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Bhutan's fledgling cinema influenced by Hollywood, Bollywood

Bhutanese films made its first big splash in Hollywood in '99 with Khyentse Norbu's Phorpa(The Cup). The film went on to pick up awards at the Pusan, Munich, and Toronto film festivals.

entertainment Updated: Jun 05, 2007 15:19 IST

When Hollywood star Demi Moore was taking a snapshot of her own blow-up tucked at a ramshackle video parlour in Bhutan, nobody noticed her - locals passed her off as another white skinned tourist visiting the Himalayan kingdom.

Nobody even gave them a second look when Richard Gere, Cameron Diaz, Mick Jagger or Keanu Reeves strolled the streets of Thimphu and other Bhutanese towns.

Largely isolated and not much exposed to the outside world until recently, Bhutan's dalliance with films began only in 1989 - Gasa Lamai Singye was the first movie made in the local Dzongkha language by Ugyen Wangdi, the pioneer of the country's fledgling cinema.

Bhutan's movie industry is in its infancy - just 89 movies made since 1989 - some of them, however, received rave reviews in the international media and got mainstream awards.

<b1>"Last year, Bhutan produced 22 digital films. Digital cinema is the key to Bhutan's movie industry. The Bhutanese audience lapped it up," Wangdi said.

There is just one cinema in Thimphu and seven in all across Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon of about 700,000 people.

The Luger Theatre in Thimphu that was set up in 1969 screens just Bhutanese language films all year round and is booked till next year. It takes nine months of waiting for a local language movie to get it turn for screening in the theatre.

Most of the films have plots based on traditional folklore, legends, culture, and history, although some of the movies made in recent years have the flavour of both Hollywood and Bollywood - with Hindi films and its songs influencing young Bhutanese filmmakers.

"The film Jig Drel made in 1997 had songs and music like you have in the Bollywood and that film actually transformed the movie scenario in Bhutan - it became an industry and also gave star status to actors," Sherub Gyaltshen, general secretary of the Motion Picture Association of Bhutan, told IANS.

Bhutanese films made its first big splash in Hollywood when Khyentse Norbu, a lama recognized as the incarnation of a 19th century Buddhist saint, completed his first feature film in 1999, a modest and supremely entertaining slice-of-life comedy called Phorpa or The Cup - the true story of a young Buddhist monk's impious obsession with watching the World Cup soccer finals on TV.

Phorpa picked up awards at the Pusan, Munich, and Toronto film festivals - the New York Times in a review described Norbu as "a born filmmaker."

In 2005, the revered monk made another big splash in the international film circuit with his

Travellers & Magicians

- filmed in Bhutan in the national language Dzongkha with English subtitles.

Young talented Bhutanese are taking up filmmaking as a career with the nation recently hosting the 6th National Film Awards at the famous Clock Tower Square in capital Thimphu.

The Nu 50-million ($1.2m) film industry has about 100 producers (55 of them members of the Association) and in all about 200 people, including technicians, earning their livelihood from the just born movie industry.

<b3>"The future of our film industry is very bright as without any financial support from the government we have been able to capture the Bhutanese market," said Dorji Wangchuk, an award winning documentary filmmaker and vice president of the Association.

Like in most films, strong religious beliefs and superstitions formed the core themes and one such movie, the "49th Day", grabbed seven awards including best film of the year.

"Bhutanese film industry is growing and the commitment and the zeal to make films focusing on culture and traditions is our hallmark," said Pema Rinzin, another well-known Bhutanese filmmaker.

First Published: Jun 05, 2007 12:21 IST