Bhutanese Films: Interrupted

Gyalsey - the legacy of a Prince

“Gyalsey – The legacy of a Prince”, is in a league of its own. The film is quietly brilliant. My husband summed it up pretty well: Jamyang (actor/director) understands, and has successfully shown us that less is more. No annoying songs that just explode onto the screen, no slapstick jokes, no dramatised deaths, in short, all farcical elements that are usually common to mainstream Bhutanese films are absent. Gratitude was what I felt towards this very intelligent young actor/director from the beginning to the end of the film. Not even once does the script slip; the flow of the frames was as natural as the sequence of the sun rising and setting. Subtle acting by the male and female leads was a huge plus, actually, the entire cast did a fine job. But I was so angry by the end of the film.

I could not believe that a majority of the Bhutanese audience did not appreciate a simple film with a huge heart. Weekend showings are usually sold out, but the Trowa hall was quite empty on the day (on a Friday!) I went to watch the film. It seems it always is so. The balcony is, however, always full.

It was depressing that movie-goers did not want to watch Gyalsey.

Even more depressing was the fact that they love the sub-standard films that appeal only because of their song and dance sequences, and a pretty face. For instance, take a film like, “The Mermaid”, we never find out what the story behind the mermaid is, why is she lonely? Why does she want love? Why in the world can she make a set of clothes magically appear when she first gets out of the water, but not be able to replicate that when a woman steals her first set of clothes? It does not matter that her first love dies and the story ends, and that she is a mermaid in some scenes and a coiled naga in others. It is enough that you can watch such a film without having to intelligently engage yourself. Just enjoy the songs and the ever-repetitive comic lines.

I watch Bhutanese films very democratically: all of them – the good, the bad, not-so-bad, and even the I-want-to-kill-everyone-in-the-film ones. I would like to think of myself as a survivor of the Bhutanese film experiment. But I pride myself on the open-mindedness and the hope with which I approach every new film that releases.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Gyalsey, and felt so much joy that Bhutanese are capable of producing quality films. What angered me was the lack of support for such talent. Talent that will receive international appreciation is not appreciated at home. Sad. I felt miserable. I still feel miserable.

There are friends and family who have appreciated the film and have done the film a favour by spreading its greatness via word of mouth, Facebook, and Twitter.

The film has received applause from the dedicated balcony audience, but it is deserving of so much more. It deserves a full house.

A lot of us complain about the lack of good Bhutanese films, and when one does appear, the audience disappears. Is the Bhutanese audience so banal in its tastes that subtlety is totally misunderstood, and even missed? This is really an unfortunate situation when the masses want films that have been made in less than a month, films that are edited only to fit the script with no thought given to technical bits like continuity and sequencing, and films that ape the Indian film industry to a T. We applaud fake bombs, dim-witted comedians, over-acting, and sometimes just plain bad acting, with aplomb.

What the Bhutanese film industry needs is retrospection. One of our very famous and prolific directors prides himself on catering to the Bhutanese audience’s needs, I believe he panders to them, with no sense of guilt and no moral responsibility to refine our tastes. I would blame him and people like him who value money more than quality, and have been producing commercial trash for so many years for the failure in producing a genuine Bhutanese audience – an audience that is discerning and supportive of quality productions. Our successful directors are in a position to challenge what is acceptable, but would we dare be avant-garde? Oh! my apologies! I meant would we dare be honest?

Most Bhutanese would much rather watch two lovers battle all odds with bombs, knives, and bloodshed than see a simple love story unfold without unnecessary drama.

Many of you might criticise me for being elitist, but I will accept it, because in this argument, I stand for quality and authenticity. This argument is not about what should be popular. It is not Ben Jonson versus William Shakespeare. It is a comment on how accepting the Bhutanese audience is.

You can throw whatever you want at us and we will devour it. At the moment, we seem to enjoy imported stale bread more than our own ema datshi.


By Namgay Zam on her blog


This story from Sintoo

Sintoo is the search bot used by Bhutanomics. Sintoo prowls the www, collecting stories of interest to Bhutan, to build a rich content repository for Bhutan analytics.


  1. well written. I am in similar thought with regards to Bhutanese films and its audience. I have not watched Gyalsey unfortunately, coz it has been months since i have been to a movie theatre, assuming that every movie is going to be that same stale stuff, so i have now stereotyped all bhutanese movies as such. so maybe i will go see Gyalsey, and check whether u r right.

  2. That also goes to show who watches the films…not highly qualified well versed audience like Namgay Zam! these people are simple folks that enjoy a fantasy and something not real spiced up with little humor. They want to get away from the mundane life of the ordinary and the 2 hr show gets them away having not to tax their intellect…I guess the Bhutanese film makers are catering to the present day audience and as and when the audience are ready for an art movie like the Gyalsee the movie makers will move up to the art level!!!

    • Should we wait for the audience to get ready ….. ? Isn’t it new ideas and revolutions that shud take the initial steps and makes difference in people’s taste and expectation. I bet , the change can be introduced now , cause I can see , a new thing cannot be brought up , without few sacrifices in some ways ; if its for the better ….

Leave a Reply to Ox Cancel reply