One of the great things about Nepal is all of the interesting opportunities that just seem to drop out of the sky due to the fact that I’m from some far off land. My most recent adventure was in Nepal’s film making industry, taking on the part of an American psychiatrist who has to diagnose a troubled young Nepali girl. How does this happen, you might ask?
Poster for the film PaDHmini that I acted in
I was at the farmer’s market a few weeks back and a guy who use to come there quite often approached me and asked if I had any interest in being in a movie. Now this isn’t all that uncommon in Kathmandu, often foreigners are needed to fill in as extras or small parts for roles where there are white folk visible. With a shrug and a bit of a chuckle I said sure, and the guy asked if I’d like to sit somewhere and discuss. At this point he starts explaining that they need someone to play an American psychiatrist, when he discovers I’m American this is all the better. He’s explaining the roll, and it sounds fine, I’ll be in a few scenes with two separate shooting days. As the role begins to sound more and more complex I kind of stop him and ask;
“I’m only going to have a line or two, and mostly be a prop right?”
“Oh no. You will be on screen for about 20 minutes or so and have 15 minutes of dialogue. You have to interrogate the main characters and discover the psychological problem that the main actress is suffering from”
This was far more involvement than I initially expected, but it sounded like a fun opportunity. It was at this point that he said he would stop by with the director on the following Tuesday, go over the script and discuss wardrobe and such. I’m still thinking at this point that this will be a small production that will mostly be shown in the smaller cities and villages outside Kathmandu. When I meet the director and get the script though, it becomes clear that this guy has made a number of movies here, and in fact makes several each year that go to general release at the theatres here. My portion of the script is in English, though all of the direction and names are in Nepali, and the English is in desperate need of correction. We agree that on the following Saturday I’ll be picked up in the morning and we’ll go to a hospital near Benepa to do the shooting. It will take just one afternoon, and then I’ll do a separate shoot where I’m in the final scene which will be done at a later date.
My expectations of the whole event are rather low. The Nepali movie posters that plaster the walls of the capital have been a source of never ending amusement ever since I first arrived here. The plot to 90% of them seems to be something about guys wearing sunglasses, and woman wearing ill-fitting clothing while laying on their side. The one movie I actually have gone and seen that had English subtitles was actually rather decent, with only the last act being over dramatic and a little off. Looking over my part of the script I was happy to see no dance scenes, something that inexplicably occupies as much as 15-20 minutes at any moment in movies from the subcontinent and does nothing to advance the plot or make any bit of sense.
Upon arrival at the site I was told there would be a number of scenes that had to be shot before mine and I could walk around the village area for a while if I wanted to. So I relaxed and took a walk, but upon return it was clear that nothing had still been shot and crews were still playing around with lighting and sorting out electrical. Long story short there was a problem with the camera’s hard drive and then there were issues with electricity and they were working on getting a generator. First scene didn’t get shot until almost 4pm. Because they only had access to the hospital for one day they would have to shoot late into the night and they asked if I would mind staying up here overnight if we finished late. I agreed and figured I could still get back to the restaurant by lunch time the next day.
Camera and light crews ready the set where my scenes were shot
My first scene wasn’t shot until around 6pm. Now despite my initial impressions and the problems that had been encountered, I was struck a bit by the level of professionalism exhibited by all the people involved, from the director to the actors and actresses. My complete inexperience all of a sudden felt a bit awkward, and when the first time the director said action and the thing clapped away from in front of my face I couldn’t seem to remember how to talk, and there was a horribly long pause before I started speaking. Initial uncomfortableness faded, and soon enough I was delivering lines and expressions as best I could, sometimes at direction that seemed a bit counterintuitive to me due to varying cultural expectations of behavior.
With the nature of the lines being delving into the sexual past and problems of my subjects there were more than a few lines on each side that were a bit hard to deliver. On more than one occasion scenes were cut due to chuckles, and unintended smirks. Though for the most part things went smoothly, with some period of time between shots taken to set up tracks for the cameras and adjust lighting. All of this wore on late into the evening, and eventually it became clear we would be shooting all night.
I was part of three separate scenes, with the first one not being finished until sometime after midnight. Being completely ignorant of how a movie is shot I was unfamiliar with shooting lines out of sequence, repeating a number of shots from different angles (as this isn’t a high budget Hollywood flick, there was only one camera to shoot with at a time), or how many close up shots would be done for each actor. Sometime after 2:30am I was told that I would have a bit of a break, so I went and laid down to sleep. I was especially tired as the last two nights at the restaurant had gone until 2am or so, so I was already working on just 10 hours sleep from the two days prior. Expectedly I passed right out, even if I was just resting on an examination table.
Just before 5am I was informed that I’d have to get ready for another couple shots. Most had been fairly easy as I was more of a prop for other people’s close ups where my shoulder had to be in the foreground. When it came time to deliver some lines, that were about five sentences long, I was struggling. Although corrected, the English was still a bit halting and unnatural to speak and my lack of sleep was making me a little punchy. By the time I got to take 8 I just truncated the last line that had been giving me trouble and looked at the actor playing the father and said “we’ll treat your daughter.” Instead of the long compound sentence that had tripped me up previously. Everyone seemed happy enough.
Under the bright lights, an actor's eye view
By 7am I finished my last shot to applause from the crew and other actors, not sure if they were happy with my performance or glad to be done with me, though they claimed it was the former and were very gracious, having treated me very well the entire time. With my shooting done I gathered up my clothes, shook everyone’s hands and was shuttled back to Kathmandu. My one regret is that we never had time to shoot my montage, which I assume got cut due to time constraints. I still have to shoot a scene in the jungle on a full moon night apparently where the climax of the movie takes place. Should be fun!
So if you happen to be in Kathmandu and see a film named PadHMini playing some time around this coming December, go see it! It’s also very likely that this will be not only my acting debut, but my final movie as well…so it’s a rare treat in a way. It may be worth it just to see me ask people about their sex life, smile while I tell a guy not to worry that his daughter has extreme pyscho-sexual problems or that his wife has a questionable past. You can marvel at my acting skills as I listen intently and rub my chin in deep contemplation, and what movie can’t have an awesome ending that involves a girl with psychological sexual problems in a Nepali jungle on a full moon with an American psychiatrist? If these teasers can’t get you into a theatre, I’m not sure what would.