Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Commando (Nepal, 199?)

I know as good as nothing about Nepali cinema… and as little about The Commando as it is possible to know about a film that you’ve watched from beginning to end. From the internet I’ve gleaned that its director is named JB Rai, but, because its opening credits are all in Nepali script, I can’t tell you anything beyond that about who worked on it either behind or in front of the camera (though I can say that there were an awful lot of them).

Wikipedia tells me that Nepali films typically follow the same rough contours as Bollywood movies, incorporating musical numbers and Indian style narratives, which isn’t that surprising. But in The Commando, that framework is made subordinate to elements that are more in keeping with those of a Hong Kong martial arts film. And I’m not talking here about the kind of sound-effect-assisted faux-fu we’ve seen in Mithun’s movies.

Our star here is a mountain of muscle with formidable kickboxing skills, one who gives the clear impression of being one of those stars who -- like other kickboxers- turned-leading-men like Jean Claude Van Damme or Don “The Dragon” Wilson -- is an athlete first and an actor… well, somewhere below that. Kickboxing became a popular sport in Nepal during the mid-eighties, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to learn that one of the sport’s indigenous leading lights, like those aforementioned stars, had been enticed to make the move to the screen.

Given this, the filmmakers have wisely structured The Commando in a manner that will show our star’s fighting abilities off to best advantage. Violent, multi-person brawls pop up at dependably frequent intervals, guaranteeing that, by the time the closing credits roll, you will have seen just about as many people bloodily spin-kicked in the face as you could reasonably ask for. Even one of the film’s song numbers is conceived as a showcase for this hero’s athleticism, with the scantily clad leading lady flitting around him swooningly as he stoically pumps iron.

It’s debt to chop-sockey films aside, if The Commando were a product of Bollywood, it would undoubtedly be described as being within the “Patriotic” genre, as there is much flag waving and impassioned speechifying to be found within it. There is also a long and shouty narrative introduction -- spoken over images of a map of Nepal and a portrait of a figure who I think might have been original Ghurka Bappa Rawal -- that I, of course, couldn’t understand a blessed word of. What was pretty clear to me is that The Commando tells a story of a divided Nepal, and, incidentally or not, does so at a time when Nepal was indeed divided as a result of Maoist revolt and counterinsurgency. Still, I think that for me to interpret its events in that light might be about as misguided an effort as would be expecting an unsubtitled version of Mr. India to yield some form of documentary truth. In short, I’m just going to stick with what I saw and try to resist the temptation to fill with speculation those gaps left by The Commando’s lack of English translation.

The film chronicles the trials of our hero, a commando who goes AWOL from his army unit after being court marshaled and returns to his rural village, where he sides with a group of civilian freedom fighters who are gathering forces there. It seems like said hero -- whose name, as best I could make out, is Sudiya -- mainly just wants to be left alone, but elements within the military, including a former rival jealous of the affection shown Sudiya by their commander’s foxy young daughter, are not eager to accommodate. To this end, they recruit a raving underworld kingpin by the name of Neta Singh to generally make Sudiya’s life miserable.

What follows are repeated attacks upon Sudiya by Neta Singh’s cronies, which almost without exception end with all of those cronies being bloodily spin-kicked in the face. Finally, they determine that firearms might be in order, and manage to seriously wound Sudiya, but fail to catch him before he escapes into the arms of the aforementioned commander’s daughter, Chandra, who nurses Sudiya back to health. Meanwhile, Neta Singh and his minions become even more down and dirty in their methods, terrorizing and even murdering Sudiya’s friends and family back in the village (among whom is one fellow, either Sudiya’s brother or best friend, who is a dead ringer for Jackie Shroff). Finally, with the final line having been crossed, Sudiya literally wraps himself in the flag and takes on his old unit singlehandedly with the help of some homemade, remote controlled grenade launchers. In the end, the resulting carnage appears to have been a very good thing for Nepal, because, once it’s over, a bunch of singing women and children carrying Nepali flags come rushing over the hillside to celebrate Sudiya’s awesomeness.

The Commando is a strikingly low budget affair, relying heavily upon rural outdoor locations for its shooting, with what interiors that do appear being notably stark and cramped looking. Still, the film’s abundance of bloody and well staged action sequences make for a rousing, if not altogether novel, viewing experience. In addition, it’s several songs, while nothing to write home about, are entertaining for the very way in which their resolute cheerfulness so incongruously breaks up the brutal action that surrounds them. At one moment we’ll see the soldiers drunkenly celebrating their camaraderie in song, immediately after which Sudiya is shown beating one of them to a pulp for his violent rape attempt upon Chandra. The tonal shifts can be jarring, but nonetheless fail to derail the film as a whole thanks to the tight economy with which its (apparently) simple tale is otherwise told.

In closing, I realize that I have probably spent as much space here telling you what I don’t know about The Commando as what I do. And, as usual, I’m hoping that this broadcasting of my ignorance will serve as a cry for help. After all, if I don’t tell you how stupid I am, how will you know to come to my aid? I’d love, for instance, to know the name of our kickboxing star and if he made other films of this type. If you are that English speaking expert on all things The Commando that I’m hoping is out there, please get in touch.


Anirban said...

How did you get a hold of this movie? I'd love to watch a Nepali movie and have no idea how to find this one.

Todd said...

Hey, Anirban. It was given to me by a friend who I believe got it from The orginal source appears to have been a VCD, which suggests that a home version of the movie was released somewhere at sometime, but who knows.

Anirban said...

Thanks. Will try to track down.

Have you seen any Bengali/Bangla films from Kolkata or Dhaka. Since that is my native language I own close to 200 DVDs/VCDs.