“Once upon a time there lived a king and a queen. They had only one son. But he was mentally challenged and didn’t listen to people. To educate him, they searched for a teacher but they didn’t find one. Many days passed and finally an old monk arrived. The monk taught him about animals and their habits. Days, months and years passed. The prince improved gradually.” One night in her journey to the lowlands, Khando tells this story to her son in his bedtime. The quoted lines minus the king and the animals is the thematic outline of the story of the movie “Ama Khando”, which was showcased at Pame Film Festival 2020.
Meanwhile, the actual story goes as such. Some time ago in the highlands of Mustang closer to the Tibetan border, a wandering Khampa soldier meets a woman of his choice and settles with her. The soldier however, leaves to check on his family across the border after she bears a son, never to return. The woman rears the son by herself until she finds someone to sponsor his education in one of the private schools down south in the foothills of the Himalaya. The story ends with a heart touching reunion of once separated mother and son duo.
Writer/director Dhondup Tsering’s venture Ama Khando follows non-chronological order in story telling showcasing the hardship or say, romantic-to-the-urban-eye-lifestyle of the people of Upper Mustang. Alienation of these people from the so-called modern civilization is expressed masterfully by the director who seems to be in full command of the movie. Kudos to the makers for expertly linking the story of such an isolated land to the rest of the world via pop culture references, their relationship to the fellow countrymen from the lowlands and their grievances with the state.
Ama Khando is a complete package of a movie about the locale, in local language. The Khampa rebellion, hardship of the people from the upper Mustang further affected by climate change, their yearly migration, strong and hardworking women, close bond and warmth of love the family members shared (when they are together of course), the caves, sceneries of poetic beauty, nothing an outsider identifies Upper Mustang with has been missed in the story telling.
Background score along with cinematography are top notch; helping the movie in expressing the feel of upper Mustang. Lifestyle of the people belonging to the region is showcased to the viewers with impressive attention to detail. The costumes, sets, houses people live in, chores they do, food they eat, liquors they drink everything speaks volume of indigenousness and only commodity of foreign origin viewers witness throughout the major part of the movie are cigarettes. Some scenes really stand out. Especially the scene where Khando meets her husband to be for the first time has surreal feel to it and is beautifully captured.
Despite the fact that the movie is a simple story of a mother raising her son, any keen pair of eyes can delve deep and excavate so many themes to look forward to. Common Nepali movie goers identifying upper Mustang region only with scenic wonder could learn so much about the people of the region in addition to viewing a heartwarming tale of a mother-son relationship. Regretfully, only if this venture could be made available for viewers in any platform amidst this pandemic.
Don’t miss it if you ever got the opportunity. A must watch.
Producer: Prawin Takki Karki
Director: Dhondup Tsering
Cast: Pema Dolker, Karnabir Baliya, Karchung, Tsering Dhondup, Lhakpa Wangdi, Samtu Gurung, Bhumchunget al.