Chhakka Panja 3 celebrated 51 days of its theatrical run this week. The film has so far grossed over 190 million, according to Deepak Raj Giri, actor and one of the producers. It has also been watched by over 1.2 million people, he reported. By this account, Chhakka Panja 3 is Nepal’s highest grossing movie ever. The film was screened as part of a three-day conference titled ‘The State of Education as Public Good in South Asia’ which saw the participation of teachers and educationists from around South Asia.
The screening opened with a brief speech by Deepa Shree Niraula, the film’s director, who said that she felt the film had accurately presented a social critique of Nepal’s education system while also remaining a comedy. The film screening was followed by speeches by Dhananjaya Acharya, an educationist from Nepal, and Indian educationist Sharad Chandra Behar. Both speakers echoed that “the film portrays a realistic picture of Nepal’s education system.” Acharya said that issues of education have been pushed to the sidelines in Nepali media and that he celebrates the fact that Chhakka Panja 3 has raised this issue. Behar, meanwhile, said that Chhakka Panja 3 presented the “ground reality of the education system, not just of Nepal but of India as well, and in fact the situation is same in all of South Asia.”
“It’s an excellent film,” Behar said, “and also a useful one.” Behar recommended that the filmmaking team dub the film in Hindi and release it in India as well. “It’s bound to take a good market,” he said. Deepak Raj Giri, who talked intermittently in Nepali, Hindi and English, said that he was proud of the fact that with the film, “dharam karam bhi ho gaya, aur daam bhi aagaya” (meaning “we addressed a social problem and we also made money”). This one-liner, like many in the film, sent a wave of laughter through the audience at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture, where the film was screened.
The event was supposed to open up the floor for questions from the audience, but this portion of the programme was cancelled, because the Chhakka Panja 3 team “needed to attend a celebratory party marking its 51 day run”. The event saw few critical comments and the film was touted as “great”. Among the few critiques was one from Behar, who said that “while the film shows a drastic improvement in the education standards of the school [around which the film revolves], it doesn’t show how it achieved the feat,” raising a very important question: how serious is Chhakka Panja 3 about the subject it raises? Chhakka Panja 3 is set in a rural village in the mid or far-west of Nepal, judging by Raja’s (played by Deepak Raj Giri) accent, and revolves around a school, the Shree Khanidanda Madhyamik Vidhyalaya.
This school has a very bad track record—not a single student has passed the Secondary Education Examination in the last couple of years. In Chhakka Panja 3, all the problems seem to stem from political wrangling between two parties—the one that currently manages the school, led by Kaji saab (played by Nir Shah) and the opposition. Almost all of the teachers, and even a peon, rarely attend their classes and engage in other private endeavours instead. The peon plays in a band whenever there is a marriage in the village and so, leaves school frequently. The maths teacher gambles all day while the English teacher is a land dealer, who in one scene, writes “humantre” twice on the blackboard, erases it, and gives up before writing “human trafficking” in Nepali. How did an English teacher who doesn’t even know how to spell get a job at a school?
The film doesn’t have an answer. Such an investigation could have helped the film unravel the dubious procedure of appointments at the school, and the shady nexus between the school administration and political parties, but the film is not interested in that. Instead, what the film seems to excel at, is presenting clichéd one-liners that the team has mastered over their decades-long stint on television.
Moreover, the film tries to contrast private schools with public schools without any substantial basis for comparison, except for the fact that private schools teach in English. As the Post’s film reviewer Abhimanyu Dixit wrote in his review of the film, “The primary issue of the Chhakka Panja series, apart from its script, aesthetic and characters is that each film raises a certain social problem but never provides it with any meaningful depth. The issue is only there to provide a semblance of social realism.” Chhakka Panja 3 barely scratches the surface of the subject it raises and barely goes beyond generalising the root of the problem—politics—which is the case with every issue in every sector. The primary problem with Chhakka Panja 3 is what educationist Behar pointed out in his speech, but only as a footnote.
The resolution that Chhakka Panja 3 provides for the betterment of a school is this: once the conflict between the party that governs the school and the opposition is settled, the school suddenly becomes great. If previously none of the pupils passed their SEE exams, now the result is that everyone passes. But the teachers remain the same and so does the management. How then did such a dramatic transformation take place overnight? The film doesn’t provide us with an answer.