No winter vacation in DhorpatanAn award-winning documentary portrays two Nepali grandmothers and the banality and loneliness of aging
Everything in Dhorpatan comes to a halt in winter when the temperature drops, and this plateau at 4,000m in western Nepal is snowbound.
Schools are closed, houses are padlocked. The contours of fallow terraces can be etched in the snow, and naked trees add to the image of desolation. Most families have moved down to the warmer lowlands for the season in their annual winter migration.
But not for two women: Ratima and Kalima Bishwakarma. They stay behind and since they are the only ones, guard the village during the long cold winter.
Rajan Kathet and Sunir Pandey’s feature documentary film No Winter Holidays is the story of these two women with no particular liking for one another, but have only one another to rely on for the winter.
The film had its world premiere at the Sheffield Documentary Festival 2023, and was screened in Korea, Japan, India, and Serbia. It was the talk of the town in documentary circles even before it was screened in Nepal. The film is currently being shown at CDC Cinemas in Kathmandu.
“Nepal has always been known for Mt Everest and its natural beauty among the international audience, but to hear that our documentary presented a different aspect of Nepal, it felt good,” says Pandey.
Having bagged ‘Alternativa Awards’ in Kazakhstan and ‘Best Feature Documentary’ at the Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival (NHRIFF), the filmmakers are taking it up a notch by releasing it in cinemas, similar to how Eric Valli’s Caravan was also shown in commercial theatres.
Says Kathet: “We have always thought there is no audience for indie films and documentaries. But we have been proven wrong, the audience turned up at the theatres to watch our documentary, even though most of them were arts and literature enthusiasts and cinephiles.”
The work on No Winter Holidays began five years ago with script writing. The next year was spent travelling to Dhorpatan three times, once each in summer, spring and winter. By the end of 2019, the team had finished the 75-day shoot and by March 2020, 100-day shoot.
The 79-minute-long documentary moves slowly, much like the pace of life for the two women in their seventies in cold and dreary Dhorpatan.
Ratima and Kalima are co-wives and widows of the same man — the very thing that binds them together as well as pits them against each other. Moreover, they have completely different personalities.
Ratima is the first wife with weak knees that easily gives up on her. She cannot even collect firewood by herself. Kalima, on the other hand, is healthier and loves taking her cow for a walk while conducting her routine patrols.
A mother of three, Kalima’s whole world revolves around her daughters. Ratima, on the other hand, has no children and enjoys singing and drinking. Despite their differences, viewers cannot miss how their lives overlap, the mundaneness of aging and the loneliness that follows.
Much like the subject matter of the documentary, filmmakers have taken to muted tones and faded colours, all depicting the physical emptiness of Dhorpatan, as well as the protagonists. And yet, each shot is aesthetically pleasing and is a visual treat to the eyes.
Filmmakers have also used metaphors and narrative structure to showcase the conflict between the two women, instead of following Ratima and Kalima around. There are also moments of genuine laughter even though the two do not converse as much.
Aging is often thought of as a decline in Nepali societies as the elderly can no longer actively contribute to the family or in the economy. But Kathet and Pandey have made a conscious decision to not portray aging as a weakness. What comes across instead are two individuals empowered by their lived experiences spanning seven decades, living their lives, adapting to the changes as they come.
Most of the audience watching the documentary will be much younger than these grannies but their way of life is bound to leave them inspired.
The film is being screened at CDC cinemas in Kathmandu every day till 21 January.