Saturday, April 15, 2017

Kushuthara: Pattern of Love

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a beautiful country. The Himalayan vistas are breathtaking and the karma is almost uniformly positive. In fact, you could almost say they invented karma there. However, fate will be a little tricky when past-life lovers meet the second time around in Karma Deki’s Kushuthara: Pattern of Love (trailer here), which is now available via digital VOD.

You do not just pop over to Bhutan. It takes a lot of logistical coordination. However, Charlie the British sounding Los Angelino has managed to make the trek for an assignment documenting the traditional weavers of Kurtoe-Menjey in the East and their colorful textiles. He will be delighted he made the journey when he meets Chokimo, a weaver renowned in the valley for her singing voice, who just happens to be married to his rustic host, Bumpala.

Their immediate mutual attraction is awkwardly obvious to everyone, including Bumpala and Charlie’s fixer, Penjor. They scrupulously maintain decorum, but when Chokimo tells him the local legend of Meto Lhazey and Phuntsho Namgyel, two lovers tragically separated by destiny, they both recognize its significant parallels with their own circumstances.

So yes, you could think of Kushuthara as ”Bridges of Himalayan County,” except for its achingly disciplined sense of self-sacrifice and denial. This is a world where Hollywood values do not apply—and if they gave into temptation, there would be karmic consequences. Instead, they can take comfort from briefly reuniting and we can hope they have better luck next time around.

Lest viewers get the wrong idea, Deki handles the reincarnation themes quite subtly. In no way does this film preach Buddhism (which makes it all the more appealing). Kushuthara is more directly concerned with the pain of being in love, but not being able to do a blessed thing about it.

Although the Kingdom lacks post-production facilities, they are not without a hardy filmmaking community. Most films are heavily influenced by Bollywood aesthetics, but Deki somewhat (but not entirely) tones it down for Kushuthara, which she conceived as a Westerner-friendly remake of her 2008 film of the same name. Frankly, it might just build a word-of-mouth following, partly because of its spiritual implications, but mostly due to the luminous work of Kezang Wangmo, Bhutan’s leading screen actress and a current member of parliament, as Chokimo. It is a wonderfully delicate but chastely sensual performance.

In contrast, the supposed Western ringer, Emrhys Cooper is quite loud and prone to mugging (and not in an in-character kind of way) as Charlie the dude. However, Karma Chedon and Kencho Wangdi create wonderfully poignant chemistry as Meto Lhazey and Phuntsho Namgyel, seen during periodic flashbacks.

There is something refreshing about a love story told with such austerity and purity of emotion. We can also possibly read into it echoes of Bhutan’s continuing hopes to modernize, but not at the expense of its traditional religious values. It has some rough edges as you might expect, considering Bhutanese cinema is still experiencing plenty of growing pains, but they cannot diminish the beauty of Kezang Wangmo’s performance or the exquisite sadness of the past-life love affair. As a film, it is just lovely to look at, in all respects. Highly recommended for romantics, Kushuthara: Pattern of Love is now available on digital VOD platforms, including iTunes.