Love it or hate it, new Nepali film ‘Highway’ makes waves in fledgling industry

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Love it or hate it, new Nepali film ‘Highway’ makes waves in fledgling industry

KATHMANDU, Nepal - As the curtain comes down on the most divisive and talked-about film in Nepali cinema history, half the audience stands to applaud while the rest slump bemused in their seats.

The split reaction has been common among packed theaters watching “Highway,” a sweeping social commentary hailed by many as a new benchmark for the domestic film industry but dismissed by others as complicated and boring.

“This is a terrible film. There are too many confusing strands and no action. It makes no sense,” Prashant Thapa, 27, told AFP during the intermission of a showing this week in a Kathmandu multiplex.

Fellow cinema-goer Ujjwal Acharya, 32, disagreed, saying “it’s a brilliant movie .?.?. really creative.”

Since “Highway” - co-produced by “Lethal Weapon” star Danny Glover - opened to packed houses across Nepal it has polarized audiences, prompting more than 10,000 tweets, provoking contempt in some corners and adulation in others.

“Nearly 70 percent of people are saying it’s the worst movie they ever watched,” its first-time director Deepak Rauniyar, 33, cheerfully told AFP as viewers filed out of one cinema.

“People are talking about it a lot and they are angry. If you look on the Facebook page there are two separate groups - one that says they really love it and the other that really doesn’t. There are none in the middle.”

Set amid the breathtaking landscapes of eastern Nepal, “Highway” follows the journey of nine passengers stranded on an ill-fated bus to Kathmandu trying to get through three illegal road blockades, known locally as “bandhas.”

Its jumpy storytelling style makes it unique in Nepali cinema, which normally follows the familiar Bollywood narratives that are often copied scenefor-scene in Nepali movies.

With a third of its measly $100,000 budget funded by public donations raised via the Internet, almost everything about the making of the film bucked the prevalent movie trends in Nepal.

The country’s fledgling film industry peaked in 2000 with “Himalaya,” an acclaimed story of salt traders, but directors have since been unwilling to get away from the tried-and-tested formula of romantic plots with song-and-dance numbers.

“I wanted to break the stereotypical thinking about Nepal - everyone seeing it as just a mountain country where it snows - and I also wanted to show the life can be no more different than in London or New York,” Rauniyar said.

“We can make films on a low budget and have an industry that is recognised around the world.

“We should start making horror films, really commercial films, art-house cinema and start telling our stories.”


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