Ever seen those decorative fruits they sell at the home decor section of supermarkets? The lush looking mangoes, bananas, grapes and strawberries all ripe and fresh, ready to be eaten but can’t be relished, because they’re made of plastic. Seasoned cinematographer Hari Humagain’s directorial debut “Sarauto” is like those plastic fruits—all fresh and shiny to look at, but you can’t really enjoy them.
Sarauto is basically the same revenge story that has been perpetuated since the start of filmmaking. The only difference is, it puts a female character at the helm of things. Remember watching a movie where a family is brutally attacked at night and a couple is murdered with their child as the sole witness? The child only manages to see a piece of jewelry the culprit is wearing and years later, sets out to extract revenge from the villain only to frantically search for the person wearing the jewelry first. And convincingly, our hero does find the villain, who apparently is richer and bigger but wearing the same chain?
So while most Nepali movies of late have been facsimiles of 90’s Bollywood hits (or flops), Sarauto takes us directly into the world of Hollywood Westerns, but sadly, it pushes us back to the 60s. Watched “Death Rides a Horse” (1967) and its Indian remake “Zanzeer” (1973) yet? If not, we recommend you do.
Coming back to Sarauto, the movie is based in Simraungadh, Bara and Kathmandu and in a multitude of timelines that span around a decade. Newcomer to the industry Sumi Moktan plays the main protagonist “Vaani”, the prodigal daughter of karate coach “Kushang” (Vijay Lama) who sees her parents get slaughtered and has her tongue cut off in the same incident with a sarauto (a knifelike object used to cut betel nuts.) That’s where the film gets its name.
Repetitive as the story sounds, the audience was expecting a thriller with the largely successful cinematographer Humagain taking over the reins as the director. But the film’s cinematography becomes the only saving grace of Sarauto as it fails in all other departments. The principal photography of the film is almost at par (and heavily inspired) by some South Indian action movies and despite the frequent lapse in continuity and editing glitches, is its best part.
A strong female lead was supposed to be the film’s highlight. But with Moktan’s plasticky expressions and the inability to emote her character’s voice, the speech-impaired Vaani remains voiceless. This is not to take the credit away from her homework in learning sign language and martial arts as well as dancing; it’s just that her screen presence seems forced and unnatural. Even in scenes that could have been absolute tearjerkers, Moktan is not able to make the audience empathize. The film does nothing much to empower women either. It just replaces a traditionally male hero with a female one, without giving much thought to character development.
Character development is missing not only for Moktan. Most Nepali filmmakers are prone to complicating a simple story by lacing it with too many unresolved conflicts and unanswered questions. Sarauto is no exception. It gives way too much importance to redundant characters, making the movie stray from an otherwise simple plot.
In other important roles, we have debutant Sunny Singh (not the one from Ujdaa Chaman, mind you, but our very own Nepali model-turned-actor) as “Bishesh”, Vaani’s love interest. A forgettable debut though, as Bishesh doesn’t even get a decent backstory to explain his awkward Nepali and fluent American accent.
Then there’s this guy who’s named himself “Leo Tank” playing “Jit Jung”, Vaani’s elder brother. Dear Mr Leo Tank, if we ever conducted a public poll on the worst stage names ever, you’d probably come in Top 10.
There seems to be a delusion that over-compensating for one’s weakness will not get noticed. But that’s not how it works. Besides the supporting actors trying their best to fit into the loose screenplay, we can figure out when the filmmakers got too lazy from the repetitive montages used in flashbacks, and when the filmmakers got too greedy with recurring product placement of a cooking oil.
Who should watch it?
The film is a first for many people involved in it. So if you’re that generous person who forgives newcomers and has disposable income and time, please hurry up before the multiplexes remove it entirely.
Director: Hari Humagain
Actors: Sumi Moktan, Sunny Singh, Vijay Lama
Run time: 2hrs 17mins