Yet another film to add to the growing Deepak-Deepa universeDeepak Raj Giri is the star, the film tackles a social issue, and there are laughs galore—that’s all you need to know about Cha Maya Chapakkai.
Going in to watch a Deepak-Deepa film, you know what you’ve signed up for. This duo produces ensemble comedies with the word ‘cha’ in their title—Cha Ekan Cha, Woda Number Cha, and the Chakka Panja series—all of which have mostly the same set of actors playing similar characters. Deepak Raj Giri is always the traditional lead, meaning the audience is supposed to root for his success. His is the most thought-out character arc. Kedar Ghimire is always the comic relief and Jeetu Nepal is the hero’s friend, who the audience is meant to pity.
Deepak-Deepa have apparently found the formula for a commercially successful Nepali film. The Chakka Panja trilogy is touted as the biggest commercial success in Nepali cinema history. What separates Chakka Panja from other commercially successful film series like Kabaddi, A Mero Hajur, and Nai Nabhannu La is the duo’s selection of issues. While all others suffer from redundancy and implausible storytelling, the Deepak-Deepa team focus on tackling social issues with humour. And for a team that has made over 600 episodes of social issue-based comedy for TV, films feel like a natural progression.
So naturally, their new film Cha Maya Chapakkai, as the title suggests, is a romantic comedy centred around a water crisis. The film is under the same banner, with mostly the same actors doing what they always do.
Dipendra Lama is credited with the story and is also the director. His last films, Ghampaani and Gopi were social commentaries on interracial marriage and Nepali entrepreneurship, respectively. They were critically praised for their relative depth in character design and storytelling. But this is the Deepak-Deepa universe. And evident from the credit roll, they are very much involved in the production side. The screenplay is written by Deepak Raj Giri and Deepa Shree Niraula is credited as ‘direction advisor’. So, all the aforementioned qualities of the duo’s style stay intact.
Deepak Raj Giri plays BP, and sure enough, the film weaves around his character. He is a brainwashed politician, with his father (Prakash Ghimire) training him to become a communist from a very young age. He is an atheist and is told to stay away from love affairs. This is the reason he is still single even at 42.
BP has two friends—Prabin (Jeetu Nepal) and Goli Kancha (Kedar Ghimire). Prabin is a lover and is at odds with BP’s values while Goli Kancha was shot in the leg in the 2006 people’s movement. That’s all the back-story they get. Prabin gets something of a villainous character arc, but Goli Kancha is the comic relief.
BP and his minions extort donations for their ‘Pragatisheel Janawadi Party’, hoping that the seniors give BP’s father a ticket in the next elections. If they win, they hope to provide their village, Ghaderi, with a proper water supply. The water source for the villagers is quite far and the people are suffering. The women of Ghaderi carry water pots through a very dangerous road and the men are mostly single, because no woman wants to marry into a village without a water supply. This film chronicles BP’s political tussles to bring water to his village.
A local bureaucrat tells BP that their best bet is the water source of the neighbouring village, Todke. But Todke is the political stronghold of the communists’ rivals, the democrats. Jal (Keki Adhikari) is the daughter of the democratic village leader.
Besides being Juliet to BP’s Romeo, Jal sometimes dons a doctor’s white apron and is seen carrying a stethoscope. But she never does anything doctor-like. She is seen feeding a patient, sitting behind a hospital counter, and teaching villagers how to wash their hands. Maybe she is a public health specialist or a nurse or a receptionist who likes to wear stethoscopes with a white apron.
At first, BP and Jal hate each other. He scolds her when she protests his sticking political posters on school walls, and he scolds her again during a hand-washing campaign that she’s organised. But in the next scene, she happens to hear BP’s story and the 24-year-old Jal, for no discernible reason, starts chasing after the 42-year-old. That is the biggest fault in writing this character—there are no justifications for what changed her mind about BP. Maybe the question itself is invalid in this universe, as in all previous films, Deepak Raj Giri’s character gets to bully women around but somehow all of them fall in love with him.
The age gap between the two leads is a running gag throughout the film. Sadly, that’s all it is—a joke. Even BP’s character doesn’t seem fully realised. For just one scene, BP meets his classmate who’s returned from the US. On being asked what he’s up to, BP tells this friend that he is fulfilling his father’s dream. Then, the friend questions, ‘What about your dream?’ This leads us to believe that BP has dreams of his own but the audience’s intelligence be damned—this is never mentioned again in the film. As a matter of fact, this very scene ends with a joke about BP’s age when he’s invited to his classmate’s grandson’s rice feeding ceremony.
There are four dialogue writers in the film—Deepak Raj Giri, Kedar Ghimire, Jeetu Nepal, and Abhimanyu Nirabi. And they leave no stone unturned when it comes to jokes. One of the high points is the film’s assumption of how politicians speak. Their dialogue is perplexing and everyone else in the film begs them to be simple and clear. These politicians are caricatures, and as expected, we laugh at them.
There are also double entendres in the film but these are relatively fewer and honestly, this is progress for a contemporary Nepali film. The writers, however, have a lot to learn about being sensitive.
Many of the jokes in the film are still demeaning to others. For example, in Jal’s introductory shot, her brother (Anurag Kunwar) randomly calls her fat. There’s no point to this insult—it’s a one-off body-shaming for no reason whatsoever. Prabin’s height is also made fun of constantly, especially as his lover Pooja (Supuspa Bhatta) is quite tall. The pair is called ‘Ghantaghar’ and ‘Dharahara’. Physical appearance and skin colour are butts of jokes, as in all other Nepali films I’ve watched this year.
On the positive side, technically, the production value of Cha Maya Chapakkai feels massive. A lot of money has been spent and it shows. The locations are beautiful and the villagers are well-dressed. Notice how big the crowds are during the protest scenes. These production achievements require a lot of money but they definitely add to the scale of the film. Hari Humagain’s cinematography beautifully compliments the massive production value. Technically, the film feels big and bright.
The audio department, however, could have done better. The dubbing is off in multiple scenes and sometimes, the ambient sounds are missing. The background score and mixing is quite loud. Also, adding the same old exaggerated sound effects (or musical cues) after every dialogue is starting to get irritating.
In all, this film is a very typical Deepak-Deepa film. Even with a new director, one who is celebrated as a veteran journalist and a sensible filmmaker, Lama’s social commentary takes a back seat. But when you go to watch a Deepak-Deepa film, you know what you’ve signed up for. You’ll laugh during the film, but you won’t do much else.
Cha Maya Chapakkai
Starring: Deepak Raj Giri, Keki Adhikari, Kedar Ghimire, Jeetu Nepal
Director: Dipendra Lama
Direction Advisor: Deepa Shree Niraula
Stars: 2.5 out of 5