In the late 1950s, there emerged a new style of filmmaking in France, pioneered by filmmakers such as Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol. The filmmakers were former film critics for the magazine Cahiers du cinema, dissatisfied with the traditional style of filmmaking that was then in practice in the country. When they set out to make films themselves, they flouted traditional norms, pioneering something truly unique, driven by new narrative techniques and editing tics. This new style, called La Nouvelle Vague or New Wave, was almost documentary-like, in that it felt all too real and close to life. This movement is often called the most important film movement in the history of cinema.Film critics turning into filmmakers, thus, has a vaunted pedigree. Even in Nepal, a number of film critics have turned script writers and directors. But unlike the French New Wave, our critics-turned-filmmakers have largely disappointed. These critics, who would often lambast Nepali mainstream filmmaking, have all too often fallen into this vacuous pit themselves.
Having written film reviews for various newspapers for close to two decades, Lama cut his teeth in filmmaking with 2017’s Ghampani, which offered nothing remarkable. While the film had promise, Ghampani felt a little too tawdry, was badly-acted and had an unfocussed narrative. But with Gopi, Lama has redeemed himself. Not that Gopi is a great film—it still has much room to improve on, from acting to technicalities; but it is an honest attempt at filmmaking and has a clearly-written, focused narrative.
Gopi has a basic, linear plot. It is structured around one man, Sudhir (Bipin Karki), who at the beginning teaches economics at a college and also owns a cow farm. Sudhir has a girlfriend (Surakshya Panta), who is also his colleague at the college where he teaches. The cow farm Sudhir owns makes for the duo’s safe haven for romance. The film has a couple of romantic scenes early on and they are written and filmed beautifully—the emotions translating well on screen.
However, Sudhir’s milk business predictably encounters a rough patch. The price of cow fodder increases and milk sales decline. To add to his woes, the cows develop an ailment, owing to the extra doses of vitamin they’re being fed to increase milk production. Sudhir then sells his cow farm.
But after a while, Sudhir’s girlfriend leaves him, unsatisfied with what he has been doing with his life. Both girlfriend and father want Sudhir to flee abroad. The best scene in this film comes just before the interval where Sudhir, as suggested by his father, is on the way to Sindhuli, his home district, to prepare documents to go abroad. He comes across a tea shop where he orders milk. He loves the taste and discovers that it comes from a large cow farm. Sudhir meets with the farm owner, who manages to touch Sudhir’s heart. Instead of going to Sindhuli, he returns to Tokha in an emotional scene. He decides to start the cow farm back again.
This is a uniquely fascinating premise, one that is kilometres from the usual run-of-the-mill plots that permeate contemporary Nepali cinema. Even the style of filmmaking is different, eschewing flashy sets and song-and-dance sequences in favour of a more compact lens in a documentary style that the Frenchmen pioneered 60 years ago. The lead actors’ performances are smooth and natural for the most part. Bipin Karki, as always, is restrained and gets comfortably into the skin of his character. Yet, given the character actor roles he’s been playing of late, from Phadindra Timsena in Jatra, the titular Hari to this, the characters feel similar, raising the question if this phenomenal actor is being typecast. Panta as Sudhir’s girlfriend does a good job as well. While Barsha Raut, though slightly uncomfortable in the role of a vet doctor, smoothens her performance later on once she gets close to Sudhir. Also notable are the performances from Saroj Aryal, Bhola Sapkota and Ankeet Khadka, all of whom perform as naturally on screen as they do in theatre.
The film could have done without the repetitive hand gestures a sneaky milk retailer employs; though it sends laughter to the audience, it also comes across as cringeworthy. The background score too disappoints, sometimes getting so loud that it drowns out the actors. A more subtle and understated score would’ve served a realistic film like this one better.
Moreover, in Gopi’s universe, everything seems to fall into place eventually. The hero gets what he wants and the villain gets punished. This is not exactly how the world works, but still it’s a story told honestly. The comedy is understated and rarely overt. There’s enough promise here to expect that the director, who is only two films old, will give us a more nuanced and layered film in the future.
For fans of formulaic Nepali mainstream comedies and Hollywood blockbusters, Gopi might come across as a little too slow and uneventful. But for those who appreciate narrative and style, Gopi makes for a good watch.
It feels slightly strange to write this, given that most of the films that have come out recently have been a colossal cringefest, but here’s one Nepali film you should definitely go and see.