Nepal’s torture tale takes on injustice, Bollywood

November 10th, 2008 - 6:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Nov 10 (IANS) “I am small today but tomorrow I will be big and help my country progress,” Nepali schoolgirl Maina Sunuwar wrote in her exercise book. But the 15-year-old’s dreams were snuffed out in February 2004 when she was taken away from her home in Kavre district by army men and allegedly tortured to death inside a barrack.Though over 14,000 people died during the savage 10-year ‘People’s War’ waged by the underground Maoist party, Maina’s murder still became a cause celebre after her mother Devi Sunuwar began fighting the all-powerful army for justice.

Devi, her teenage son Ram and other family members wept in grief and rage Monday as two years after the end of the civil war and restoration of democracy, they saw Maina come alive on the silver screen.

Nepali filmmaker K.P. Pathak chose Maina’s story among the tens of thousands of wrenching tales of torture, executions and disappearances to make “Maina”, the first Nepali film to look at the conflict in Nepal and its legacy through the eyes of the victim’s family.

“I began thinking of making the film in 2006, (after the fall of King Gyanendra’s army-backed government),” said Pathak, who, as a communist filmmaker took part in the anti-king protests that rocked Nepal in April 2006.

“Even after the restoration of democracy, the killers got away scot-free, impunity flourished and there was still no rule of law. I made the film to pressure the government into punishing Maina’s killers, to serve as a reminder to the political parties how things are during a dictatorial regime.”

Pathak also had a third aim: to take on neighbour India’s multi-billion-rupee film industry Bollywood that enjoys a stranglehold on Nepal.

While most Nepali theatres screen Hindi films, many Nepali films are pale copies of Bollywood blockbusters.

“Films (made on truly Nepali themes) will help our Nepali film industry carve out an independent identity of its own,” said Pathak.

“Maina”, made on a shoestring budget of NRS 2.5 million (a little over Indian Rs.1.5 million) and with theatre actors and novices in the cast instead of well-known Nepali film stars, is a David to Bollywood’s Goliath.

Besides limited funds, Pathak also faced menacing threats as his film took on the army, which still remains a powerful institution.

“My entire family and my friends tried to dissuade me from making the film,” said the 40-year-old, whose film shows Maina blindfolded, assaulted and given electric shocks by army personnel till she dies.

“I received several anonymous phone calls, saying they were my well-wishers and I would be wise not to tangle with the army.

“But I have no bones to pick with the army. I am only against a dictatorial regime and a dictatorial army,” he said.

Maina’s family hopes the film will shame the present Maoist government into punishing the guilty army personnel.

“I filed a case in Supreme Court and the court asked police to arrest the people involved,” said Devi. “There were four of them. While one is said to have fled Nepal, the other three are still employed by the army, I am told. It sickens me.

“During emergency, I went without food for days and walked miles barefoot to bring my daughter’s killers to justice. People thought I was mad. I knew I could be killed any time. But I had no fear.

“But now I am fearful. If such efforts do not get me justice then how will the thousands of sorrowing mothers and widows in the villages, who could not do what I did, ever hope to get justice?” she asked.

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