BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: Entertainment  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 09:40 GMT
Bhutanese monk's life behind the camera
Bhutan filming
Work on Bhutan's first feature film has begun

A man in maroon robes, his shaven head covered by a baseball cap, sits in front of a black and white television monitor.

He speaks into a walkie-talkie, but has to shout to make himself heard over the roar of a nearby river.

"Camera rolling.... Ready...action," he bellows.

Welcome to the set of Bhutan's first full length feature film, working title: A Story From Bhutan.

The man behind the monitor is possibly the most unusual individual ever to direct a movie.

Forty-year-old Khyentse Norbu is the a venerated Buddhist lama in Bhutan.

Bhutan filming
The story sees a young official meet a monk
The devout believe that he's the reincarnation of a great Tibetan spiritual reformer of the 19th Century.

But for the moment, he is a film director and he already has an Oscar nomination to his credit.

That was for The Cup, a wistful tale of Buddhist monks obsessed with soccer during the World Cup of 1998.

But never mind football, how does a Himalayan holy man become interested in film making?

"I was in London finishing my Masters degree," explains Norbu.

"Instead of writing my thesis, I watched three or four films every day. The masters: Satyajit Ray, Andrei Tarkovsky and Kurozawa.

"They inspired me because they looked at day to day in this world; no glorification or exaggeration. I wanted to make films like that."

The critics say he has succeeded.

"Intriguing and unforced," wrote Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times about The Cup, adding: "The slow build-up in this film creates wonders all its own."

The new movie, A story from Bhutan, uses many of the techniques most praised in The Cup.

For example, the cast in both films were all people who had not acted before.

Bhutan film
Filming was "uniquely challenging"
The leading man in A Story from Bhutan, Tshewang Dendup, is a producer with the Bhutan Broadcasting Service.

For him, the attraction was not the bright lights, but the presence of Khygentse Norbu.

"As a Buddhist and a Bhutanese, I'm honoured to work with him," he said.

"One minute he's striding all around the set shouting 'action', and the next he's blessing a family that happened to be passing-by.

"That's why we call him "Rimpoche", precious teacher. He's an amazing man."

Bhutan film
The director uses first-time actors
Producer Raymond Steiner from Sydney is a long time visitor to the Himalayas region, but says the experience of shooting Bhutan's first ever foreign funded feature film was unique and occasionally challenging.

"There's an old Buddhist saying, if you're doing great work, you'll encounter great obstacles.

"We had many obstacles, so we must have done great work," he laughs.

What intrigues most non-Buddhists is how a holy man can cope with the corruption and ego of the western movie business.


Khygentse Norbu says it is all in a day's work.

"Even spiritualism can corrupt," he says, "Being a monk or venerated is no guarantee of anything. It's what motivates you.

"For me, film is a good tool, a technique to say something and maybe, just maybe, get across Buddhist messages."

A Story from Bhutan is about a young Bhutanese government official, played by Dendup, who longs to go to America.

'Crucial time'

He meets a Buddhist monk who tells him an allegorical tale about being unaware of the value of what you already have, and the dangers of the unknown.

For Tshewang Dendup, that's a very Bhutanese theme. "This country is only starting to modernise," he says, "and a lot of people may start to feel like my character.

"Right now, most Bhutanese who go abroad return, as I did. But will it always be like that?

"This film is at a crucial time in our history and I hope people take it seriously."

See also:

07 Aug 02 | Country profiles
07 Dec 02 | South Asia
02 Jun 02 | South Asia
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Entertainment stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |