We interview Dhondup in the Labim Mall office of the film’s producer Nakim Uddin of QFX. Despite his globe-trotting, the director says Kathmandu was the only city he could have filmed his story in. He has fond memories of Kathmandu from his childhood when he came here to visit family members, and in those days it was as exotic as visiting a foreign country.
“This is a place where identities and cultures are always in flux. In any other city, you immediately know who is who, what a particular person’s origins are. But in Kathmandu, walk down a street and you cannot figure out people. Temples, monasteries, churches and mosques flourish side by side. The city has accepted and absorbed all kinds of identities,” he adds.
The theme of The Man from Kathmandu actually follows on from Dhondup’s earlier movies where he explored the question of identity. His 2004 movie We’re No Monks was about a group of Tibetan boys coming out of their secluded existence to face the world. His documentaries have profiled members of the Tibetan diaspora scattered all over the world.
“It is very hard to make it in American filmdom, and not because of the reason you may be thinking,” Dhondhup explains. “Being brown, or of any race, doesn’t matter as much as you might expect. But it matters how well you fit into the capitalistic, money machine of Hollywood studios. If you fit, you can make progress. If you don’t fit, and you want to experiment you will have a hard time.”
Still, years of working in Hollywood has given a certain rigour to his work which he feels is necessary for Nepali cinema to make it on the global stage. Many Nepali films are still formulaic stories, but Dhondhup says that is not the real problem.
“No matter what kind of film you make, it has to be up to international technical standards, of sound, visual, editing, otherwise we have everything in Nepal to make world class cinema, from good actors to good equipment. Using these, we can tap into huge market in India and China just next door,” he says.
Whether or not The Man from Kathmandu will be ‘world cinema from Nepal’ and is of international standard remains to be seen. But Dhondup says it is already global in a sense that it meets technical specifications, and is set to be released in 50 countries after its Nepal premier this week. Dhondup hopes to continue working in Nepali cinema with Nakim Uddin, grooming and helping a new generation of Nepali filmmakers.