Indians chronicle Nepal Maoist war on screen

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Thursday, February 17, 2011

KATHMANDU - It was an unusual scene in Kathmandu Thursday with two top leaders of Nepal’s Maoist party - chairman and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and his deputy Baburam Bhattarai - heading for a posh cinema early in the morning when the party remained in consultations to name its new ministers.

“It is especially important to us,” Prachanda told IANS at the premiere of “Flames of the snow”, a nearly two-hour documentary chronicling the rise of the pro-democracy movement in Nepal from the 19th century and culminating in the abolition of monarchy in 2008.

“This documentary is based on the People’s War fought by our party.”

For the first time in Nepal, a documentary will be screened commercially across 42 theatres, marking a landmark in the republic’s celluloid history.

It is the brainchild of Indian journalist Anand Swaroop Verma, who is associated with the leftist political movement in India, and directed by Ashish Srivastav, a New Delhi-based commercial film maker.

“The People’s War of Nepal does not belong to Nepal alone,” said Verma. “It belongs to every country where there is repression and struggle against it. The Maoist movement in Nepal was never truly represented. There was a calculated misinformation campaign against it. So we felt this was a story that needed to be told.”

The documentary, produced by India’s Third World Media in collaboration with Nepal’s GRINSO, traces the long and blood-drenched pro-democracy struggle against three regimes: the Shah kings of Nepal who ruled the country for 240 years, the repressive Rana prime ministers who reduced the kings to puppets for 104 years, and a succession of 12 governments in 13 years who sought to put down people’s protests by force.

The revolt that started with peasant leader Lakhan Thapa in 1876 did not end with his hanging but continued in 1950 and 1990, finally becoming the Maoists’ People’s War that raged on for 10 years from 1996.

Starting with the fateful Friday night when a family dinner in Nepal’s royal palace in June 2001 turned into a massacre, leading to the death of the king, queen and eight more royals, the documentary ends with the sun setting on the Shah dynasty May 28, 2008 when an elected parliament formally abolished monarchy and ordered the deposed king to vacate the palace so that it could become a national museum.

Weaving in interviews with Prachanda, Bhattarai, deputy commanders of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army and its fighters, “Flames of the Snow” offers a rare insight into the reason that made Dahal, a poor farmer’s son, become the mighty Prachanda, whose name is now an inspiration to communist movements worldwide.

“Prachanda was born near a stream in the field we used to farm,” says his father Mukti Ram Dahal, a farmer on southern Chitwan district. “That will tell you how poor we were.”

As a young boy, Prachanda remembers following his father to the Narayangarh market and there, watching in helpless anger his father being abused and beaten up by landlords.

The impulse to avenge it shaped him as a rebel, though, as the movement snowballed, he says the individual emotion became an ideology.

“I realised (the repression of the poor by the rich) was not an isolated incident,” he says. “It was everywhere in society. We have to change society…”

Though an uncritical praise of the Maoist movement, that had its dark side too, the film highlights one undoubted achievement: the emancipation of women from the villages and Dalit community, who were given a voice and treated as equals.

“If thousands of women had not joined the movement from the villages, it would not be where it is now,” Prachanda admits.

In the three years since then, Nepal has undergone further changes and the Maoists are now regarded as power-mongering and growing indifferent to people’s woes.

Verma defends the documentary, saying that the revolution is still on.

“Only one phase is over with the People’s War,” he says. “There are ups and downs in every movement.”

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