THE TALE OF KHAGENDRA LAMICHHANE: WRITER/LEAD ACTOR OF TALAKJUNG VS TULKE – SELECTED FOR OSCAR FROM NEPAL
Despite a smashing debut as the lead protagonist in the controversial movie Badhshala and fresh off the success of Talakjung vs Tulke, Khagendra Lamichhane (who portrayed the main character in this movie as well) insists he isn’t an actor and would rather not be defined as one. Born and raised in the modest village of Syangja, Khagendra Lamichhane has steered his life onto the path of success. Sans of luxurious material possessions or a lavish lifestyle, it might not be the first conclusion people come to; but the thing about success is, it isn’t always measured with the same yard stick for everyone. Born to a middleclass family of farmers, Khagendra never dreamed of becoming a rich man when he came to Kathmandu. It was his passion to become a writer that brought him to the Capital. Now he has a number of successful plays, books, a few years working at BBC Media Action, Nepal and an Oscar selected movie (from Nepal) under his belt.
However, success didn’t come overnight for Khagendra. As an opinionated youngster growing up in a close knit society of villagers, Khagendra’s suggestions and voice was often overlooked and suppressed. To find a release, he penned down his feelings and ideas which initially got him into the habit of writing. He cultivated his habits into a passion and a few years down the line he had his first novel ready. But with little to no money to publish the novel, Khagendra sold a gold chain his father had presented to him for a little over Rs.7000. His first novel was far from successful but it certainly got the ball rolling.
Walking into our office wearing a pair of simple flip-flops, jeans and a locally made t-shirt, Khagendra was an unassuming image of accomplishment. A man with a modest personality befitting the simple demeanor, we discover the story behind the writer of one of the best movies to come out of the Nepali movie industry.
Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee?
KL: A glass of water would be great.
Khagendra was waiting patiently when I came back with his glass of water. He accepted it with a gracious smile. Both of us took our seats and began with the interview.
TNM: Talakjung vs Tulke was a massive success. Is there a movie you are planning to involve yourself in next?
KL: I’m not planning on doing any movie any time soon. Despite what everyone says, I am not a movie actor by profession; at least that’s not what I aspire to be.
The answer caught me slightly off-guard, which must have shown in my tone of speaking.
TNM: You did a splendid job as Talakjung in the movie though.
KL: Don’t get me wrong, I love performing; but I am a writer at heart. In fact, one of the main reasons I ended up doing the movie was because I wanted to portray the role of Talakjung.
The True Story of Ah Q, written by the Chinese author Lu Xun, inspired the tale of Talakjung. I had dramatized the entire story into a play, and I loved it. And I wanted to act in it. But I had to pass on the chance when an employment opportunity at BBC Radio Nepal came by which was more important at that time.
But as soon as my stint at BBC was over I immediately began writing for a movie adaptation of the play. I still wanted to be Talakjung.
TNM: What was your job position at BBC Radio Nepal (BBC Media Action, Nepal)?
KL: I was there to write and direct radio dramas. I was part of a team that created ‘Katha Mitho Sarangi’ which turned out to become a very popular show. Two years into the job I was promoted to Senior Writer Producer and later the Department Head.
TNM: Was it good money?
KL: It was alright, but more than the money I loved my job. And to think I wasn’t even going to apply for the position.
Despite what everyone says, I am not a movie actor by profession; at least that’s not what I aspire to be.
TNM: Why is that? How did you end up applying for the job?
KL: The job vacancy announcement caught my eye right from the start, but one of the criteria said that candidates had to have a good hold of the English language. This wasn’t my strongest suit. My friends insisted I give it a shot but I was discouraged and had abandoned hope.
Jibesh, who is a good friend of mine, turns out took matters into his own hands and had applied for the job on my behalf. I was taken aback when I got a call from BBC to appear for an interview. There was a Nepali translator present during the interview, which went well considering it was my first ever interview.
I had a fair bit of experience to bank on which must have helped because I was shortlisted and later selected for the job. My job was to write and direct radio dramas and I was able to catch on really quick because I had been doing it for a long time.
TNM: How did you first get into writing dramas?
KL: I dove head first, that’s how it happened. In 2056BS I found myself competing alongside a group of friends at the Western District Drama Contest. Before that I hadn’t even watched a play.
Although we didn’t win, I loved the experience and I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I enrolled myself into the Pratibimbha Theater Laboratory in Pokhara. After finishing my intermediate studies I came to Kathmandu and applied into Naachghar. During my time there I did my first solo drama at the Gurukul National Festival. The name of the play was Peedageet and to say I was nervous would be an understatement.
However, Sunil Sir (my teacher) egged me on. Fingers crossed, I wrote, directed and acted in the solo play which was very well accepted by the audiences. In fact it ran the entire course of the festival.
Ever since, I have been writing and directing plays. I’ve even acted in a few. One of my plays called ‘Pani Photo’ ran for 35 regular shows.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat while Khagendra casually moved his empty glass from one hand to the other.
TNM: How did your family react to news of your choice in career?
KL: My parents aren’t the most educated people. They do their farming and live a simple life. Things were difficult at times but we’ve always pulled through and life is good. We’ve always lived a simple life. When I came to Kathmandu my parents my family didn’t want me to come back as a rich man, they wanted me to be a happy man.
They’ve always trusted in me and have always been supportive. I guess I’ve been really lucky to be blessed with such understanding parents.
TNM: How often do you spend time with your family?
KL: Whenever I go to Syangja I stay at home the entire time. I have my own small world with my family and that’s where I am most of the time. I do a fair bit of farming myself. I have a small area which I bought in partnership with two other friends. I grow 400 to 500 orange trees, a few guava trees and have a few goats. I’m also planning on growing Kiwis.
To be honest, this is where I feel like myself.
TNM: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
KL: I’ve never thought about things that far ahead.
TNM: Are you working on anything now?
KL: I am currently doing some film editing for a project I have been working on called Pashupati Prasad. It is a character based social drama. These types of movies, which revolve around one central character are not very popular here. But I love writing them. It gives me the chance to delve into the deepest realms of the character and bring out more detail.
I’m also planning to conduct a play at Theater Village soon, and this will be after a 5 year hiatus from the play scene. Turns out the costs have skyrocketed since the last time I was there. And I am also coming out with a new novel, which will take me approximately 2 years.
Oh, and I have a story collection coming out in the month of Magh (January- February).
When I came to Kathmandu my parents, my family didn’t want me to come back as a rich man, they wanted me to be a happy man.
TNM: Before we finish things off, can we expect you on the screens of Nepali movies in the future?
KL: It isn’t my priority. I am not the biggest star in the industry and I don’t claim to be. But if something interesting comes up I’ll definitely give it a shot. But until then, I’m happy with my pen and paper.
Conversations dwindled and we bid adieu. As he departed, he left me with an entirely new perspective of a success story. It was the story of a boy from Syangja who came to the Capital with dreams of becoming a writer and ended up doing that and so much more. It didn’t consist of overnight fame, material wealth or popularity but it exemplified how living one’s dream and sustaining a simple life can be the biggest success in the world.
PHOTOGRAPHY: BIBHAS M. SUWAL