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Nepal awaits first LGBT film dubbed ‘Brokeback Everest’

The tears and bloodshot eyes of a beautiful leading lady who has lost her lover are familiar to all Nepalese cinema-goers, but this time the object of her desire is another woman.

In a poignant vignette on a Kathmandu film set, Kiran wanders aimlessly through traffic struggling to take in the devastating news that the love of her life is about to marry someone else.

The affair plays out in “Snow Flowers”, a lesbian love story being dubbed “Brokeback Everest” and set to be the first gay feature film in the 60-year history of Nepalese cinema.

With filming just completed and a general release due in the spring, the only question is whether the public in the deeply-religious nation will accept the project.

The movie, directed by Paris-based film-maker Subarna Thapa, stars Nepal’s leading actresses, Dia Maskey and Nisha Adhikari, in a story of two women tormented by their feelings for one another.

“It’s two individuals falling in love and facing all the controversy and restrictions, and mental, emotional and physical traumas of being a lesbian in Nepal,” Adhikari, who cut her hair short for the film, told AFP.

“It’s a simple love story with a lot of complications.”

Local media have dubbed the film “Brokeback Everest” in a reference to Ang Lee’s gay cowboy love story “Brokeback Mountain”, which won three Oscars and grossed more than $178 million worldwide after its release in 2005.

Industry observers are awaiting the reaction of audiences in Nepal, a conservative, mainly Hindu country that nonetheless has some of the most progressive policies on homosexuality in Asia.

Adhikari, 25, says the film is a first as it deals with the turmoil experienced by same-sex couples in Nepal, whereas previously gay people have always been depicted as figures of fun.

“The entire movie is based on the trauma — what it is like not being able to come out and live your life because there are so many restrictions,” she said.

“There is no liberty in not living your life the way you want, irrespective of who you are attracted to sexually. This movie will be an eye-opener for a lot of people who have just viewed these issues very superficially.”

Three years ago, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to enact laws to guarantee the rights of gays and lesbians after a pressure group filed a petition.

The country’s new constitution, currently being drafted by lawmakers, is also expected to define marriage as a union between two adults, regardless of gender, and to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

For Sunil Pant, the country’s only openly gay parliamentarian, the film could be a breakthrough for society as well as the small local cinema industry.

Nepal has always been tolerant and we are now really ready to treat each other equally,” he said.

“It’s also about freedom of expression and our right to be able to watch films about our lives and issues. I am excited and can’t wait to see the film released in Nepal.”

But Chaitanya Mishra, a sociology professor at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, is not optimistic about the mainstream reaction to “Snow Flowers”, which was shot in Kathmandu and Pokhara city.

“I think that news, films and other media on same-sex relationships will not be accepted or find many supporters,” she told AFP.

She added though that the film could be a comfort to people struggling with gay relationships, demonstrating “there may be others like them out there”.

“That is bound to give them immense relief and unburden them of a huge ‘dirty secret’, she said.

“Snow Flowers” director Suwarna Thapa says he was not interested in just showing Nepal “what lesbians do”, but rather in telling a simple love story from a new angle.

“It’s not a shocking film, like war movies or propaganda films, but there will be some impact in Nepali society,” he told AFP.

Nepal is changing but it cannot be changed by the day after tomorrow. It’s a long journey.

“Our Maoist revolution took 10 years to bring about change. Society and culture takes its time.”

Indeed, “Snow Flowers” is likely to disappoint audiences expecting to see bare flesh as the relationship plays out through longing glances rather than explicit depictions of sex.

“Maybe people will go and see it just to see two women romancing — who knows?” said Adhikari.

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