Tenzin Tsundue reviews DRAPCHI
Type: Feature Film/Colour/80 min/35 mm
Director: Arvind Iyer
Script : Pooja Ladha Surti
Cinematography : Trevor Tweeten
Produced by Iceberg Nine Films
Starring Namgyal Lhamo and Others
Release Date: March 10, 2013
“Many more films will be made on the untold stories of the Tibetan freedom struggle, especially about the Khampa warriors, but Drapchi has given us the first Tibetan ‘Heroine’ Yiga. She stays with you long after the curtains fall.”
Long after Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Dalai Lama’s exile, after the Cultural Revolution which left Tibet shattered, after Deng Xiaoping traded communism with consumerist market economy and even after world had given up on Tibet and non-violence, the Tibetans have not stopped doing two things: praying and singing.
Drapchi is a rare film on Tibet that tells the story of the Tibetan people’s suffering from the core of its pain. Told in simple narrative, Drapchi is a powerful story a Tibetan woman who escapes from a bunker-jail located in a remote mountain region deep inside Tibet and after saving her life trekking through Himalayan mountains trudges into Nepal from where she relives her past in a flashback before escaping to a new exile – Europe.
Arvind Iyer’s debut feature is an unusual production coming out of Mumbai, the heart of Bollywood, A bustling movie industry that has never made a single film on Tibet even as Hollywood produced Martin Scorsese’s Kundun – the life story of the Dalai Lama and the Brad Pitt starrer Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet.
The title of the film is borrowed from the Drapchi prison in Lhasa that until recently was Tibet’s most notorious prison and has been used in the film as a metaphor for fear, control and illegal detention of Tibetans across Occupied Tibet.
Iyer is not an activist. He is a storyteller. He successfully breaks stereotype and his protagonist Yiga Gyalnang, a confident and seemingly affluent opera singer, who is already a celebrity in her own right, is an independent and confident woman who drives her own car and speaks English.
Yiga is neither a nun nor a saint. Yiga, played by Netherlands based Tibetan star-singer Namgyal Lhamo excels in a role that seems perfectly crafted for her. She has snow-melt water in her voice as she sings she sets the celluloid on fire right from the beginning; set against tall snow mountains and vast green pastures one is immediately transported into the Tibetan plateau.
Yiga’s character is unbelievably close to that of Namgyal Lhamo herself in real life and she shoulders it with a quiet dignity and nonchalant ease. Her songs accentuated by the use of rock and hypnotic hooks as musical background motifs lift the inner spirit when the character undergoes arrest, detention and torture, and even when brutally raped in prison.
The most harrowing experiences of torture and intimidation happen on the roof the world and the world cares little, and yet, Yiga says “Freedom is not escaping from the prison, but overcoming one’s own fears.”
The World Premiere of ‘Drapchi’ was held in New Delhi at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema on July 29 where, during the show Tibetans in the audience were moved to tears by the realistic depiction of their predicament. On behalf of more than 300 Tibetans gathered in the audience Mr. Tempa Tsering, representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi thanking the film director, producer and Namgyal Lhamo said: “Truth has found a voice”.
Drapchi gives us something to take back home. It shows us what happens when the spiritually evolved people of Tibet are aggressed upon with guns and when there is no escape and how do they deal with real challenge to their teachings of the Buddha. How does one practice compassion when the enemy has occupied your country, killed the resistance and now wants to silence you in the corner of a prison cell?
Many more films will be made on the untold stories of the Tibetan freedom struggle, especially about the Khampa warriors, but Drapchi has given us the first Tibetan ‘Heroine’.Yiga. She stays with you long after the curtains fall. ‘Drapchi’ has been officially selected for screening at the 28 Warsaw Film Festival 12-21 Oct
2012 and In Competition at the 35th Cairo International Film Festival Nov 27-Dec 02 2012.
The film will be commercially released worldwide on March 10, 2013.
-Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan freedom fighter based in Dharamsala, India. Tsundue was in attendance during the screening of ‘Drapchi’ at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in New Delhi.