Cover Story

SWASTIMA KHADKA: ON THE ART SIDE OF THINGS

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“Sounds cliché but I’d always wanted to be an actor.” And came that goofy smile. “I used to do mimicries. I was very good at it. Not anymore though. But because of my mimicry skills, I used to be the center of attraction. My friends used to cheer me and ask me to do various teachers’ impersonation. During school, only those who were active were in the highlight. So I loved to dance and participate in dramas as well. However, somewhere along the line, that impulse to get up there just disappeared. I didn’t much continue with that part of me even though I had friends encouraging me for it.”

After her SLC, during her third year diploma, Swastima participated in Miss Teen. She was only 17 back then and the idea to compete for the Miss Nepal crown seemed a bit farfetched for her. But regardless, that teen pageant was a stepping stone for her. And she’s thankful for it.

Clearly, she is a nine o’clock in the morning kind of vigor – lively, dreamy and full of potential. We talked about the basics, about her movies, you know the usual, about how she started out her film career with Hostel Returns, did some cameos, was in a multi-star cast movie, her other movies and then finally her latest serve as Ranakala in Bulbul and also her vast groundbreaker as the song with a millions of views.

“Of course, it feels good to be part of hugely appreciated song, but having said that I cannot milk it for longer period of time. It feels odd… I’m over it I guess.” She said.

Appreciation is what we normally expect when we work hard on any project. As an actor, it’d be normal for anyone to say that she expects appreciation. Expectation stays in the industry for as long as one is on an uphill task and it’s a valid point too. But Swastima disagrees here. She doesn’t like to expect much when she’s working on any movie or even think about the results. She is a believer of giving her 100 % and that’s that. “To be worrying how the movie does after the release, will it be a hit or a miss, will it earn as much as it should, and that isn’t my concern. You know how they say, ‘Do your best God will see the rest,’ right? I wouldn’t pressurize myself with anything like that.”

That’s smart, if you ask me.

Or maybe just how things work around for an actor who’s done different types of movies in a short period of time.

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While we were at it, we talked about Chhakka Panja 2 too, about Swastima’s experience on working with a star-studded cast movie and her answer? “Ah, I got to learn a lot! They have already been in the field for more than 20 years; they obviously know a lot more than I do. And not only did I learn stuffs about movies while working with them, but also understand other areas like dealing with the media, interacting with them… everything! I admit, I get overshadowed by them sometimes but then rather than a disadvantage, I like to think of it as an advantage to stay in the sideline and absorb what I can from them. After all, they are the superstars!”

At this point, it felt safe to perch around Bulbul. Bulbul is about a character’s journey, named Ranakala, played by yours truly, Swastima. She has a daughter and drives a tempo around the city. Basically, quite different from what Swastima has been doing as her previous works. Earlier movies were that of commercial values, Bulbul is more of artistic one.

“Was it very different experience while working?” I ask her.

“Yes! Even while working, it was distinctive. For someone who has not been in this sector for long, someone who’s just reached this stage, one who hasn’t done such art house movies; it was hard for some people to believe that I could even pull it off. Many directors called my director of Bulbul, Binod dai, and asked him why he chose me, if I’m even capable for it or not. There was a lot of dubious phone calls and disbelief regarding my caliber and the director’s decision.”

Out of all my six movies, I received maximum appreciation from Bulbul. So this does mean that somewhere there is a solid part of audience that do enjoy these independent movies.

Art house movies are just targeted for a certain group of viewers, mostly for the sake of art rather than the monetary value. Like we discussed in the previous issue with Mr. Saruk Tamrakar, Swastima too explained how these movie differ from the commercial ones.

“I wouldn’t say all, but according to my experience, what happens in the commercial movies is that one has to work under the command of the director. There isn’t much choice and it’s about being spoon-fed. Unlike in the art house movies where the actors get to immerse in the character, commercial movies never get there. I daresay, doing such kind of art house movies changes one’s perception towards the critique circle.”

