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‘Halkara’ movie review: A letter to the past

‘Halkara’ movie review: A letter to the past
There are many picturesque shots in Halkara that will be applauded for its cinematography. The lush green hills and clouds paint the frames of Halkara. The problem is that praise for its cinematography might be limited to the lush greens and painting-like frames. The DOP, Chinatan Rajbhandari, and co-writer, editor, and director, Bikram Sapkota, through staging, have managed to include a close-up as well as a wide shot within a single scene. For instance, take the scene where tired Ram (played by an on-form Mahesh Tripathi) tries to help Mia (played by an excellent Binita Thapa Magar) carry her load. The scene begins with a medium shot, and then we shift to a close-up of Ram, with his clenched chin, holding back all his secrets, and the camera pans as we move along with Ram who is trying to persuade Mia and help her carry the load. Halkara manages to convey its drama through the use of excellent staging most of the time, even though some scenes feel too staged at times.

Halkara is set in times when manpower agencies were beginning to mushroom up, and the only mode of communication in most parts of Nepal was a letter. The letter plays a crucial role in the lives of both characters. Ram, a drunkard, wants an escape from his past, but he’s forced to be a mail carrier by Thul Dai (a subdued Deepak Cheetri). Mia, since two years ago, has been waiting for her husband's letter. Their lives intertwine when Ram visits her village to deliver the letters.

Both of them are haunted by their past and the absent partners in their lives. In her case, her husband hasn’t written a word since the last two years, while in his case, it’s the death of his wife. Similarly, both of them have thought of suicide. Ram drinks like there’s no tomorrow; heck, he even has a gun in his room. It’s not exactly Chekhov's gun, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that he’s thought of suicide. During a key scene, Mia reveals her suicidal thoughts to Ram. A lot remains unsaid between the two as well. Both of them understand what it means to be alone and to struggle every day to survive. Then there’s also a connection related to children. His wife had a miscarriage, and Mia always helps children study, maybe because their fathers are absent, and mothers are too busy to look after them. It could also be because he wants some companion other than her mother-in-law, and it could be a child. Elsewhere, children are running the family, doing their father's work. There’s only a single young man in the whole village whom everyone depends upon. Even though it’s a period piece, the reality of the villages is even worse as the children are also leaving now. Halkara manages to work as an intimate drama that paints a macro picture of the situation of foreign employment. The letters sent by the migrant workers paint a picture of the blazing heat and harsh employers as well as the sleazy manpower agencies. During a visit, Mia offers to read the letter. She’s been waiting for more than two years for a letter from her husband, and now she’s willing to read for others just so that she'll know what it feels like. The pain is better than the numbness. There’s also the elderly couple played by Sarda Giri and Bishnu Bhakta Adhikari, who could be any of the parents eagerly waiting for their children. The performances by all actors, particularly the leads, more than cover up for the flaws. Mahesh Tripathi, with his unkempt hair and beard, manages to convey both the anger and deep wounds of the character. Binita Thapa Magar plays a woman who, like her character in Yet Another Winter, is resilient despite being left alone by her husband. During the initial scenes, she appears to be cold, almost blank-faced, and later we realize that it’s an image she has created to remain resilient against the words of society and her sister-in-law. She portrays numbness better than any other actress of her generation. For all the subtleties, Bikram Sapkota can’t resist the temptation to over-explain. For instance, in the scene where Sarda Giri serves three plates instead of two, her son has been away for a long time without any letters. Even after all these years, the couple hasn't forgotten their son even while eating. It’s conveyed well, but the scene doesn’t stop there. After realizing that she’s served three portions, both the couple look towards the horizon, showing that their son flew away. But why explain the same thing twice within a scene? Also, we get flashbacks (extensive ones in the case of Ram) for both characters, and both of their stories are implied and mentioned in the dialogue itself. These flashbacks drag the pacing of the film, particularly in the second half, and you just wish the film will return to the main story. Elsewhere, there are portions that feel a bit stagey. The scenes feel 'staged' in the morgue house where officers stand in perfect poses. Directors can stage the scene however they like, but the way scenes are staged in the morgue doesn’t fit with the staging in other scenes where the staging doesn’t call attention to itself. Although the film sometimes relies on flashbacks to evoke an emotional response, the subject matter and the story are relevant to everyone, so even the slightest bit of drama can trigger a flood of tears. Today, with the advancement of technology, we don’t have to rely on letters, but we should still remember that some bodies do return inside wooden boxes.