Rising Gardens Film Festival: "AMEPÃ," "Dolpa Diary," and "Oru Thudakathinte Kadha"

A story of tradition, a personal journey, and a fight for answers.   

Kshipra Shekhar Dhavle's AMEPÃ has the type of animation which takes you back to your childhood. The frames invoke the innocence of a kid's drawing, and the music has the right amount of warmth to comfort your inner child. However, all this encloses the reality of the Idu Mishmi tribe from Northeast India, protecting vulnerable species of Hoolock Gibbons. 

One day on his way to school, Enjo spots an Eastern Hoolock Gibbon hidden behind a tree. It's in the nature of kids to be curious about something they detect for the first time. Hence, Enjo gets fascinated by the Gibbon and spends a fair amount of time spying on his simple activities like eating a banana. When his grandmother finds out about this encounter, she warns him to not go near the Gibbon. With the help of the watch, she takes us into a flashback to inform us why. I loved how this watch was employed for introducing the flashback. This scene gives proof of Dhavle's beautiful imagination and her willingness to explore the form. AMEPÃ aims to spark a conversation about the relationship between humans and animals. The final shot reminded me of a dog, my friend and I used to feed after playing basketball in the evening. I was in the eighth standard then. As he was a stray, the dog-catchers snatched him away from our lives one day. Maybe that is why I felt something while watching Enjo calling for the Gibbon long gone towards the end. The film ended, but my thoughts didn't.  

Dolpa Diary, a month-long travel memoir of a 26-year-old (Or 27? Not sure since the brochure has both the numbers) Nepali woman named Prasuna Dongol, takes us into the remote region of Upper Dolpa. A traveler and filmmaker, Dongol fancies documenting people and their lifestyles. In Dolpa Diary, she packs her luggage, treks to Dolpa, and captures the entire experience with her iPhone.

We begin from Kathmandu, her home, where we are fed with some background. Dongol's occasional visit to Nagarkot during her school days had taught her to appreciate greenery and nature. She used to travel to a lot of hilly and remote areas. At the age of 17, she went abroad for an undergraduate degree. Naturally, she missed home, and so whenever she came back, she started to explore the country.

After mapping out the plan for the Dolpa expedition, Dongol starts moving towards her objective. But plans rarely pan out the way one expects them to. So Dongol changes her schedule according to the situation. The world around her is shot exquisitely. In one scene, she points the camera towards the view of a mountain covered in clouds and says, "Oh, it's so beautiful! Look!" and it is indeed a stunning sight to look at. I could feel the cool breeze passing through my face. 

Anyway, traveling to pristine and isolated destinations is not all fun. On the way, people warn Dongol of thieves and other dangers that might be lurking around the corner. There is a twitch of discomfort when we are told that one night, she had to share a small room with three strangers (all men!) "No one will find out if something happens to you," says an old lady. All this registers in your brain and explodes when she momentarily gets lost on her way. 

But these laborious trips pay off when we meet convivial and inspiring new faces. Like those tiny, young children here who do their daily chores without any adult intervention. "I actually felt ashamed of myself seeing them." Ditto. Dolpa Diary is a complete package that actually shows you the highs and lows of hiking to a virgin place. I don't see myself going to Dolpa or Kathmandu anytime soon, so I am glad Dolpa Diary provided me with the full experience.  


While catching fish in their village stream, one of the three minors casually puts forward an innocuous question, "Where do you think this stream comes from?" Upon hearing it, the other two kids come up with their theories. One reckons the source to be an endless rain while the other insists it's the sea whose waves give rise to every single stream in the world. The ideas are planted by their respective parents. In the real world, where humans are conditioned to blindly follow a belief or faith without question, Balaram J's animated place does not appear as fiction. Sometimes a thought is so ingrained in our minds that we go as far as to start a fight with our close friends and relatives. For little children, it's the fiction (Santa Claus, superheroes) that firmly grasps their mentality. This is the reason why some of them had jumped from the roof, believing Shaktimaan would come and save them. Then there were those who thought that the gifts were coming from Santa. I was among those who waited for their letter from Hogwarts. 

Nevertheless, a sure-shot outcome one can accurately predict arising from a difference in opinion is...fight. And the youngsters in Oru Thudakathinte Kadha (Story of a Beginning) do just that. In one of the most chilling shots, the facial features (eyes, nose, lips) of the brawling kids are removed, rendering them evil. Their close-minded notions steal their nonage decency. This visual evokes a brainwashed youth, filled with hate against someone having different religion or viewpoint. And that too at an age when - as Jojo's mother puts it - they "should be climbing trees, and then falling out of those trees." 

The final sequence shows the power of animation and why we need more such works that retain this genre's purity, especially when the animation is pushed to the borders of reality. Sure, they look great, but I fear they are losing the dreamlike quality of animation. Finally, Oru Thudakathinte Kadha (Story of a Beginning) states that we are still a toddler when it comes to the mysteries of nature. We are nothing more than a fish enclosed in a jar or a stream.   

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from Movie Reviews https://moviesinmydna.blogspot.com/2021/01/rising-gardens-film-festival-amepa.html
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