This observational film is an anthropological gaze into people’s lives in the marginal hinterlands that are yet to experience the infrastructure and amenities of modernity: road, electricity, television, and market, among others. The link between road and everyday life is one way of looking at the film, and the politics of infrastructure would be another level of understanding it.
The film captures everyday life in a still-remote corner of Nepal, showing us the sorrows and difficulties hidden underneath the majestic mountains and valleys. Millard and Stryker try to document the uncertain and precarious lives of people in these isolated and far-flung communities. In doing so, they also show us the humility and improvisations with which the family relates to emergent, ambiguous, and adverse situations — a young family member getting sick, or the bus stuck half-way into the journey with to engine breakdown.
As the villagers sort out things in those precarious circumstances, we get a glimpse of perseverance and toughness amidst the physical, mental and social challenges they experience. Even after five days of walking carrying heavy loads, the family reminds us that life goes on amidst adversity. They cut jokes and laugh, they smile, and they cherish the little moments of togetherness.
Viewers can watch बाटो just to glimpse the reality of life, or they can view it as an anthropological study of how connectivity and infrastructure, development and globalisation, citizens and the state, perhaps even politics and geopolitics play a role in Nepal and beyond.
More importantly, the film hints at a larger transformation taking place in Nepal’s Himalayan villages with the advent of roads, and how this is affecting every facet of life for Mikma and families like hers.
Bicram Rijal is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, Canada.