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Film Review: Dance of the Orchids - Soongava
by Birgit Schrumpf

To be able to watch a film made in Nepal was particularly exciting for me as I had travelled through this ancient Himalaya country many years ago (in the ‘70s). I was interested to see how it had developed. As to be expected, Kathmandu is now a big city with modern buildings, mobile phones and traffic congestion. But there are still the typical, traditional, wooden-carved houses, too. Next to sari-clad women are the young folks in jeans and T-shirt. This film also deals with the cultural diversity and the difficulties when traditions are about to change.  

Kathmandu-born director Subarna Thapa dared to break a taboo of Nepalese society with his first full-length film. He tells the story of 22-year-old Diya (Deeya Maskey) - who dreams of becoming a classical dancer - and her best friend Kira (Nisha Ashikari). Diya is soon to be married and her parents have already promised her to a suitable young man. She is torn between loyalty to her family and the friendship to Kira which tenderly develops into a love relationship. When she realises that she cannot marry her fiancé, she returns the ring and disassociates herself from him. The family reacts with anger, hate and violence. She has no choice but to leave her parents’ house to live with her girlfriend. More complications arise after she finds out she is pregnant by her fiancé. It is sad to watch how dangerous their life has become. There is no place in Kathmandu’s society for the two women as they defy Napalese morals and traditions. Diya is seriously threatened, even by her own family. Be prepared for an unexpected ending. 

This touching and arresting story balances its sensitive subject with gentle and poetic poise, showing the reality that is hidden behind the traditional ways. No sleazy scenes will offend an audience not used to the idea of two women in love (which will be the case on the subcontinent). The wonderful music easily bridges the traditional and modern sentiment.

Director Subarna Thapa studied in France where he has lived for the past 12 years. In an interview the 39-year-old filmmaker states, “The question had haunted me for several years – how does Nepalese society deal with the coming out of their children?” With such a controversial theme it was difficult to receive funding and he ended up selling his house in Kathmandu to generate the initial financing. In Nepal homosexuality is legal on paper but it is still frowned upon, especially between women. “The oppression of women is greater,” he says and felt that it was an important film he wanted to make for the Nepalese people. “Our intention was to play it like in normal life. I wanted to get out of the conventional way of making films and step away from all the melodrama that happens in Nepalese acting.”

Dance of the Orchids was selected for three international film festivals: World Film Festival Montreal, Canada, Hamburg Filmfest, and the International Film Festival of Young Directors, St. Jean de Luz, France.