Director K P Pathak reminds us of the terror that ordinary families caught in between the soldiers and the guerrillas experienced every day during the war. He sheds light on an issue that deserves far more prominence in contemporary Nepali debate?that of abuse by the state of its own citizens.
Maina Sunar's case got attention because of the struggle that one woman, Maina's mother Debi, launched to find out what had happened to her daughter. Her single-handed fight for justice when she found out Maina had been tortured and murdered got full media attention.
Ironically, Maina was murdered in Panchkhal-the base where the Nepal Army's UN peacekeepers are trained. Those who were responsible for Maina's torture and murder are known by name, yet have never stood trial.
There are more than 1,200 documented cases of disappearances by the state and the insurgents. There are many more which were never reported. At a time when the peace process is moving forward, one may argue that this is a time for reconciliation, to let bygones be bygones.
But Maina shows us in painful detail that the war is never over for the relatives of the victims-especially the disappeared and the wounded. For closure they need the truth about what happened to their relatives, they need compensation and they need justice.
Pathak's film is gritty in its cinematography, portraying the stark reality of rural Nepal in a time of war. There is no attempt to glamourise the violence or sensationalise the action, and one smells the fear of the protagonists as the camera moves cinema verit? style to expose state brutality and reveal the hard-heartedness of insurgents.
It goes further in urging the government to set up the mechanisms to ensure that the poor get justice and individuals' rights are protected. The director has presented the story as a straight re-telling of what happened, from the perspective of the victim's family and without resorting to over-the-top dramatics-as usually happens with feature films. Pathak doesn't fall into the trap of being propagandistic or preachy, which is why his message against impunity and for accountability has credibility and power.
Minister for Information Krishna Bahadur Mahara was chief guest at a special screening of Maina at Kumari Cinema recently (the prime minister was invited but didn't show up). Many in the audience, which included Debi, could be seen wiping away tears. Perhaps the movie will help Mahara and others in government to think: we overthrew the monarchy but has the condition of ordinary Nepalis changed for the better? Are the relatives of the victims ever going to see justice?
The film is also a tribute to Debi Sunar and many mothers like her as well as human rights activists who displayed extraordinary courage to take on the state and the rebels to expose the abuse.
Although it might not play well at the box office, this film will help to earn Pathak kudos among Nepalis and within the Nepali film industry.
Still yearning for justice - FROM ISSUE #426 (21 NOV 2008 - 27 NOV 2008)