Today is the first episode in our new series, Nepal Then and Now, where we’ll talk with former guests and catch up on their work and lives. We created the series partly in response to feedback we got in our recent survey — that episodes were too long. If you are one of the listeners who felt that way — or even if you’re not! — please let us know what you think about this approach.
I’m really happy that our first guest in the series is filmmaker Deepak Rauniyar. Yes, I consider him a friend but it’s also because I’m impressed by how deeply he thinks about his craft and how quickly he’s become a world-class director. Deepak’s films to date include Chaukat (Threshold in English), Highway, the first Nepali movie to be screened at a major international festival, and White Sun, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2016, where it was nominated as Best Film.
Like many of us, Deepak got sidelined by Covid-19, particularly his project to make his next Nepal-based feature film, The Sky is Mine. There is now a new tentative date for shooting to start, as you’ll hear in our conversation. But unlike some of us, Deepak didn’t use the pandemic as an excuse to spend more time on Netflix. Instead, he made another movie. He and his collaborator and wife, Asha Magrati, created the short film Four Nights, which debuted at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival in February, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear Award.
Slightly more challenging, Deepak explains, is his new gig teaching film studies full-time at a US university.
Please listen to my Nepal Then and Now chat with Deepak Rauniyar. You’ll find a link to our earlier interview in the episode notes.
- Deepak Rauniyar’s website
- Interview with Deepak Rauniyar, 2020
- Short version of 2020 interview with Deepak Rauniyar
Nepal Now social links
Thanks as always to Nikunja Nepal for advice and inspiration.
Music: amaretto needs ice ... by urmymuse (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/urmymuse/57996 Ft: Apoxode
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Marty: Welcome to Nepal now, where we look at new ideas and initiatives to move the country forward. My name is Marty Logan. Today is the first episode in our new series, Nepal Then and Now, where we'll talk with former guests and catch up on their work and lives. We created the series partly in response to feedback we got in our recent survey that episodes were too long. If you are one of the listeners who felt that way, or even if you're not, please let us know what you think about this approach.
I'm really happy that our first guest in this series is filmmaker Deepak Rauniyar. Yes, I consider him a friend, but it's also because I'm impressed by how deeply he thinks about his craft and how quickly he's become a world class director. Deepak's films to date include Chaukhat [Threshold in English], Highway, the first Nepali movie to be screened at a major international festival, and White Sun, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2016, where it was nominated as best film. Like many of us, Deepak got sidelined by Covid 19, particularly his project to make his next Nepal-based feature film, The sky is Mine.
There is now a new tentative date for shooting to start, as you'll hear in our conversation, but unlike some of us, Deepak didn't use the pandemic as an excuse to spend more time on Netflix. Instead, he made another movie. He and his collaborator and wife Asha Magarati created the short film Four Nights, which debuted at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival in February, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear award. Slightly more challenging. Deepak explains, is his new gig teaching Film Studies full-time at a US university. Please listen now to my Nepal Then and Now chat with Deepak Rauniyar. You'll find a link to our earlier interview in the episode notes.
Deepak Rauniyar welcome to Nepal Now podcast.
Deepak: Thank you, Marty, thank you for doing this.
Marty: My pleasure.
We talked the first time, you were one of the very first guests on the podcast, so thanks again for doing that. And it was almost two years ago. So, I think a lot has been happening in your professional life since then, and one of the things I definitely want to ask you about was your short film Four Nights, which was accepted at the prestigious Berlinale Film Festival earlier this year. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Deepak: Yes, I think we shot this from last year, it's our first film that is based in the US; we had not done any from here. But we had been living in New York at that time at least 10 years. So we thought about doing something that reflects our life in New York, because you know until now our work has mostly been based in Nepal. So this short film got accepted to Berlin competition and we premiered earlier this year and was nominated for prestigious Berlinale Golden Bear award.
Marty: Okay. Well, that's a big honour. You must have been pretty excited about that...
Deepak: Yeah, it was quite a big thing... Like any filmmaker dreams to premiere at one A-list festival. And it's not our first, but every time you have that success and you have that community, you're excited for sure.
Marty: Yeah, it definitely makes sense. Full disclosure, I haven't seen the film yet, but I've read some reviews online, and it seems like it's a very personal story about your relationship -- and I don't think you're trying to disguise that it's you and Asha, it's your life that's shown in the film. Did you have any hesitancy about doing such a personal film?
Deepak: All our films has been personal in some way, and I think I really believe in personal cinema, cinema coming from yourself, like a story that you bring. That's what I think makes it original rather than trying to depict someone else's life. So in some way, any of our films have been personal, this may be a bit more, but still it's fictional. It's a fiction story, it's a narrative. So it's not 100% of what happened to us. It's just borrowing from the life that we lived in New York, and trying to push it down to 16 minutes. And you know like ten years of life cannot be a 16-minute film.
Marty: So I know this isn't your first shorter film, right? Your first one, Chaukhat -- if I'm pronouncing that correctly -- or one of your first, was about the same length, but then since then you've done these feature length films. Was it tough to go back to a shorter film or...
Deepak: Yeah, because I think once I started making short films, I did not yet have international film exposure, I didn't I think -- I was still learning and very early in process of that, and most times a filmmaker only makes short films as a ticket to feature films. But we wanted to revisit this genre, which felt quite liberating to do a film without getting approvals from others and express something that you can, you like to. And I think we really liked it, that way of making it now, and I encourage anyone, I think because you know, I think making a feature film sometimes takes several years, several companies, and several people to read and approve, give you money and it's very costly. And short films can be made, thoughtfully, quite well, with very little money and very little resources and very little time and you can still express fully...
Marty: Right, so it's like the same, if I can say, the same quality type of art you're creating, but just in a much smaller package, and so it's easier to put it all together.
Deepak: Yeah, because you don't have same amount of cost, so if you don't have same amount of cost, you don't involve so many people. And if you've don't involve so many people, you don't need so many approvals.
Marty: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. So then now I think is a good time to talk about your other ongoing project, which is a feature film, we talked about last time. It's tentatively titled The sky is Mine, and I know that it's again going to be set in Nepal, it's got a big broad kind of scope. We did talk about this -- I encourage people listening to go back to that previous episode if you want to hear more discussion about the film's plot and a lot of the thinking that went behind creating the film -- but for now, I know that there have been delays mainly because of Covid -- Where are you at now with that film -- do you have any definite dates for starting shooting?
Deepak: We're still hoping to shoot some time ____ September, October and November this year, and we have locked everything, like thinking about actors, we just cast Tannistha Chatterjee [who] is one of the Indian actresses well known in the festival circuit in India itself, for one of the rolls, and Asha Magarati, my wife and collaborator, would play one of the lead. And Dayahang Rai, also my collaborator in last films, is going to play another important character. So most of the actors has been cast, crew has been fixed and we are still hoping to shoot later this year.
But again, it depends on how the Covid would be at that time. It's quite a big film, it requires quite a big crowd of people to make it possible. And also we were ready to shoot in 2020 and financing was in place, but Covid changed everything, and we still are struggling to find a little bit of money to complete the financing. So if we are able to put that money together and the Covid is not threatening we would be able to shoot it.
Marty: Okay, fingers crossed, I really hope you can do it finally this year. It must be a bit frustrating -- or a lot, a lot frustrating.
Deepak: It is, I think it takes a long time to put a film together and then you have a natural disaster like Covid, where you cannot avoid anything. And because of the Covid, [the] market has changed totally. And financiers are not that confident as they used to be before to put their money in. So that's has also created a huge delay.
Marty: Yeah, yeah, I know. Raising money is one of the toughest parts of this whole. Of this whole profession, right?
Deepak: Yeah. And especially belonging in a country where, like Nepal or US, both does not have a cooperation treaty with any other countries, and does not have much financing internally to support a film like that. That creates a huge, another problem.
Marty: And in terms of the script itself, so we talked two years ago, and I'm pretty sure the script was almost done at that point, so you had been thinking about and working on this film for years now, more than two and probably close to five or more. At this point, do you feel any temptation to kind of go back and rethink it? Is it a bit of a risk that when you look back at when you first started thinking about it, you want to change something? Is there a risk in doing that or... Not really -- it's all set and ready to go?
Deepak: Writing is always an ongoing process for me like writing doesn't stop until you really lock the film and send it out to market. So writing continues until editing the film and you lock in the films. Very last is premiers or releases in market, so it's been ongoing and it will continue being rewritten as we shoot and as we edit and finalize the film.
Marty: OK. And do you see that anything in the environment of Nepal, anything, because this film, as we discussed, is very contextual, it's very based in the social, social and cultural conditions and the tensions within Nepal; has a lot to do with race and caste and all of these issues we discussed. From your perspective, have there been any changes to any of that since you started this project?
