THE MIND OF MIN BAHADUR BHAM
Telegraphs were the primary means of long distance communication back when Min Bhadur Bham was growing up in Mugu. The message had to be clear, concise and limited to a few words. Min sneaked into these telegraph centers and eavesdropped when he could. When he got the chance, he would write down messages for the elderly people mediating the messages to their loved ones working in India. A simple telegram would ignite a series of ideas that would weave itself into intricate tales in the mind of Min Bahadur and he would delve into his imaginations and into a different world of his creation. And so began the journey of the storyteller Min Bahadur Bham.
Kalo Pothi is a movie directed by Min Bahadur Bham. It is about two inseparable friends, who despite the difference in caste, embark on a journey to retrieve their lost hen. Despite a temporary ceasefire which had brought on some relief to the war ravaged northern village of Mugu, the two friends experience the frailty of the ceasefire during the Maoist insurgency.
Although the movie is far from the typical mainstream Nepali movie, it has enjoyed significant commercial success in the country. After bagging the Best Film at Venice International Film Festival, Critics Week, 2015, the success didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“I’m not the same person during this time because I try to detach myself from who I am.”
Min Bhadur Bham graduated in Nepali Literature and Filmmaking and Post Graduate in Buddhist Philosophy and Political Science. He also created an independent film production company under the name of Shooney Films Pvt. Ltd. And with the recent international success of his debut feature, there is no question about his talents and abilities.
But the road to success was not easy, especially for a kid who ran away from his home in Mugu to chase a dream in the city. An independent spirit at heart, Min was not going to be tied down to his parents’ decisions about his life. He wanted to study theater, but his family had other things in mind. When he turned 14 Min ran away from home and came to Kathmandu after he finished his SLC bringing along with him the little money he had been saving up since he was twelve years old.
He came into Kathmandu and immediately enrolled himself into the Rastriya Naach Ghar (National Cultural Cooperation). The first year there he studied theater. Later, he went on to study acting in Gurukul, but eventually he specialized in direction.
Min’s father, who worked in the telecom business also opened a movie hall in Mugu. Min was lucky enough to grow up watching the movies that were screened there. He and his friends would frantically rush to watch the movies of Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Shiv Shrestha, and Bhuvan KC. While his friends grew out their hair and dreamt of one day becoming a movie star, Min Bahadur Bham was intrigued by the people behind the screen.
“Acting was never my foray, I always knew I was eventually going to be a director, never an actor“ Min explained.
It took time to find his footing in the Capital though. The money he brought along with him eventually started running out and he wasn’t in touch with his family so he couldn’t ask them for money either.
“I didn’t even understand the language (when I came here). I used to look at ‘To-Let’ signs on houses and wonder why they had bathrooms (toilets) so high up in their houses. And even if they did, I didn’t understand the need to label them with a sign.
Even after getting a hang of the language, it was difficult to talk to me with people. Talking to anyone readily was always a daunting task and there were nights when I waited at the bus stop longing for a conductor to catch my eye so I could ask for a free ride because I didn’t have a rupee on me. For a guy coming from Karnali to Kathmandu, the lights seem a lot brighter here.”
In every person’s life there is a spark that ignites something within. It is a matter of how eagerly you follow that spark. Once the flame is created, it doesn’t take long to spread. That spark was lit in Min with the first time he watched his first movie. That was a long time ago.
As mild mannered and soft spoken as Min Bahadur Bham is in person, he is fiercely passionate when it comes to his work. He has a distinct and methodical process of working on each project.
“I write the storyline in one sitting, but that is just the base of the idea. It takes a lot of building and work that goes into it. I let the idea ferment in my brain for a couple of months and I let the idea take me entirely, in everything that I do, with everyone I meet and all my daily activities. This is when I usually travel. It helps me think.”
On average, a single project takes three to five years of complete dedication.
“Ten years ago, the average life expectancy of the people of Mugu was 46years, maybe it’s 50 now. Because I come from Mugu, I’m going to assume I follow a similar timeline. That means I barely have 20 years left on the clock, 10 years of which I spend awake.
I end up dedicating 25% of my remaining life into a single project. If you can’t enjoy what you do, there is no point in doing it. Regardless of the end result and acclaim, I love what I do and I do it for the process. Enjoying the process of movie making is the best example of happiness for me.”
“Patience has always been keen for me. In every person’s life there is a spark that ignites something within. It is a matter of how eagerly you follow that spark. Once the flame is created, it doesn’t take long to spread.”
“Writing is a long, lonely process. It demands patience and perseverance. You put in a lot of energy to what you do and you go through the joys and turmoil which no one else can see. There is no one else but you. Writing keeps you in the present and makes you aware about what you are doing at that moment, and the past and future have no say here. It’s meditation.”
“We’re always living each of our moment under separate cloaks. We are never our true selves. But when you’re writing you get to know who you are. What your levels of anger, rage, sadness etc are and you get a medium to express all of that. It is a release of emotions that I have been keeping pent up in myself. It’s like standing stark naked in front of the mirror; you get to see your true self.”
“The most difficult part of this is making sure my individualistic personality is not transferred into my character. Detaching myself from the character is a tedious process because you are naturally inclined to base a few of your own mannerisms into your characters.
Once a character begins to resemble you in some aspect or the other, it becomes contagious. Before you know it, other characters begin to show some of your characteristics as well. Ensuring that each character retains a uniquely individual characteristic is an important part of what I do.
After the creation of the character it takes time to bring him/her to life. I spend time with each of the characters that I create to learn what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and how they react to different situations.
The process is intricate and takes a lot out of you. You spend each waking hour of your life with these characters and they visit them in your dreams. I’m not the same person during this time because I try to detach myself from who I am.”
ON SUCCESS AND GRATIFICATION
“I am happy to be where I am today, but I’d love to regain the level of energy and passion I had back when I came here. The joys of one successful venture ends with the completion of that project. You learn from it, and move on to the next journey, which can be the next project. You learn and you move on. ”
“It’s important to do your best to not to mix personal life with your work. That’s why I travel and meditate so much when I work. Detachment is important”
“I’ve always created a distance between the materialistic things in life. I left home, stayed in a hostel, but mostly detached myself from the bonds and relationships of society. I’ve never felt the need to travel in my own car or live in a big house. It’s weird but I have been deliberately trying to do this because attachments weigh you down like a heavy blanket. Free yourself from your attachments and it gives you freedom, at least it does for me.”