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As an actor, the benefit she talked about being part of such art house movies, was growth. Art house movie caters to a particular art portrayal rather than the marketing of the story. “You see, art movie is darker, serious, slow cutting, unlike other movies where it’s fast cutting, songs included, everything sellable. Even my friends watched Bulbul and teased how I spoke one line per hour. That was as a joke, but then, it is true. Not all audiences want that. There are audiences whose eyes have been trained to see some colorful items in a movie.

Having said that, however, I cannot deny that there is a part of the population who really do like art movies. Previous art movies like Kaalo Pothi was able to do so well. My point here is, there is definitely a war between the audiences about what they want and also between what we give them. But then this is slowly changing. Conversely, I feel it’s more of execution – ‘how’ rather than ‘what’.”

When presented with a prospect of the disappearance of art movies, Swastima was quick to refute. She made it clear that art movies are more in the making and definitely future has a lot in store for them.

“Out of all my six movies, I received maximum appreciation from Bulbul. So this does mean that somewhere there is a solid part of audience that do enjoy these independent movies. Bulbul went onto its fourth week. In this time for any movie to run into its second week is a very good response. So, Bulbul being on its fourth is a huge feat in itself. That is why I am pretty sure that an audience who do understand such art movies is growing.”

She revealed how a part of the audience was very impressed whereas the other part was baffled by the open end of the movie. She deems that Nepali audience isn’t that prepared to see such movies.

“You can see international movies, how they are – Nepali movies barely make it to that type. The Nepalese audience hasn’t had that experience often. We have art movies once or twice a year. We should start coaching the audience with good content rather than makeshift commercial content.”

I thought about what she said and dared to ask if she’d ever choose between the two kinds of movies, now that she has had a taste of both. I wasn’t surprised at all when she disclosed how firm she was about her career.

“No. I would never choose. I’ve done six movies so far and commercial movies are what brought me my initial recognition. I was able to do Bulbul because I did commercial movies. I’d never stop or choose between any of them at all because commercial movie for me is like a stepping stone for another art movie.”

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It seems pretty fair too, she portrayed Elina which brought about Ranakala for her. It is all about balance.

“So how do you balance it? Your work and your life beside work?” I venture.

“I have no plans, no routine, nothing. But one must be honest and hard working to keep one’s work life and personal life balanced. I am in such a line of work where I cannot form any kind of plan, it simply doesn’t work that way. I have to be ever ready to drop everything else and run to last minute calls, shoots, promotions, etc. Maintaining equilibrium is mostly about dedication and integrity.”

During the rendezvous, I asked her how it is as a woman in the Nepalese film industry.

And she made it sound like it’s not a big deal.

“Honestly, for girls, to get into the film industry isn’t that tough. Post a very beautiful photo of yourself, you’ll immediately get a film offer! All the established directors and producers are always looking for a fresh face. It’s very easy for the entrance.”

It sounded like a piece of cake till then. However, right after that she dropped the truth bomb:

“But then, you’ll have to be very careful once you start working. The online media, specially these YouTubers have a habit of displaying fake news of female actors. The unethical use of journalism is what makes your work life problematical. They like to focus unnecessarily on your personal life, ask questions and make their own assumptions on it.”

Honestly, for girls, to get into the film industry isn’t that tough. Post a very beautiful photo of yourself, you’ll immediately get a film offer.

It was clear that she was saying this out of her own experience too, but what more can we do? Other than avoiding the area of her personal life completely. Which we don’t want to get into either. All in all, by the end, one could be sure that Swastima Khadka is more of a learner, an achiever, and a dedicated actor with dreams of jumping to the other side of the camera.

“It’s not a plan per se, but I do have a wish to direct a movie someday. Someday.”

And for that, we wish her all the best in the world.

STORY BY Abhigya Subedi

CONCEPT BY Nirveeek PPJ Shah

MAKE UP BY Ankita Shrestha

PHOTOGRAPHERD BY Gaurav Xhompate Sunuwar

WARDROBE BY Nepa:Mode

LOCATION: Nepal Art Council

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