Nepal royal massacre gets a new plot

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Thursday, December 9, 2010

KATHMANDU - The darkest day in Nepal’s history that saw King Birendra and nine family members killed in the Narayanhity Palace has been studiously avoided by writers and filmmakers, including Bollywood icon Dev Anand. Nine years later, the first “stone” has been cast into that “pool of silence” with a Nepali theatre activist taking the royal massacre head-on.

Yubaraj Ghimire, a 30-year-old theatre activist from eastern Nepal, has stitched together incidents from the lives of the dead royals to create his new short play, “June 1, 2001″, that has already been performed twice.

Others had attempted to do this earlier. When his grief at the massacre in Nepal’s royal palace subsided, Dev Anand planned to make a film.

“But later I dropped the idea,” the veteran actor told IANS during his visit to Nepal. “I was close to the royal family and did not want to cause those who survived further pain.”

It was not just the Indian director who avoided the subject. The bloodbath in the Narayanhity Palace on June 1, 2001, that eventually paved the way for the abolition of monarchy in Nepal was a subject that Nepal’s own writers and filmmakers stayed away from as well.

Perhaps what helped Ghimire break away from the powerful taboo was the fact that he wrote the play while away from Nepal, doing a two-year theatre programme at the Commedia School, an international English theatre school in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We were given a task in the school: to find a real-life story for a play suitable to perform in a melodramatic style,” Ghimire explains the genesis of his play to IANS. “For me, it was an obvious choice to work with the royal massacre since it had all the ingredients of good drama.”

The play, performed at the Commedia in November, and again earlier this month with an international cast, repudiates the findings of an official inquiry that held Birendra’s son, Crown Prince Dipendra, responsible. The motive was said to have been his dispute with his parents, who threatened to disinherit him if he married his girlfriend against their wish.

“I have always been interested in the history and political situation of my country,” says Ghimire. “As a Nepali citizen, I too was shocked by the royal massacre (and) like most other Nepalis, I don’t believe in the official report. I feel that there is fire inside the ash and that the truth is hidden beneath. As an artiste, I feel responsible to throw a stone into the silent pond.”

In Ghimire’s play, the Crown Prince is not the killer.

“(Though) we do not see specifically who is (the killer), there are however a lot of quite clear hints,” he says. “The argument of the play is that though the Crown Prince was angry with his parents, that didn’t give him enough motive to kill his whole family. There were individuals at court who had much stronger motives. Also, the play emphasises the fact that the Crown Prince was a right-hand shooter who (therefore) could not have killed himself, since the shot came from the left.

“A much likely motive for the massacre seems to be the struggle for power in the country.”

The popular suspicion was that Birendra’s brother Gyanendra, who succeeded him, was involved in the carnage, a suspicion that has been vigorously repudiated by Gyanendra.

Ghimire’s play, however, veers in that direction with the opening scene depicting a conflict between the king and his brother over power. While the king is seeking to introduce democracy, his brother advocates that the royal family should seize absolute power once again.

It is followed by another telling scene in which the Crown Prince is out shooting with his cousin, a character based on Gyanendra’s unpopular son Paras, who was present during the massacre but survived.

In the play the cousin suddenly points the gun at the Crown Prince but is interrupted by the entry of the Crown Prince’s girl friend. The cousin then dismisses the whole thing as a joke.

In the climactic last scene, the Crown Prince, upset after an altercation with his mother, fires at the ceiling, and is carried away by the cousin and a soldier. Moments later, a gunshot is heard and a masked man enters and kills all the nine people in the room. At the end of the massacre, the Crown Prince crawls back on the stage, deadly wounded.

Ghimire’s interpretation is supported by Ole Brekke, founder and director of the Commedia and advisor to the play.

“I and others who saw this one-act rendition of Nepal’s Shakespearean tragedy would also believe that ‘there’s something rotten in the state of Nepal’, not Denmark,” Brekke tells IANS. “A foiled love affair does not mount sufficient motivation to commit such a massacre.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at

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