A chhuchi girl Muna (Shristi Shrestha) in Dharan meets a pulpuleko dude Ved (Vinay Shrestha) from America. He has all the money to host luxurious pool parties and she has no money for milk in her morning tea. Will they ever click?
It seems unlikely: he tears her kurta as he shoves past her and she splashes paint at him. But the director Naresh KC manages to bring the two together to create sizzling, sparkling chemistry. The transition from spitfire to flames (from sandwich me to sketch me to sandwich chhaina? back again) is entirely believable. Along the way we also learn why the girl is so stubborn, and why the guy so callous. Vinay is a convincing insensitive brat, Shristi credibly essays a struggling small-town girl in flowery kurtas and plaited hairdos, but it’s her sister who brings the eastern flavor with her on-point accent.
Not that the movie is not without flaws. The editing, especially in the first half, is not that great, it jumps abruptly from a girl doing the shradha funeral ritual to a bikini party to a dream sequence with a monster. And the shock value of that gimmicky bikini party song on Nepali screen is a whole another story (was it really necessary to imitate wannabe South Asian rap videos? Kathale magekai ho?).
There are some tropes that could have worked until the 90s, but not today. For example, when Ved loses access to his money and is forced to do Muna’s bidding, the audience comes up with a thousand reasonable things he could have done to solve it. Some plot twists are reminiscent of Korean melodramas. Sushma Karki’s gold-digger character is not just over the top, but the entire subplot is annoying.
What is refreshing, however, is movie’s approach to real world issues instead of taking the masala Bollywood route that most of Kollywood is fond of. In his first film Dying Candle, the director had explored complicated family dynamics with an absent, benevolent father and a problematic mother. This time he reverses it with a romanticised, absent mother and a difficult father. This movie calls itself a tribute to Van Gogh, and Van Gogh’s strong bond with his supportive brother finds itself reflected in Jukhuri and Thupri, that was also at the centre of Dying Candle.
Animation plays a refreshingly large role, perhaps for the first time in Nepali cinema. A CGI-rendered monster haunts Muna in her dreams and spills over into her paintings. It is a symbol of issues that we cannot run away from how we must slay our own demons. The attempt to tackle deep seated emotional trauma is laudable, but not entirely satisfactory — and this is the movie’s biggest flaw. One wishes the writer had worked harder to make the reconciliation more plausible.
Still, Van Gogh is a rare treat to movie-going eyes. Starry Night swirls everywhere: from the title credits to Vinay’s shirt to songs. A blue train chugs behind Shristi in a red dress and parasol, bringing Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres to life. A field of post-impressionist sunflowers wave in the wind. A couple takes a mid day Siesta after Millet on a haystack to Sukmit Gurung’s Pal Pal Timrai Samjhana Ma. Giving new meaning to old songs is something of a favourite for KC. Having used the classic Kehi Mitho Baat Gara to great effect in Dying Candle, he does it again with the mushy favourite Gahiro Gahiro Sagar Jastai. The movie’s original songs are also delightful, especially the soulful Sanjh Paryo.
Though this movie is wanting in a lot of ways, it is watchable for venturing into new territories. It captures Nepali filmdom at a time it is just beginning to flex its wings, so this is not yet time to compare the fledgling industry with the world cinema. But there are some things this movie does as well as any other: deliver an emotional punch, especially on its central theme–the redemptive power of love.