Nepali actor shines on Hong Kong silver screen
A young man in a brightly patterned jacket is on the run after having stolen drugs from some dangerous-looking people. The scene changes.
Let me hide here for a while, says the young man to an older person, seated in a dark apartment.
Why did a whole crew come after you? the other man asks him.
The young man being chased across the streets of Hong Kong is played by Nepali actor Bipin Karma in the Hong Kong film release, Hand Rolled Cigarette.
Karma is one of the two leads alongside acclaimed Hong Kong actor Gordon Lam Ka-tung (playing a former British Army soldier) and gives an excellent first-time performance as a troubled young South Asian man in debutant director Chan Kin-long’s neo-noir crime drama.
His role marks the first time an actor of Nepali descent has broken into mainstream Hong Kong cinema.
Hand Rolled Cigarette follows an unemployed retired British Army veteran who struggles to keep his head above water in Hong Kong after its handover to China in 1997, and a young Indian/Pakistani man navigating life in the city’s seedy underworld.
The 101-minute film was the opener at the 17th Hong Kong Asia Film Festival, and closed the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, where it was nominated for awards in seven categories, including Best Picture. The film is now out worldwide after its premiere in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
Twenty-four-year-old Karma, whose family is originally from Pokhara, pinned a Nepali flag pin on his lapel when he attended the movie’s gala premiere at the Elements Theatre in Hong Kong on 17 June.
The Hong Kong-born actor spent eight years of his childhood in Nepal, completing his primary education in the country before returning to Hong Kong. His Nepali is fluent, but in the film he plays a bilingual character who speaks Hindi and Cantonese.
“It was a bit difficult in the beginning, to have to speak in Cantonese and Hindi,” Karma recalls. He had been apprehensive of his ability to play the role when he was initially offered the film in 2019, but eventually overcame his nerves and accepted the offer.
Karma himself was drawn towards videography and short filmmaking after participating in a filmmaking course for non-Chinese students at school. However, pursuing a career in acting had not crossed his mind at the time.
“I had been more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of filmmaking before I was offered the role,” he says. “I accepted the offer because I really liked the story.”
Although he had no prior acting experience in mainstream films, Karma had played in a movie that he himself made for a festival at university. He had uploaded videos of himself doing parkour on YouTube and had worked on a few commercials as well which came to the notice of Director Chan Kin-long.
Karma’s parkour experience also helped him with stunts in Hand Rolled Cigarette, where he can be seen running through the streets of Hong Kong and jumping out of a window at one point. And it is not a body double.
The Nepali diaspora in Hong Kong has celebrated Karma’s achievement, with the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) in Honk Kong putting out an open call for Nepalis to go to theatres and watch the film. Heeding the call, Nepalis here have been flocking to theatres.
“This is a matter of pride not only for Bipin but for all Nepalis,” says NRNA Hong Kong President Radhika Gurung.
Indra Wanem, president of the Nepali Society in Hong Kong, says that Karma’s entry into the film industry has given rise to newfound enthusiasm among Nepali youth in Hong Kong.
“Not only has Bipin’s achievement created interest among the Nepali youngsters here, but it has solidified the image of Nepali talent and capability among the citizens of Hong Kong,” he says.
Karma’s father Dilli Bishwakarma is a construction site supervisor in Hong Kong, and is delighted by his son’s achievement, saying he has inspired and boosted the confidence of the 30,000 Nepalis who live in the territory.
“He got a big opportunity right from the beginning, and I know that he will continue to do even better work in the future,’ Biswakarma says, brimming with pride.
Karma, who is busy doing press for the film, has been getting positive feedback for his performance. He considers himself lucky to have played a lead role in his first movie, and sees this as an opportunity for bigger and better things. He says, “I will work harder in future.”
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