Daring new Nepali film dividing nation

Is Highway, co-produced by Hollywood star Danny Glover, a step forward for the nation's film industry?

The Nepali film Highway. Aadi Productions / AFP
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As the curtain comes down on the most divisive and talked-about film in Nepali cinematic history, half the audience stands to applaud while the rest slump bemused in their seats.

The reaction has been common throughout packed theatres watching Highway, a sweeping social commentary hailed by many as a new benchmark for the domestic film industry but dismissed by others as complicated and boring.

"This is a terrible film. There are too many confusing strands and no action. It makes no sense," a cinema-goer in Kathmandu said. Another disagreed, saying "it's a brilliant movie … really creative".

Since Highway - co-produced by the Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover - opened across Nepal on July 20, it has polarised audiences and prompted more than 10,000 tweets. "Seventy per cent of people are saying it's the worst movie they ever watched," said its first-time director, the 33-year-old Deepak Rauniyar.

Set amid the breathtaking landscapes of eastern Nepal, Highway follows the journey of nine passengers stranded on an ill-fated bus to Kathmandu, trying to get through three illegal road blockades.

Its jumpy storytelling style makes it unique in Nepali cinema, which normally follows familiar Bollywood narratives, often copied scene for scene in Nepali movies.

With a third of its US$100,000 (Dh367,000) budget provided by donations raised via the internet, almost everything about the making of the film bucked the prevalent movie trends in Nepal.

"I wanted to break the stereotypical thinking about Nepal - everyone seeing it as just a mountain country where it snows - and I also wanted to show that life can be no more different than in London or New York," Rauniyar said.

"We can make films on a low budget and have an industry that is recognised around the world. We should start making horror films, really commercial films, art-house cinema and start telling our stories." * AFP