Ladakhis have gotten into making films, about their own society of course, and everyone seems to be getting into the act. Buddhist monks are writing screenplays, cops and taxi drivers are playing key roles, and crowds are pouring into opening night showings in Leh, the district capital. Bollywood is being banished.
Ladakhis are determined to use current technology to preserve and enrich their culture as best they can. A news story that appeared in the printed edition of the Christian Science Monitor two weeks ago—and posted to their website last week—quoted Dorjay Khanang, a founder of the original film studio in the region, Ladakhi Vision Group, on the need to preserve their culture. “The young generation nowadays [is] influenced by the Western people—what they eat, how they dress. Through these films, we are saying we have our own culture and tradition from ancient times in Ladakh.”
He defines traditional films as those that show people dressed in native costumes and speaking the Ladakhi language. But making films of gorgeous scenery can be challenging, since modern amenities such as telephone poles often seem to get in the way. In one film, Khanang explains, a phone pole eyesore was covered with Buddhist prayer flags so it would not be obvious to viewers. After openings in Leh, the movies are then shown in the villages using portable LCD projectors and speakers. The audiences love the films—they can understand them.
The Monitor indicates that the violence in Hollywood films does not resonate in Ladakh, with its primarily pacifist Buddhist culture. Similarly, the Indian films from Bollywood are about people from other parts of the country, who look, act and speak differently. The article does indicate that there are similarities to Bollywood films. Audiences shed tears over thwarted lovers due to their caste or ethnic divisions and stars sing many songs.
The mostly unpaid, amateur actors are learning to dance, sing, and help make fairly professional looking films, though the director of one film under production now, Tundup Dorjay, says he has a lot of work to do. He steps into one scene to show the lead actress how to dance properly. “She’s got a pretty face, and she’s interested in acting, and if someone is interested in something, we have to get them involved.” The films apparently seek to challenge accepted Ladakhi mores, to get the people to evaluate the ways they view family and human relationships.
The nascent Ladakhi film industry has its costs, but it also may be making profits soon. Not everything is free. One farmer charged a film company US$20 to do some filming in his fields, but then hit the company up again for the same amount if they wanted to continue to work. Many of the filmmakers are using old PCs and manuals they download from the Internet. They are evidently committed to their cause.
One documentary filmmaker was deeply inspired by amateur film makers who are starting to make movies. “We were very inspired by them,” he said. “And now people who watch [our] film say, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”