Once again, Pawo Choyning Dorji, the creative force behind “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” has masterfully unraveled a complex tapestry, intricately weaving the simple and unassuming facets of Bhutan and its culture into a cinematic masterpiece. This film’s themes and messages extend far beyond the borders of Bhutan, transcending even the majestic Himalayas.
Set against the backdrop of Bhutan’s transition to a democratic constitutional monarchy, Pawo, the “Keen Observer,” deftly integrates various elements of Bhutanese culture while maintaining an engaging narrative. Picking up several threads of simplicity and weaving a Kishuthara is Pawo’s forte. “The Monk and the Gun” is a testament to it. Pawo’s has demonstrated his artistic prowess and ability to seamlessly intertwine multiple threads of simplicity, as evident in “The Monk and the Gun.” The film’s title, seemingly straightforward, is both sturdy and thought-provoking. Questions like “What’s a monk doing with a gun? Does the monk require a firearm? Is he intending to target the election officer?” are skillfully posed, injecting suspense that lingers until the film’s conclusion.
The movie delves into the complexities of democracy, often referred to as the “pig’s disease.” While honoring the sacrifice of a King who mandated Bhutan’s transition to democracy, the film poses essential questions. Is democracy, which can even divide families along political lines, the right and ideal form of governance? Does a society and country already boasting one of the world’s finest monarchies necessitate such a profound transformation? Are the Bhutanese people truly prepared for the challenges of democracy?
Yet, the film transcends the realm of political transition. It also delves into a nation’s exposure to a new world, encompassing the advent of television, the internet, and the consequent abstract and concrete transformations. These shifts are aptly portrayed through characters like Choephel, grappling with life’s uncertainties, and Benji, who endeavors to make the most of these changes. The small girl in the shop, replacing a traditional calendar with a modern Hollywood icon, serves as a symbolic representation of the profound transformations taking place.
Pawo expertly explores the theme of innocence and its loss, not solely through the prominence of a phallus but also through the villagers participating in the mock election. They chant like an undiscerning army, oblivious to the reasons, much like their indifference to the significance of their own birthdays. The election officer patting and asking Ron several questions is another aspect of Bhutanese innocence. And we have a man, who is not bothered about the amount of money he could get from his gun and happily gifts it to his root guru – Tsawai Lam.
The film underscores the vital role of women in Bhutanese society through characters like Tshomo, her mother, and Tshering. They are depicted as gentle yet ready to fiercely protect themselves and their children when circumstances demand.
Karma, interdependence, chance, and other elements are seamlessly interwoven into the narrative. Scenes such as Benji’s car breakdown and their encounter with Tashi, along with the televised incident exposing Benji and Ron in the background, caught by the police, illustrate these elements.
Above all, the audience encounters the dedicated and unwavering monk, Tashi, who unquestioningly supports his master (Lam) in his need for a gun, exemplifying the essence of the Guru-Disciple relationship.
The timing of this film’s release couldn’t have been more fitting, with the prevalence of armed conflicts and innocent lives lost. It is a clarion call for the world to bid farewell to the use of firearms.
Movies are crafted to entertain, educate, provoke thought, foster unity, and serve as reminders. Pawo Choyning Dorji’s “The Monk and The Gun” surpasses these goals. It is genuinely astonishing and exceptional, a precious gift from the Himalayan Kingdom to the world.
Bhutanese audience say about the movie.
“I entered the theatre hungry. However, I realized at the end of the movie that I was still holding the chicken roll. I hadn’t even taken a bite. This says everything about the movie.”
Tandin Wangchuk, Entrepreneur, Olakha.
“It is not just a satire or a movie about Bhutan’s transition. For me, it is a movie saying that every simple thing in life has a purpose, that will push or take you further in your life. It is about the laws of interdependence.”
Deepak Tamang, Civil Servant.
“It took me back to 2007, the year we were getting ready for the transition to elections. I felt that I was there in the film as Pawo Choyning Dorji has captured the mock election scene perfectly. It also reminded me of the divisions in the community that democracy brought in.”
Sonam Dorji, Social Worker, Thimphu.
“I do not know the technicalities of movies. But to me, it remains the best film I have watched. I could connect with it. It is a simple movie that everyone can understand. When a story is told in a simple way, it becomes profound and powerful. This is what the movie has managed to do.”
Sonam Yuden, Graduate, Lobesa.
The Monk and The Gun will be screened at Lugar Theatre, Thimphu till 31st October, 2023. For reservations, you can call 17377888.
Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu