Bhutanese films in general, like Buddhist masters, keep reminding the public of death and karma.
The latest one to do so is Gaawai Sem from the director of Chorten Kora, Wangchuk.
The film centres around the theme of ‘what goes around comes around’, or in the Buddhist context, the concept karma. It’s a tragic love story woven around the concept of karma.
Gaawai Sem is more contemplative than romantic. A different title would have given a more serious touch to the film. Gaawai Sem, which means ‘love’ or ‘loving heart’, is simple but commonplace.
The film follows the story of a Class XII graduate called Deki (played by Pema Yangki), who neither qualifies for higher studies nor lands any job. She ends up living in her village.
For the ambitious and materialistic girl, having to live as a village girl is disastrous. She dreams bigger than what she can possibly achieve. And her personality characterised by hypocrisy, arrogance and meanness stand in the way of her dreams.
But she is determined to chase her dream and manages to persuade her close friend Lhaden (played by Karma Choden) to accompany her to Thimphu, which, as in real life, is portrayed as the land of opportunities. It is on her way to Thimphu that she dies in a fatal car accident. Her friend survives, though.
From there, the romance begins with the soul of Deki crossing path with that of Kelden (played by Chencho Dorji) in bardo (intermediate state in Buddhism). Kelden is critically ill and in a coma. So, his soul wanders in bardo and meets Deki’s. They fall in love with each other and their love blossoms, albeit briefly.
The moment Dasho Daw Penjor (played by Karma Tshering) enters the scene (bardo), the blossoming relationship between Kelden and Deki starts to wither. It is when Deki’s worldly personality of not being content with anything follows her. Her bad karma dogs her like a shadow until she realises that she has died in an accident. She undergoes suffering in bardo due to her life on earth consumed by desire and discontentment.
Romance in bardo is an attempt at being different, and the director achieves some success at that. However, its novelty is spoilt by some hanging scenes.
Like any other Bhutanese feature films, Gaawai Sem has many disco-style dance sequences. One of them has the dancers with maroon Atsara masks on.
Produced by Wangchuk and Karma Lhaden, the two and a half hour film has been mostly shot in Thimphu valley and Samtengang.
At its premier at Trowa Theatre in Changjiji, Thimphu, its first impression on the viewers was positive. A monk said the film brought him back to himself. “It makes one realise one’s mistakes in life and rethink one’s lifestyle,” he said.
Tashi Lhaden, a student of Changangkha School, said she thoroughly enjoyed the film because it is ‘directed like a Hollywood movie’. She said it teaches people to live a worthy life.