Freedom means many things to many people. For some, it is the freedom of thought and expression, while for others it is physical freedom from incarceration.
For filmmaker Arvind Iyer, whose debut film ‘Drapchi’ is being screened in the Indian Mosaic section at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, it is a combination of both.
The film ‘Drapchi’ in English and Tibetan language is scheduled for a 2012 release. The film stars Namgyal Lhamo, Lobsang Yonten, Gen Tenzin-la and Chris Constantinou. It has been written by Pooja Ladha Surti, the writer of Indian films, Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddar. The film was shot in Nepal, the US, Holland and Lhasa.
Addressing a press meet, Arvind said the story demanded his use of the structure of a docu drama with large chunks of background narration as he wanted to tell the story of Tibet in its real form as it is today. Furthermore, he felt that the narration would give the right scenario to explain what was happening on the screen.
He wanted a film that was almost autobiographical in its treatment of the subject. He very cleverly avoided violence in the film by showing such scenes in animation, thus ensuring the pristine beauty of the film. ‘I wanted to make a pro-Tibet film’ and not anything anti-Chinese, he said when asked about possible problems he may face because of the political subject matter of the film.
Set amidst the political debates that envelope modern Tibet, where systematic war is being waged in the present scenario over the traditional past, an uncertain future awaits all those who raise their voice in protest. Drapchi is the story of Yiga Gyalnang, a traditional Tibetan Opera singer who is abducted one summer morning and finds herself in a state of complete isolation in an underground/secret prison cell. After two years, she manages to escape and runs away to the West. In the process, she takes along her spirituality, strength, and her Tibetan song.
Justifying a story which had music as one of its most important components, he said that he had grown up watching Bollywood films and so it was natural for him to use music. He also said that since he had worked with Namgyal Lhamo in an earlier film, it was comfortable to take her and since she is a good singer, he cast her in the role of a singer.
He said in reply to a question that he had only mentioned India in passing in the film ‘for deeper reasons’. But he felt that India’s role in Tibet had been very appalling and it had never taken a strong position. ‘The world is on its way to abandoning Tibet’, he added.
Namgyal said in reply to a question that she had got into the feel of the character as she was herself a Tibetan born in Dharmashala and also felt the suffering of another human being.
She had worked with Arvind earlier in the field of music and was comfortable with him, but had learnt several things during the making of the film.
Spirituality and Tibetan Buddhism intrigues Arvind and this drew him to Namgyal Lhamo, whom he calls the “finest Tibetan opera singer on the planet” and who makes strong statements with art as opposed to political rhetoric besides being an international figure.
Drapchi, according to Iyer, is a work of pure fiction but metaphorically one could argue that Lhamo plays almost every Tibetan woman in the Iceberg Nine Films’ production.
And as a story, it “must be told, discussed, felt, celebrated… Because certainly, her struggle to survive, live as she wishes, to remain true to her roots, is a truthful and ongoing struggle.
“In Namgyal’s voice and music, you can see, feel and hear Tibet. At the same time, because of being based in The Netherlands since a very long time, there is a western European chic and sophistication that is a perfect blend on screen,” Iyer told
The 78-minute film premiered in competition at the 9th Indisches Film festival in Stuttgart, Germany on July 21.
“It is and it is not a prison-break film,” Iyer says, whose directorial ventures include Karma and Paradise Lost.
On why he chose Lhamo for the main role, Iyer says, “I needed someone very evolved and intelligent to play the role of Yiga: an independent free spirit. Namgyal Lhamo is all of that, yet she is deeply rooted in her tradition and culture.”