we learn that Bunty knows some form of martial arts. Next, we find out that Bunty is an Islamic militant who justifies his actions quoting Sharia law. It really doesn’t take long for the film to escalate into a cringe fest.
Writer-director Pema Dhondup Gakyil attempts to be politically correct by having multiple characters say, ‘There is so much more to Sharia law than just senseless violence.’ But that’s it; none of the characters build on this one-off statement. Rather, Dhondup spends more screen time on the lead hero talking to terrorists who encourage him to continue on the path of violence. This only reinforces the image of Muslims as terrorists—an absolutely tiresome stereotype that filmmakers all over the world want to stop, but not Dhondup.
Dhondup’s stereotype onslaught continues, with misogynistic depictions of his female lead, Namrata (Anna Sharma). Women have always played damsels in male-driven revenge plots, but this film takes things even further. Namrata is first molested in the middle of the street by Sher Thapa until she is rescued by Bunty. In another scene, in a police station of all places, Praveen Kumar Gurung (Shishir Bangdel) sexually harasses her. Then, Namrata is shown having sex with Bunty almost immediately after. Forget holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, forget dealing with the psychological scars of abuse, and forget the internal coherence of your narrative—all because you cannot see past your female lead as nothing but a piece of meat who is passed around from one man to the next.
In retrospect, Dhondup’s narrative does not require Namrata or even Kathmandu for that matter. The defining characteristic of the city in this film is violence and evil politicians vying for power. It’s almost as though Dhondup wrote the script with a random third world country in mind. Then, when Kathmandu became feasible, he edited his script using Google to force some context.
One such moment of contextualisation comes through Suresh Bhandari’s (Neer Shah) workplace. Bhandari is an NGO chief who has given refuge to earthquake victims on his land. Bhandari is murdered because of the land and the politics associated with it, but the earthquake victims and the land grab is never mentioned any further. Kathmandu is absolutely irrelevant here.
But the damage has been done. According to Dhondup, the film will release in 50 or so countries and it is certain to be a PR nightmare for Nepali tourism, more so because it is sponsored by the Nepal Tourism Board. The Board may not support the message of the film, but its visuals will do the job.
In press junkets and interviews, the filmmakers have called this a Nepali-Hollywood film. But I question the validity of that statement. Sure, the fight sequences are choreographed better but even low-budget TV series like Marvel’s Daredevil have done hand-to-hand combat better than this film.
So, what about the film is Hollywood? The story is a cliché revenge plot told clumsily. There is an evident lack of conviction present throughout the film—in its portrayal of women, its characters, religion, and the city of Kathmandu as a whole. To call this film ‘Hollywood’ is a scam.
I honestly wanted this film to be a hit because of its producer, Nakim Uddin. He was behind Kagbeni and Sano Sansar, both films remembered for their storytelling. And even though they didn’t do well commercially, that did not discourage him from producing more films. He hasn’t been afraid to take risks and that should be admired. Here’s hoping that the next film Nakim Uddin produces is one with sensitive and honest storytelling.
The Man From Kathmandu
Director: Pema Dhondup Gakyil
Producer: Nakim Uddin, Pema Dhondup Gakyil
Actors: Jose Manuel, Anna Sharma, Karma, Nir Shah
Genre: Action Drama