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Opinion

Dhorpatan: Two lives, one love, shared solitude

Aditi Baral

Aditi Baral

 |  Kathmandu

Widowed by the same man, bound by the bittersweet threads of their destiny, two women find solace in an abandoned village. 

As Ratima sings, her voice gradually blends with the eccentric beauty of Dhorpatan that is ready to welcome yet another winter. From the very beginning of the film, it is evident that she loves to sing as it is only her way to cope with loneliness in a village she shares with no one else but Kalima, her co-wife. Every winter it is only the two of them taking care of the village as everyone else migrates elsewhere in search of a warmer settlement. Sitting in the embrace of soaring snow-clad peaks every winter Dhorpatan experiences a unique rhythm of life dictated by the unforgiving cold. But unlike everyone else, the two main characters in the film decide to stay in the village despite the harshness of the cold season.

Between the quiet and cold embrace of the thick snow Ratima and Kalima have their own pace of lives that mostly look different in various aspects but somehow, they both collide on similar grounds. Not much is said from either of the characters about their past or their husband, yet it is visible that their past has shaped them into the individuals they are now. Ratima the older wife has no child and has adopted singing and drinking as her ways to cope with loneliness. In the tender realm of her sleep, she frequently finds herself immersed in melancholic reveries, where the ethereal shadow of her beloved husband paints the canvas of her dreams. The scene is mostly colorless for her as it comes with a touch of nostalgia. Her songs are mostly about the past where she finds herself happier.

Kalima on the other hand carries the weight of her memories with grace. She, too, dreams quite often, but her dreams are more colorful and chaotic. They usually don’t make sense to her, so she tries to understand the meaning behind her dreams with the help of her daughters. She often connects to her daughter over the phone call and tries to keep herself busy with the cattle. She has much to say to her daughter and even to her cattle. It looks like she is much happier than Ratima.

The cinematography and sound composition of the documentary capturing the snow-capped village during winter is mesmerizing. Each frame is precisely crafted to convey the melancholic beauty of the village that lies almost at an altitude of 4,000 meters in a district, south of the Dhaulagiri Mountain range.

However, in the aftermath of their shared loss, they embarked on separate journeys of grief, navigating the vast landscape of sorrow in different ways. Seeing how both the women handle their grief and loneliness compels us to think about the uniqueness of human sentiments. It shows how the beauty of our humanity lies not only in the experiences we share but also in the infinite ways we navigate the complex landscapes of emotions. In acknowledging and embracing this diversity, we honor the synthesis that makes everyone’s journey through sorrow a testament to the limitless expressions of what it means to be human.

Director Sunir Pandey and Rajan Kathet have successfully navigated the lives of these two women, who, bounded by the plot of destiny, have wordlessly found strength and solace in each other's company. The film presents a truly exceptional narrative that unfolds the extraordinary lives of these two characters while giving us a profound insight into the complex dynamics of a rarely documented aspect of human relationships. Mostly Ratima and Kalima portray characteristics of stereotypical cowives who never even make eye contact while sitting next to each other, curse each other at minor inconveniences, and blame each other for various problems. But there are days when they see each other not as rivals, but as allies while realizing the sorrows they both have in common.

Their love and care for each other are woven into the essence of their everyday moments, too deep for mere words to encapsulate. Like a scene in the film where Kalima is looking after Ratima when her health worsens. At that moment, it looks like the dark room is filled with the fragrance of an unspoken commitment to stand together in the face of adversity. There are multiple moments like this throughout the film where their mutual love resonates through the silence with an emotional intensity that words fail to capture.

The cinematography and sound composition of the documentary capturing the snow-capped village during winter is mesmerizing. Each frame is precisely crafted to convey the melancholic beauty of the village that lies almost at an altitude of 4,000 meters in a district, south of the Dhaulagiri Mountain range. The deliberate use of long, sweeping shots, coupled with intimate close-ups, allows the audience to feel the deep stillness that envelops the deserted streets and houses during winter. Furthermore, Ratima’s songs add a layer of ethereal charm to the documentary. The soft crunch of snow underfoot, the distant howl of the winter wind, and the subtle echoes of a once-vibrant community contribute to an immersive auditory experience. The winter wind adds a cold howl to the air. All these sounds come together, making one feel like they’re being surrounded by an immersive experience of a harsh winter in a lonely village. These clips tell a story of a place that once bustled with life.

As the documentary draws to a close, the arrival of a new season breathes life back into the once-dormant village. Nature responds with a flourish, adorning the landscape with blooming flowers and rejuvenated trees, and houses, once echoes of emptiness, now pulsate with life. Within this transformative season, Ratima and Kalima undergo significant changes. Ratima, surrounded by a new circle of companions, continues to serenade the air with melodies that preserve their timeless essence. The tune and meaning of her songs are similar but are now accompanied by laughter resonating from her newfound friends in the village. Kalima, staunch in her zest for life, embraces fresh connections without altering her fundamental priorities. Within the framework of this evolving village, the melancholy of Ratima's songs and the evergreen humor and vigor of Kalima become integral threads, knitting a narrative of renewal, connection, and the enduring spirit of two remarkable women.

Her quiet moments become a canvas upon which the weight of her unspoken grief is felt profoundly, her silence and sadness ignite a forlorn emotion in viewers. But in contrast, Kalima's witty nature lets her add a breath of levity and sanguinity to the narrative. The difference in their respective nature balances the emotional landscape of the documentary.

The layers of human experience, from grief and solitude to restoration and strength, unfold effortlessly, leaving viewers with a willingness to watch the film over and over again and discover new degrees with each viewing.

Although the film deviates from traditional documentary storytelling, it adeptly allows viewers to step into the lives of its protagonists, urging them to confront preconceptions and broaden their perspectives. It serves as a reminder that, within the expansive realm of documentaries, there is always room for stories that dare to be different. Perhaps, this is the very reason that the film, initially slated for screening from January 12th to January 21, continues to captivate audiences even a week beyond its expected conclusion. Notably, there is a sustained and enthusiastic audience, with some returning for a second viewing. Their undisputed sentiment describes the film as magnificent, portraying a uniquely beautiful story rarely seen.

“I attended the screening on January 21, the supposed final day, and it deeply moved me. It resonated with my own grandmother's story – who is also a widow living alone in the village. The narrative's uniqueness demanded more than a single viewing. Upon learning about the extended screening, I came back to watch it again,” shared Sumi Bhandari, an audience member I conversed with outside the hall. Bhandari, impressed by the film, went a step further, bringing along friends to share the experience. “I loved it so much that I wanted to introduce it to my friends,” she expressed.

However, I wish the film had a slightly longer duration. I found myself captivated by the breath-taking scenes of the village; some were so stunning that they left me awestruck. Time slipped away unnoticed, and I was taken by surprise when the film concluded. My mom, who joined me for the screening, also wished the duration would be longer. Gone in a flash, it left us breathless and yearning for more. Additionally, at a personal level, I initially struggled to grasp the dialect spoken by the characters, given that it is set in the western region of Nepal. 

The film had English subtitles; however, I think it would be better if there were subtitles in simplified Nepali language in the part where the women speak the local dialect. It would be easier for the Nepali audience having poor grip on English to understand the documentary better. This would have facilitated better understanding for all groups of people.

The layers of human experience, from grief and solitude to restoration and strength, unfold effortlessly, leaving viewers with a willingness to watch the film over and over again and discover new degrees with each viewing.



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