Watching movies on YouTube, for me, is pretty much watching Nepali movies in toto. They are not on popular OTTs and I know of official channels that legally release Nepali movies on YouTube. This way, I don’t have to be disappointed by misleading titles and pirated uploads as is the case with most Bollywood/Hollywood movies.
But the viewership of Nepali films on YouTube is declining, probably because there have been no new releases in some time and most films made in the past couple of years have been disappointing. Anyhow, I feel sad for the handful of Nepali movies I really enjoyed that haven’t gotten many views on YouTube.
Released in 2017 “Dhanapati” is one such movie I think is criminally underrated and deserves more attention. Directed by Dipendra K. Khanal, the film stars the very talented Khagendra Lamichhane in the lead. Lamichhane also takes credit as the writer of this political drama that spells only reality when it comes to narrating a common man’s life.
Dhanapati, our common man, lives life in poverty with his wife (Surakshya Panta) and a daughter. The family shares a tiny flat in an old house in Kathmandu, striving to lead a better life but unable due to Dhanapati’s meager salary as a waiter at a restaurant. Had Dhanapati been born poor, he would probably not have been as distraught. We learn that Dhanapati comes from a socially and economically strong family that was displaced by the Maoist revolution.
Now away from his village in the Tarai, Dhanapati wants to lead a respectable life and give quality education to his daughter. But the various challenges that come with poverty entangle him in a struggle he desperately seeks to win. Initially against the idea of joining politics, Dhanapati, driven by desperation, falls into the trap laid by Kamal (Aashant Sharma), a local politician who has been assigned to recruit Dhapanati into a political party to leverage his family name. Dhanapati’s entry into politics marks the peak of the film and how his life changes thereafter is the rest of the story.
The movie begins with a Nepal banda and ends with a Nepal banda. In between, Dhanapati and his family’s lives are completely changed. A simpleton, lured by greed for money and power, turns into a sinister politician, forgetting how politics had ruined his family in the past. But life still has a lesson or two for him and Dhanapati learns them the hard way.
Khagendra Lamichhane, who has found success with almost every experiment he has tried in Nepali cinema, writes and plays a heavily layered character. Dhanapati is a common man and like all common men, he has his vices too. He might be a good father and husband but there’s also ego, anger and greed that prevent him from making the best decisions for his family. No wonder political power possesses him sooner than expected.
While Lamichhane writes and performs Dhanapati’s characters with utter conviction and also gives the supporting actors personalities of their own, there are a few flaws with the writing that prevent the film from reaching its potential greatness. For one, Dhanapati’s wife does not have an agency or even a name. Dhanapati’s struggles are not his alone. His wife plays an equal part in the hardships they face but she does not even get a name, let alone some power over how the story unfolds. With an actor like Surakshya Panta playing the character, this is a huge letdown. Also, the character of Kamal has an important contribution to the story throughout and actor Aashant Sharma plays him with the earnestness of a central character. His exclusion from the climax just drops the energy of the film and doesn’t do justice to the actor and the character.
A side note to Nepali filmmakers: Most of them do not bother to update their IMDB or Wikipedia pages with correct information on cast and crew. In Dhanapti, the filmmakers seem to have forgotten to credit their casts with the names of the characters they are playing. This makes it difficult for the audience to recognize which actors are playing what. You don’t expect the audience to know the entire cast, do you?
Who should watch it?
Dhanapati is an entertainer that depicts a common man’s encounter with dirty Nepali politics. The Nepali audience, especially those who have lived through the ‘people’s revolution’, will understand. We most probably have seen or known a ‘Dhanapati’ in our lives. This movie is for anyone looking to watch a serious reality-based Nepali film.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Actors: Khagendra Lamichhane, Surakshya Panta, Aashant Sharma
Director: Dipendra K Khanal
Run time: 1hr 53mis