Un­read­ing hap­pi­ness in Bhutan

Bhutanese film­maker Dechen Roder in­sists there is much more to Bhutan than the pop­u­lar hap­pi­ness nar­ra­tive.

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - By Sukant-Deepak

Her five friends pooled in money to give her a handy cam as a farewell gift as she was set to board her flight to Bhutan from the US. That is how this film­maker’s jour­ney started.

Roder, who com­pleted her grad­u­a­tion in History from Ma­calester Col­lege in Min­nesota in 2004, set out to shoot solo, ig­nor­ing all the `pre­scribed’ norms of film­mak­ing in the coun­try and with­out any for­mal film ed­u­ca­tion, which she in­sists helped her de­velop her own style. “I have never re­gret­ted not study­ing cin­ema. The lack of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion has helped me see vi­su­als in a pe­cu­liar and in­ti­mate man­ner,” says this 35-year-old.

What emerged on the edit ta­ble were more than mov­ing vi­su­als. “I could see a strange in­ter­play of my con­scious and sub­con­scious. I was hooked, and there was no look­ing back,” says Roder, whose first fic­tion short film, An Orig­i­nal Pho­to­copy of Hap­pi­ness, was nom­i­nated for Best Short Film at the Brussels In­ter­na­tional In­de­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val in 2012 and won the Jury Men­tion at the same fes­ti­val. In a coun­try strongly in­flu­enced by the Hindi film in­dus­try, com­plete with long song and dance se­quences, telling tales in an alternate voice has al­ways had its chal­lenges for Roder, who ad­mits she can count alternate film­mak­ers on her fin­gers.

“It is al­ways tough to break norms for the fear that you may be dis­missed as a rebel with­out a cause. But I have al­ways wanted to tell a true tale with­out any or­na­men­ta­tion that dis­tracts the viewer from the core. It is really tough not to fol­low the main­stream, es­pe­cially in the face of no stan­dard­ised state sup­port and neg­li­gi­ble cor­po­rate sup­port,” says the film­maker, who showed her short film, Lo Sum Choe Sum, at the Dharamshala In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (DIFF) held at McLeod Ganj in Dharamshala, Hi­machal Pradesh, in Novem­ber.

As the con­ver­sa­tion veers to­wards the much hyped `hap­pi­ness quo­tient’ in her coun­try, the film­maker says that though she is glad that the fac­tor is im­por­tant in the coun­try’s scheme of things, it is high time that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity looked at Bhutan be­yond the same. “Also, in­ter­nally the hap­pi­ness rhetoric can really cre­ate a fatigue. Isn’t it some- thing dif­fi­cult to mea­sure? Frankly, the out­side world is keep­ing up this rhetoric. The west really seems to be in­fat­u­ated by it. I get mails from sev­eral film­mak­ers across the world who want to come to Bhutan and work on the hap­pi­ness theme,” she says.

Roder, who co-founded and or­gan­ised Bhutan’s first and only doc­u­men­tary and short film fes­ti­val, Beskop Tshechu, which started in 2011, and is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing her first fea­ture film, ad­mits she does miss making doc­u­men­tary films now. “I shifted to fic­tion but now I miss the for­mer for the in­ti­macy it of­fered. Not to men­tion the fact that it of­fered im­mense scope for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and did not in­volve many peo­ple.” Roder’s fas­ci­na­tion to­wards the arts started when she was a stu­dent at Wood­stock in Mus­soorie, from where she grad­u­ated in 1998. “I loved the idea of pro­duc­ing plays. Cre­ative com­mu­ni­ca­tion al­ways thrilled me at school. I guess the seeds of cin­ema were sown in my mind in that tiny In­dian hill sta­tion.”

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