@SGIFF2015 - Review of Kalo Pothi (The Black Hen)

The Story of Friendship away from the World as we know it

"Didi(sister), can we name the hen "Karishma" after the actress? And when Karishma will give eggs, we will sell it and pay for our school"- goes Prakash Nepali in the first few scenes.  The simple quip by a kid to his sister over food is something that connects the soul of this film. The underlying want to have a normal life, education, friendship and happiness is what drives the lead characters- Prakash and Kiran (played with aplomb by first time actors young Khadka Raj Nepali & Sukra Raj Rokaya).

Set in 2001 in the middle of civil war between Maoists and Government of Nepal is the story of these two friends who are trying ways and means to find their missing hen- which was supposed to pay for the education of Prakash. Simple as it seems, Director Min Bahadur Bham brings alive his own childhood in East Nepal drawing incidents and stories from his own life. Not only does that make the story extremely relatable at a human level but also allows the viewers an eye-opening experience of life in a small village.

Surrounded by Maoist propaganda, lime-coated walls, mud floors, religion, caste system, patriarchy, rituals & menial jobs; blossoms the bond between Prakash-son of the handyman and Kiran-grandson of the head of the village. They fight for their hen with an old man, travel miles on foot/pony, smoke cigarettes and fake deaths by smearing blood on their faces during  Maoist gunfire. Simplicity of their conversation has the audience in guffaws a lot of time. But what is most appealing is how Childhood does not differentiate people on their caste, religion, color of skin, economic position or situations. How Kiran-the upper caste, good looking boy almost hero worships and follows Prakash-the "untouchable" is heart warming. It makes one go back to our childhood where we didnt categorise people on their social status but by their simple skills of running fast or calculating 17 x 7 faster than us. It is in this world that the Director Min Bahadur Bham successfully takes us.
Add to this the sights and sounds of a Nepali village with women crushing spices with wooden mallets, procession for the groom's entry into the bride's village, majestic backdrop of mountains and meadows of Nepal- and you have a surreal experience.

Cinematography is to the point dropping pointers in its path, music- rustic and earthy. The editing could have been slightly sharper but the overall product is still inspiring. Also, screenplay could have been tighter at few places considering lot of moments create nostalgia within the film - without meaning to. A special mention to the complete cast-majority of them first time actors and known faces like Benisha Hamal for bringing out the authenticity. Full marks to the complete team to transform you from your plush seat in the theatre to the muddy lanes of Nepal and tell you the story of its people.  This one is a winner all the way!

"Kalo Pothi"-The Black Hen is produced by Shooney Films, Mila Productios, Tandem Production, CDP and Kaldhungi Films and has won the Best Film award at the Critics' Week of 30th Venice International Film Festival.

Review by Chanakya Vaidya

This review is part of the Asian Feature Film Competition series at the Singapore International Film Festival 2015. Read more about the film here.
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