Cover Story

bringing new elements in the nepalese cinema with actor vinaya shrestha

You must have seen this painting way too many times, enough to name the creator in a heartbeat. And perhaps you know a bit about him as well, and the infamous ear lobe incident. But let’s talk about this master piece for now. At first glance, it’s just a composition of some trees, a village, and a weird night sky. So why does it captivate so many, making it the subject of wallpapers, jigsaw puzzles, fashion, and our cover story this time?

First of all, although Gogh’s little brother was not impressed by it, the painting is perfectly balanced. The vertical of the cypresses and steeple counteract the horizontal of the village, and further go on to stabilize the diagonal of the tumbling mountain range. The stillness of the scene below acts as the perfect set to view the stunning sky above, emphasizing the dramatic motions of the swirls. The composition is executed swiftly and confidently in wet-on-wet, capturing the emotions of the underappreciated artist flawlessly in that breathtaking night sky. This painting tells us that the expressions are superior to what we see in real life, further solidifying the argument of the art movement we know as Impressionism.

Now again, what has Vincent in common with Vinaya, apart from the same letter their first names start with? Before we answer that, let’s know the man better.

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When Mr. Vinaya Shrestha was in school, one of his teachers approached him and asked him if he’d like to try his hand at modeling. At the time, the concept of modeling was utterly alien to him, as if it were Greek. But then again, it did kindle an intrigue within him. Hence, after school, with a small film camera, he took pictures of the lad and guided him through poses shot after shot. This whole ordeal intrigued young Vinaya, making him say “Huh. This is cool.”
“Despite me have any knowledge about this matter, after coming home from my schooling, I’d tell my mom that I’m going to be a model.” But his mother knew. And she knew better. In those days, there wasn’t much going on for models. But regardless of it all, he pursued it, grooming himself along the way and bagging jobs with major brands and clients.
Eventually, he hit a plateau. He wanted to do much more than just pose for pictures. “So I thought that the next step for me would be acting. For it, I went off to Bombay, to Kishore Namit Acting Institute, to know what acting is actually about. After graduation, my first project, Sano Sansar, happened.”
Sano Sansar was a movie that came out in 2008 and I like to think that it was one of those movies that redefined Nepalese cinema. Despite having heavy influences from movies like You’ve Got Mail, it was a film whose unique selling point was not an item song or stunt wire packed action sequences. Its focus was on the story and on capturing the emotions of the characters.
“Filming for Sano Sansar was something else for its time. We would hear of actors and crew being fed with nothing but chowchow and biscuits on the sets of other films, but here, we had a buffet. But above all, I earn some great guardians, mentors, and friends who did their best to guide me through this terrain.”
From here, he went on to star in movies like First Love, Highway, Visa Girl, Resham Filili, and now, Romeo and Muna, which all have depicted him in the hat of a lover boy or a spoilt brat. Then again, although he fits those stereotypes perfectly, he had the need to break out of it and prove that he’s so much more.

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“I take my time with the roles I do because I want to be the character, not Vinaya Shrestha. I take up workshops, put in the effort to alter my look, just because at the end of the day, all these are going to be the icing on the cake. And to prove myself
as something more than just a rich lover boy, I did Resham Filili.”
Resham Filili was the first film from Vinaya’s own film banner, V Motion Pictures. And to actually play as his character, Resham, he had to go through a 6 month long process. “I did not want to wear a wig, so I had to grow my hair out. And as it grew, I traveled around the outskirts of Kathmandu, hunting for someone who fit the character of Resham. Eventually, I found this guy in Kirtipur. He used to stammer a bit, was innocent to the core, and just pure; exactly what I needed for my character. My next step was to be like him. So I too began to stammer and altered my walk into something that was nervous and anxious.”

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The Great Earthquake of 2015 delayed the screening of the movie but with the song Jaalma, a masterpiece of a light hearted song that became a sensation all over the world, it amassed itself a following. It did well in the box office and has become an identity for Vinaya, which he holds proudly.
Coming to his recent endeavor, Romeo and Muna, he says that it is the coming together of art and commercial ideas. He took up the project because he wanted to do a clean and neat film, and he found those in the characters. Then, there were the experimental elements of the film.

