The Monk And The Gun
Onto the next MAMI release and even though the MAMI Film Festival officially ends today, I shall be reviewing some of its films in the days to come before trying to rank each film that I have watched. With that, I finished watching the new Bhutanese Film, The Monk And The Gun which is Bhutan’s Official Entry to the Academy Awards this year. One look at the name of the director, Pawo Choyning, and you would know on what a prolific director he is. Even with his last release in the form of Lunana – A Yak In The Classroom, he had presented a beautifully heartfelt tale that was laced with simplicity. The film went on to make it to the Top 5 Foreign Films of 2021 at the Academy Awards, thus putting Bhutan on the world map!
In 2023, he returns with another rooted story of the lesser talked chapter of the peace-loving country of the world in the form of The Monk And The Gun. Now, I had plans to watch the film midweek at MAMI but I had to drop the plans due to some unforeseen circumstances. And, I was almost certain that I had missed an opportunity to watch the gem. But thanks to the audience who had voted for The Monk And The Gun to be the Audience Favourite film at MAMI, I got another opportunity last night, and no way was I letting go of it! So then does The Monk And The Gun manage to impress, let’s find out!
Story & Screenplay
The Monk And The Gun is set in the year 2006, wherein Internet has finally made it to Bhutan, thus making it the last country to do so. And in some more good news, Bhutan, in trying to keep pace with the governance around the world, has decided to transform into a democracy. And while the officials are in full swing to conduct a mock election, a monk orders his Llama to bring him a couple of guns. The story here is a beautiful tale of compassion laced with streaks of innocence and simplicity that deftly touches the strings of your heart! The screenplay standing at just 106 minutes is simply outstanding, and a timely reminder that the writing need not always be convoluted to narrate a story. As long as the message is conveyed, even the most simplistic stories work wonders.
The drama opens with a couple of lines setting the context on how Bhutan became the last country to bring in internet and live television while transforming into a democracy. And for the latter to transpire, the people needed to be taught the concept of elections and what they stand for. It is at this point that the film branches out into different stories which are set in the same reason. So there is a household which is divided on whom it wants to support, an set of election officials who are grappling with the education of the people while trying to conduct a mock election, a local guide helping a foreigner for his work and a Llama who is in search for a couple of guns as ordered by his monk. The last part essentially forms the crux of the tale while the other tracks act as catalysts.
The proceedings are laced with an inherent sense of humour that stems out of sheer innocence of the people of the region. For instance, the character of the Llama wishes to trade the older barrel with two brand new AK-47s after he had spotted them in a James Bond film. Elsewhere, there are potent questions raised on the concept of elections wherein the people equate the scenario with the bloodbath that follows in the neighbouring countries(hint, hint) while bluntly asking the question – “Why Are We Taught To Be Rude To Each Other?”. So in a way, the film highlights the repercussions of a democracy if the very concept of an election isn’t clear, and the consequences that may transpire if a wrong leader is selected! But the election here is just used as an undercurrent with the prime focus always being on the gun wherein multiple atakeholders are involved. This while the question remains on why would a monk need a gun? Is he not in favour of an election or a democracy? Is there something else in store?
There are symbols(either an object or a person) that are interspersed throughout the narrative! Objects like an eraser represent the concept of erasing the mistakes that we commit while the traditional object of Phallus(a penis shaped object popular in the Bhutanese culture) represents enlightenment. The character of the foreigner is shown to be a gun collector from the US and he represents the kind of normalcy thst people have in the States with regard to guns and hatred. And of these elements beautifully assemble in a memorable final act which imparted the most beautiful vibe for a film that have watched this year. And I will have to spoil it a bit to send the message across! So spoilers ahead!
The character of the monk explains the concept of a Stupa that represents the enlightened mind of the Buddha, which in turn is mounted on a foundation as per the people’s needs(in the film there was one with a foundation of wheat). As per him, he wished to build a new Stupa that represented compassion on the day that marked a new dawn for his country by laying a foundation of guns that represent violence and hatred. This meant that the country would continue to stand for compassion while always burying hatred and violence. This was such a beautiful thought in times when films like The Kerala Story and The Kashmir Files have bigoted hate in the purest form. An act where even the a young kid throws in his plastic gun, said a lot about the mindset and culture of the most peace-loving country of the world, Bhutan. It is time a country like Bhutan can be followed by other countries as well especially in today’s times when there are two ongoing wars that have displaced so many families. May peace be with the world! Overall, the screenplay is beautifully penned with right doses of humour and a very important message at the end, told in the most satisfying way possibly!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are laced with a layer of innocence that result in some nicely woven humour that arises in its narrative. The music is beautiful and represents the culture of Bhutan beautifully. The BGM seamlessly blends with the vibe of the drama and also creates an atmosphere of peace and positivity all around. The cinematography captures the beautiful landscapes in the most breath-taking manner and along with it, the spirit and soul of the film is captured wonderfully well. The editing is sharp and crisp barring that one scene that introduces the character of the police officer rather suddenly. Director Pawo Choyning has done a stupendous job here and how! His ability to extract humour seamlessly while also imparting a message reminded me of the Raju Hirani school of filmmaking. But what sets him apart is his grounded storytelling which is easily palatable and simplistic with its messaging. This piece of direction is a timely reminder to all the budding directors out there – keep things as simple and rooted as possible and results will be for everyone to see. This was a beautifully heartfelt piece of direction that evokes a sense of positivity inside you. Sir, you have earned a new fan!
The performances beautifully represent the positivity of the people of Bhutan. Harry Einhorn as Ron is supremely efficient with his character and he does a swell job even in his comedy scenes. Tandin Phubz as Phurba has his moments to shine. Deki Lhamo as Tshomo is wonderfully restrained and her silence speaks a thousand words. Tandin Sonam as Benji is just so affable and his innocence drives his character beautifully. Zang She as Tshering has a stunning screen presence and there is a sense of calmness to her character that she pulls off brilliantly. Tandin Wangchuk as Tashi is brilliant to witness and he does a fabulous job right throughout.
As a part of our MAMI coverage, Bhutan’s Official Entry to the Academy Awards, The Monk And The Gun is a beautiful tale of compassion told with such innocence and simplicity that it makes for a brilliant watch. This is perhaps the best foreign language film that I have watched this year, certainly the best at MAMI having rightly won the Audience Choice Award for Best Film. The film is a strong contender for the Academy Awards next year and I see another Bhutanese film in the top 5(if not the title). Make sure to watch it when you can!