Deepak: Not really. Marty, you live in Nepal as well. You know, our caste and racial and gender issues have not really updated in any way, we haven't changed, we have not progressed. May have gotten worse in some cases, like I think you... Because media now we get to hear more of things happening, maybe something 10 years ago was not being reported, but now gets reported and gets talked about, is more vocal... That's one thing, has one part [that] may have changed. Otherwise, our society hasn't changed a lot.
Marty: Yeah. I mean I have to say that there is more discussion and we hope that leads to some change, some positive change, but it is very slow; if it's happening, it's definitely very slow, I agree with you there. So let's switch topics again very quickly and talk about something completely -- well, not completely but very different -- which is your role as a teacher, now you're working as a professor or assistant/ associate professor you're at now?
Deepak: My position is assistant professor for film studies...
Marty: Right. Okay. At the University of North Carolina. Wilmington. So how is this for you? Does it feel completely different from working as a filmmaker, or do you find that it's kind of natural to be in front of students and talking about how you do what you do and helping them also make films?
Deepak: I have been teaching from the last couple of years, even in New York, I taught at Hunter and City College, I did a class with Sundance Collab, and I've been running a workshop in Nepal from the past two years. So teaching was not new, but this in some way was new that I accepted a full time position. We had long debate about it because it does impact on my work. No one would like to take a full-time job if you can avoid it. But it was difficult [with] Covid going on and not sure when the next film would happen, so we decided to come and decided to change perspective and take a full-time job and still hoping to continue making films in same way. Teaching is like I put a lot of thought on what profession could be substitute for filmmaking and teaching is the closest one, where you get to talk about what you do. It takes four to five years to make a film, and in between being able to talk about the films and make films with your students in a regular basis is, in a way, it's very helpful. I have enjoyed a lot as well because I get to make work continuously and also inspire them. So I have enjoyed the process, like I enjoy the classrooms and working with them and mentoring them and doing work, it's been kind of fulfilling, it's been very satisfactory.
Marty: Wow, that's great to hear. And has there been anything surprising, either negative or positive, about the experience?
Deepak: I didn't expect it to take so much time but of course it consumes most of the times. And that's exhausting sometimes, because then you have 40-45 students here to mentor, and you have a similar amount, like 15 to 20 people, in Nepal that you talk regularly, so I think it's about 60 people getting in touch, reading their work, and talking to them in continuous basis. It's exhausting sometime, so I didn't expect it, but otherwise if I can manage between work and teaching it's satisfactory, it's kind of fulfilling, it's being able to... Seeing them, writing something from scratch, inspiring them to pull in stories from their life and seeing that coming to the screen and being a whole process part of them... It's really amazing to see someone making their work.
Marty: Yeah, it sounds quite fulfilling. Has anything happened in the classroom that made you look at what you're doing as a filmmaker, maybe on a particular project, but just in general. Has there been any kind of an illumination for yourself when you're interacting with the students?
Deepak: Yes, a lot. Because I think it's different than you making work on your own. But same thing, if you need to explain someone -- you need to do more research, watch and analyze and think about, and express them, that process somewhat teaches you as well, it's not a one-way road, it also a both-way road... You workshop with them, and you learn -- something like this work, this does not work. So in daily basis, you are also bettering yourself in some way. That has helped me in my writing, my way of thinking about cinema, like filming the film, and I think it has been like on-the-job training for me kind of as well.
Marty: Well, that sounds fantastic. Deepak, thank you very much. Thank you for being the first guest on this series, or short series, Nepal Then and Now. I hope that you manage to balance these new kind of responsibilities in your life with teaching and filmmaking, I'm sure you'll find a way to work it out, and I really hope that we get to meet here in the fall -- you'll make it here in the fall, you'll be able to do your shooting and then we can meet some time while you're here working hard on your film.
Deepak: Thank you, Marty. It's an honour to be the first guest and being able to talk to you, and I think... Yeah, we will look forward to a time soon if we get to come to Nepal and to see you in person. Thank you.
Marty: Okay, talk to you later. Bye-bye.
Marty: Thanks again to Deepak Rauniyar for taking time from his very busy life in film to speak to Nepal Now. What did you think about this episode? Share your thoughts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. We're @nepalnow or @nepalnowpod. Don't forget to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app, and it would be really helpful if you gave us a review on Apple Podcasts. That's all for this time. My name is Marty Logan, I'll talk to you again soon.