A fiery end “JHOLA”
The new film Jhola—which delves into the evils of the age-old practice of Sati—was released in the Capital on Monday. The film by director Yadav Kumar Bhattarai, and starring Sujal Nepal, Garima Panta, Desbhakta Khanal and Pralhad Khatiwada, was screened in public for the first time at a heavily attended session at the Kumari Hall in Kamalpokhari, receiving a warm response from the audience.
Jhola, based on the popular story by Krishna Dharabasi, tells the tale of a little boy called Ghanashyam (Nepal) from a village in Nepal. Ghanashyam’s mother, Kanchhi (Panta), is second wife to a sickly old man (Khanal) more than 40 years her senior, who is on the verge of death. The apple of his mother’s eye, Ghanashyam whiles his time away learning his letters and grazing cattle, and has a mostly happy existence aside from the ill-treatment doled out to him by one of his step-brothers and his sons. But every time he aches from being ostracised, his mother is always around to soothe his pains.
Of course, as it soon becomes clear, this is a time when Sati-pratha is common, and that knowledge weighs heavy on both the audiences and on Kanchhi as her husband grows more ill by the day. And when the inevitable happens, and the old man dies, Kanchhi is directed to sacrifice herself on his pyre, an effort to ‘wash away’ her own and her husband’s sins. Resigned to her fate, Kanchhi enters a trance of sorts, and as she is attired and readied for the ceremony, Ghanashyam must deal with the reality of being rendered an orphan in one fell swoop.
What Jhola is able to do is effectively lift the veil on a practice that has plagued countries like India and Nepal, with young women being made to end their lives prematurely and in such a horrific manner. Although officially abolished by Chandra Shumsher Rana in 1977, there are still communities where, shielded by religion, this most cruel form of violence against women continues.
Director Bhattarai might have spared us any graphic visuals, but the suffering and pain, and the kind of impact it can have on families still comes through. The lead up to the actual sacrifice is particularly poignant, as Kanchhi is first clothed in bridal regalia, then stripped of all her clothes and ornaments, drenched in oil before being placed on the pyre.
Nepal is exceedingly appealing as the young protagonist, his sorrowful “Ama!”s piercing one’s heart. And Panta too plates up an admirable performance, particularly her transformation from a grieving widow to the stark, stone-faced Sati, imbuing her character with an almost supernatural gravitas. Although the film can feel somewhat stilted at certain points, whether owing to wooden dialogue or actors, Nepal and Panta both make up for these bumps, incredibly watchable as they are in their roles.
All in all, while hardly flawless, Jhola opens up for us a world that probably hasn’t been excavated in such revelatory detail in Nepal cinema prior to this. At a time when the discussion on violence against women—in its many, many avatars—is raging at an all-time high around the world, the film proves a great addition to the regional discourse, showing us as it does how women have long been shackled to vile and senseless practices.