Dir/scr: Khyentse Norbu. Bhutan. 2013. 96mins

Vara: A Blessing

Opening this year’s Busan International Film Festival, Khyentse Norbu’s return to filmmaking after a 10-year hiatus is rich in colour, style and passion that should have a solid run on the festival circuit and further strengthen Norbu’s name as a regarded filmmaker despite its rather simple portrayal of a forbidden romance between a Hindi dancer and an aspiring working-class sculptor.  

Stylistically the film is full of flare and exuberance through its stunning cinematography, dance sequences and fabulous use of colour.

Norbu, whose two previous films The Cup (1999) and Travellers And Magicians (2003) both explore Buddhism, has established a name for himself; not only as talented director and author – he’s written books on the subject - but also for making Bhutan’s first ever feature film shot entirely in the country (Travellers And Magicians).     

Based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s short story Rakta Aar Kanna, Norbu’s latest unsurprisingly centres on religion - this time in a small Indian village - as it follows a Hindi dancer called Lila (Shahana Goswani who featured in 2012’s Midnight’s Children) who falls in love with a young man named Shyam (Devesh Ranjan) from a lower social standing who dreams of becoming a sculptor.

They soon become intimate and Shyam asks if she would model for him. Before long, the village chief finds out about their relationship and Lila is forced to face reality, but a secret admirer of hers called Prakash (Pankaj Pawan) is able to give Lila a more of a comfortable and socially acceptable way of life.  

Given the nature of the narrative, the film deals with a number of issues surrounding religious differences and social class, and while the storytelling comes across as rather simplistic as times, it allows those unfamiliar with the religious customs of Hinduism to gain a level of insight.

Stylistically the film is full of flare and exuberance through its stunning cinematography, dance sequences and fabulous use of colour, which can be attributed to an international crew of technicians from award-winning cinematographer Bradford Young (2012’s Middle of Nowhere) through to British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney who composed the score that so beautifully blends with the film’s strong visuals.

Performance wise, the two leads (Goswani and Ranjan) are able to convey the necessary emotions even when it doesn’t require a great deal of dialogue, while the supporting roles including Pawan who plays Lila’s secret-admirer are also able to leave a lasting impression.

Though it is only likely to find a niche audience outside the festival circuit or those interested in the film’s religious themes, it should have a strong festival run after opening at one of Asia’s most prolific film festivals.

Production companies: Moving Temple Films Limited, Evenstar Films, HanWay Films, Pyramide Films

International sales: HanWay Films, www.hanwayfilms.com

Producer: Nanette Nelms

Executive producers: Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, Jeremy Thomas, Suresh Jindal

Editor: William Chang Suk Ping

Music: Nitin Sawhney

Cast: Shahana Goswami, Devesh Ranjan, Rohit Raj, Pankaj Pawan, Geeta Chandran, Swaroopa Ghosh, Rajah Ganesshan