Documentary-style filmmaking is one of the great storytelling arts. When a talented director puts facts to screen, it can captivate thousands.
On Friday, students were treated to such. “Daughter of Nepal,” a film by Indian creator Surbhi Dewan, was shown for a number of enticed students and faculty Friday afternoon. The screening took place in an ordinary Austin classroom, but the just over a half-hour long documentary whisked us away to its setting: Kathmandu, Nepal. After the half-hour long award-winning film, Dewan gave us a look at her unfinished next work, a glimpse into the lives of transgender Kashmiris, struggling through their region’s current embroilment.
The focal film tells the story of Manushi Yami Bhattarai, the only child of two prominent political leaders of the mountainous Asian country of Nepal. As Bhattarai grew older, Nepal dissolved into a civil war between the near-eternal rule of the monarchical government and the Communist Party of Nepal, the latter of which included Bhattarai and her parents. Before the conflict got out of hand, the Bhattarais went underground for protection and sent their daughter south to neighboring India under an assumed name and identity. For over a decade and through her comprehensive Indian education, Bhattarai lived a mandatory lie to save herself from the northerly war. Bhattarai, living as “Asmita,” met Dewan at their women’s college in New Delhi. Dewan believed her assumed life story; that is, until finding out the truth the night before “Asmita’s” return to Nepal after the quelling of conflict.
Dewan’s documentary takes place in 2009, reuniting the college friends in a newly democratized country. It highlights Bhattarai as she asserts her place in her homeland, involving herself in local politics, and learning more about the rural and urban divide of Nepal that politically divided the country in the first place. In addition, the film includes interviews with Bhattarai’s parents, Baburam Bhattarai and Hisila Yami, both of whom involved themselves with the Maoist liberatory push for democracy. They continue to work in politics to this day, the former even being elected Prime Minister, serving from 2011 to 2013.
Before the two films screened, Assistant Professor of Geography and Women’s, Gender, Sexuality Studies Debanuj DasGupta gave a preface to the audience, giving additional information regarding the subject matters and how they relate to his studies, specifically regarding Kashmir. “Conflict areas, especially international conflict areas, represent a very interesting phenomenon for political geographers,” DasGupta explained. “They represent a paradox between nation-states and superstate agencies.”
Dewan herself talked to the audience before the film, giving context and afterwards taking questions on her works. An audience member asked Dewan about the potential fear that her Nepalese subjects would have about being filmed, seeing how close the film’s production was to the end of the country’s People’s War (ending in 2006). “[Bhattarai and her parents] had emerged from the war as leaders of the party that were elected into a democratic system,” Dewan elaborated. “Her father was the finance minister of the country at the time. When I was filming, there were no issues like that, but a while prior during the war, they were all living underground.”
Politics can be learned through lecture, but some stories deserve a higher medium. Dewan’s two films showed powerful stories regarding the intersection of conflict and social change, and highlighted the power that true and powerful documentaries can bring.
Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.