Namgay Zam, an anchor and producer of Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS), complained that filmmaker Wangchuk Talop had threatened her to remove her blog post about his latest film, The Mermaid. Namgay Zam on September 3 wrote an article titled Bhutanese Films: Interrupted on her personal blog www.metanamgay.wordpress.com. The article praised Jamyang Jamtsho’s film Gyalsey – The Legacy of a Prince and made a passing criticism on The Mermaid.
In her 502-word compliant letter, Namgay Zam wrote that Wangchuk Talop telephoned her on October 3 and threatened her. She said the filmmaker asked her to remove the post.
“I feel utterly shattered that personal expression can be curtailed by a few individuals who have a warped notion of freedom of expression, and that even a journalist like myself can be made to delete facts that I know are true,” she wrote. “The producer made me remove my honest opinion, not with a logical argument but with intimidation that was both physical and financial.”
After she received the call from Wangchuk Talop, Namgay Zam deleted this paragraph from her blog post: “For instance, take a film like “The Mermaid”, you never find out her story, why she is lonely and in search of love? Why is it that she can magically make clothes appear for her in the beginning of the movie, but cannot do that later on? Why is she a mermaid in some scenes and a coiled naga in others?”
Namgay Zam said that Wangchuk Talop accused her of “abusing” her “influential” position to make people turn away from his movie. She wrote, “My blog has no explicit association with my profession whatsoever, and will never do so even in the future. It is my personal space, and he totally misunderstood that.”
However, Wangchuk Talop said Namgay Zam is deliberately trying to “demote” his film through her post. He said that, being a BBS journalist, she is using her influential position to make people turn away from his film.
He said filmmakers pay Nu 10,000 to promote their films on the BBS show, Trowa. “Interestingly, being a BBS employee, she is writing against my film,” he said.
In her complaint letter, Namgay Zam accused Wangchuk Talop of intimidating her. She said he intimidated her into deleting the reference to the film by saying, “If you were a man, I would have had it out with you the day I read the post” and “my wife said that you should compensate us for all the losses we make in lakhs because of your comments in your blog about my movie”.
Wangchuk Talop, however, denied saying this to her. He said he had just told her that he could not express his displeasure to her because she is a woman. He said he respects women. “If it was a man who wrote the article, I would have called him immediately and asked him to remove the post,” he added.
He also said that he did not call Namgay Zam to ask her to delete the remark but to remind her that it would discourage movie-goers.
He said the criticism affected his film badly. Before September 3, the film ran houseful. After the blog went viral on social media, he said the audience decreased drastically.
“She is a well-known person. There are many followers of her social media,” WangchukTalop said. “Obviously, her followers will ignore my film.”
Namgay Zam said the post was hardly viewed by 15 people and that her blog sees hardly 10 visitors a day. Most of the people who watch his movie, she said, won’t read her blog.
Wangchuk Talop said she should not have taken his film as an example while criticising Bhutanese films.
Meanwhile, a member of public, who followed the controversy, said the producer should not take the post seriously. He said the filmmaker, in fact, should welcome the criticism in a positive way.
A filmmaker, Chencho Dorji, said such comments and posts will discourage filmmakers. He said Namgay Zam considers only Gyalsey – The legacy of a Prince a good movie. “We have been making hundreds of movies. Weren’t these films entertaining?” he asked.
The General Secretary of Motion Pictures Association of Bhutan, Sherub Gyeltshen, said there is nothing wrong when the public criticise films. He said filmmakers should take criticisms constructively and positively, after all they are paying to watch the films.
Meanwhile, the General Secretary of JAB, Kinley Tshering, said films are made for the public and are bound to elicit criticism as well as approval. He said, “In so much as JAB’s mandate is concerned, it is there to protect journalists from threats and attacks, verbal or physical, from individuals or interest groups. Therefore, we will ensure that no journalist is harmed in any way.”
“Particularly in Namgay Zam’s case, the filmmaker has not only threatened her over the phone – of physical and financial consequences – but also undermined her right to free expression and opinion. Such blatant aggressiveness cannot be tolerated,” he added.
Kinley Tshering said the audience has the right to review a film as they deem proper. He said films are subjected to often blistering criticisms the world over. “In Bhutan, honest critiques on films are a rarity. Perhaps, it is time both for film critics and filmmakers to understand each other’s roles so that it ultimately contributes to the art of filmmaking,” he said.