A few months back when we did our cover story with Mr. Kumar Nagarkoti, I had said that there’s only so much one can do with the ultimate formal set by Aristotle. Books, films, almost any narrative falls under this structure which begins with the protagonist who has a certain flaw, is confronted by a conflict, and ends with the overcoming of that conflict. Likewise, Vinaya’s character, Ved, has the flaw of hubris, is conflicted when he’s romantically entangled with Muna (played by Shristi Shrestha), and goes on to find love by overcoming their differences. That is pretty much the story.
But with Romeo and Muna, the envelope has been pushed. The film explores themes of the subconscious mind, which have not been done before on the Nepalese screen this well. And it takes the concept to a new stratum by incorporating VFX and animations. The team has created a monster that haunts Muna, a metaphor that portrays her traumas and insecurities uniquely. Then, a treat to the eyes, it brings Vincent’s Starry Night, Bridges Across the Seine at Asnieres, Bedroom in Arles, and The Siesta to life. All of these are elements are things we Nepalese as an audience are not used to. And perhaps not ready either.

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“The reviews for the movie were 90% positive internationally. But commercially, it do that well. Why? Probably we are not ready for something that’s this far out. Something simple, yet vast in its ideas. Even when we made the Sandwich Me song, it had cues of Hollywood and Bollywood, all because we wanted something that was international. I believe that we can’t just remain in our home market and hope to do well just here. We need to expand our horizons and reach out to those across our borders and hope to glimmer in the screens of multiplexes there.”
It’s hard to ignore that the film industry is like any other industry, which means that it’s subject to trends. This further means that films incorporates the elements that are popular. So, if you look at the trends, Gladiator set the stage for other gladiator movies to come, and Scary Movie gave way to other proceeding parody movies. The deal with them is that they have an idea that’s never been ventured before and the audience goes on to like it. Then, other movies follow suit and cash in on those idea until the audience gravitates towards another new concept. That is similar to how we have been following movies here. Rajesh Hamal’s flying kicks set the trend for triple hit cuts, much like what Rekha Thapa did for item songs. These are something we’re used to and the only deference between our viewership in comparison to that of the West, or of the Indian market, is that we’re not that welcoming to change and the idea of ‘the New’.

“As much as the movie industry is a business, it is a gamble as well. You never know what will click. So until it does, you need to keep feeding the audience with these new concepts. Now, we’ve incorporated the international element of the renowned artist. Next, we may see references to another well respected artist. Only then will the people be able to accept and appreciate what we’re trying to do; ushering new ideas into the scene.”

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Currently, aside from being an actor, Vinaya is enjoying the role of a producer. Moreover, he loves the hands on approach of making a film; from being involved with the script writing process to designing the characters, to even mixing the sounds and songs. And thus, seeing his dedication to it all, we share his belief that he can change the scene of Nepalese cinema.
Now, coming back to Vincent’s Starry Night, he didn’t live much more than a year after the painting’s creation. Be it that he was inspired by a religious mood, or had been in a state of heightened reality, or perhaps great agitation, regardless of it all, he has successfully portrayed the vast peace and majesty of the night sky. The night sky had been the muse to many contemporaries of his time, and continues to be to many to this day. But never has it been this expressive and unique. Many found it lacking, and not true to form of the subject. But it was his style, something that was his, and his alone.
Back in 1874 he wrote to his brother, “Painters understand nature and love it and teach us to see.” And with Starry Night he does just that. He teaches us to see the sky, not as it looks, but perhaps as it feels. Never have we seen it quite like this. In a career that lasted only a decade, he articulated a style that we cannot forget.
And the same goes for Mr. Vinaya Shrestha.

Perhaps it was intentional to have Van Gogh as a crucial binding element in the story, we can’t say, but the resemblance between these two men is unmistakable. There we see someone who tried to change how we see art, and here we see a man trying to morph the way we view films.

And when you consider how cypresses are often associated with the afterlife, a bridge between the earth and heaven, we can see that Vinaya is out there to resurrect the Nepalese cinema with creativity, ingenuity, and something we all fear; the necessary change.

WORDS: NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS: GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR

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