Ladakhi films overshadow Bollywood in the Himalayas

October 10th, 2009 - 4:39 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 10 (ANI): Indian film industry might have found a place in world cinema, but for people living in Ladakh, the country’s distant Himalayan district, Bollywood no longer holds sway.

The Indian film industry has been overshadowed by local Ladakhi films, where bureaucrats and Buddhist monks write screenplays, taxi drivers and cops play villains and heroines, and the superstar actress gets 1,000 dollars a movie.

These films are premiered in packed auditorium and later shown with LCD projectors and portable speakers in villages.

The locals have put the 21st-century social media toward preserving a traditional culture they felt was under siege.

“The young generation nowadays are influenced by the Western people - what they eat, how they dress,” the Christian Science Monitor quoted Dorjay Khanang, a former soldier and one of the founders of Ladakh Vision Group, the region’s original film studio, as saying.

“Through these films, we are saying we have our own culture and tradition from ancient times in Ladakh.”

These films are extreme traditional in terms of clothes and language, with no modern roads and vehicles, says Khanang.

“There are only a few places we can shoot because everywhere there are electric wires, cell towers, and greenhouses,” said Tashi Dawa, a local filmmaker.

With the ultramodern digital video and movie-editing software, the Ladakhi films have won appreciation for its high production values.

Last year, for example, the Ladakh Vision Group bought a 30-foot film crane. It enabled them to stage a scene from recent ‘blockbuster’, titled “Las-Del”, in which a boy, girl, and horse topple off a cliff.

“People in the theater got up and shouted; some people didn’t want to look. They hadn’t experienced such a [realistic] scene in Ladakhi film,” said Dawa.

“After seeing the movie, many people said to me: ‘This time you did a very difficult job - you climbed on trees.’ I said, ‘No we used a crane.’ And they said, ‘What’s a crane?’ ” Dawa added.

After an initial invasion of English and Hindi songs, films, and pop culture, the Ladakhi songs have returned in taxis and hotels.

“In Ladakh, the family structure is very strong, and everybody celebrates together. So movie-watching is a family experience, and they believe that Bollywood is becoming racier and racier, and so you can’t watch it as a family any more,” said Shabani Hassanwalia, codirector of a new documentary, “Out of Thin Air,” about the Ladakhi film industry.

“Our eyes are smaller and noses smaller - our features are different. Maybe Bollywood people wouldn’t like to take us,” said Stanzin Namdol, the leading Ladakhi actress who was paid a record $1,000 for her role in “Las-Del.”

Hassanwalia says that it was at once exciting and humbling to have just graduated from film school, only to see a group of untrained amateurs making technically advanced films with an old PC and some manuals downloaded from the Internet.

“We were very inspired by them. And now people who watch [our] film say, ‘If they can do it, we can do it,’” said Hassanwalia. (ANI)

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