The monk who asked Shah Rukh Khan to help him sell his movie

Times of India
Gauree Malkarnekar
Nov 30, 2013

PANAJI: Draped in maroon robes, Khyentse Norbu, a Bhutanese monk, cuts an odd figure among filmmakers as the maker of the already critically acclaimed film ‘Vara – A Blessing’, at the ongoing 44th international film festival of India (Iffi) in Goa. Considered among one of the highest Buddhist masters with monasteries in Bhutan, Tibet and India, Norbu ventured into filmmaking when he gave into to his love for art cinema, though as a Buddhist monk he can never become a full-time filmmaker.

When Norbu’s film ‘Vara – A Blessing’ was chosen to open the 2013Busan film festival and executive producer Suresh Jindal was representing the film alongwith team members, the film’s writer and director Norbu was travelling by foot for a retreat at the foothills of the Himalayas.

“When I was studying in London, trying to earn a master’s degree, I did not manage it because I was watching an array of classic films and encountered filmmakers Japanese masters andSatyajit Ray then,” said Norbu, speaking at his hotel in Goa, on the night after the screening of his latest film at Iffi 2013.

The film revolves around a devdasi or temple dancer’s daughter who agrees to model for a low caste sculptor while being fully aware of the consequences if they are discovered.

While he failed at his attempts to earn a master’s degree, other doors opened for Norbu who then began writing his first script ‘The Cup’ and subsequently ‘Travellers and Magicians’ – both films that found huge popularity in festival circles.

The above mentioned films were literally shot in Norbu’s backyard as they revolved around monastic storylines. With ‘Vara – A Blessing’, Norbu has worked with professional actors for the first time.

The story is based on a well-known short story by writer Sunil Gangopadhyay and is an expression of Norbu’s inexplicable love for Indian classical dances. “I have been a big fan of Bharatanatyam, even though I do not understand anything about its technicalities. I have been waiting to incorporate the dance form into a story and that is when I came across Sunil Gangopadhyay’s short story,” Norbu said.

For the monk, his filmmaking is independent of his Buddhist reality. “I cannot be arrogant and say that my films have profound messages of the Buddha. But there might be unintentional messages in my films,” he said. It is difficult for any independent filmmaker to find finance for his projects, but it is even tougher to convince investors when the filmmaker is a Buddhist monk.

“There is no Shah Rukh Khan or car chase in my films so it is always a very big challenge to get producers and market a film. I have written to many big personalities in the film industry and even Shah Rukh Khan for support. I wrote to him asking him to support my projects for the love of films, but I don’t think the letters even reached him because I never got a reply,” Norbu said.

Norbu found one of his executive producers in Suresh Jindal, who also backed Sir Richard Attenborough’s iconic film ‘Gandhi’ against huge risks.

The monk also has seven books to his credit and is currently translating Buddhist scriptures into English.

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