Bhutan’s entry in the Best International Film category, Lunana, could make it to the final shortlist of 5 nominees for the Oscar this year. Though it was finally beaten by Japanese film ‘Drive My Car’ at the awards, ‘Luana’s’ simplicity and elegance are exemplary. Its love for its country is so genuine although I didn’t see anyone running across the frames with a flag.
And though I don’t understand a word of the Dzongkha language I hardly consulted the subtitles to get the point. This is the way cinema was always meant to be. The least important component in cinema should be the spoken word.
One reason why Indian films always get snubbed at the Oscars is their verbosity. Indian filmmakers are petrified of silences. They make the characters speak constantly to ensure the audience doesn’t lose interest.
There is no yakking in ‘Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom’. The yak in the title is the buffalo-like animal that sits quietly, sagely in the classroom as Ugyen (Sherab Dorji, a natural) the new teacher from the city, we can call him the neo-avatar of Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love, comes to terms with teaching a bunch of woozily unspoilt uncorrupted little children in village in Bhutan who have never seen a car, don’t have paper to write on and are without a blackboard in the classroom.
There is an unplumbed volume of emotions in the storytelling, the kind that doesn’t plead for attention. It gets it by right.
Should a civilisation untarnished by the ravages of the digital age be welcomed? What about industrial progress, what about moving on? Ugyen wants to migrate to Australia (like a lot of Bhutanese do). Once there, his isolation is shown to be absolute: the feeling of rare precious belonging that Ugyen discovered up in the mountains of Lunana is much missed in the alien land as he strums an old familiar Western tune in an uncaring bar.