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I think Manushi is meant to do great things: Filmmaker Surbhi Dewan on Daughter of Nepal 

Dewan's film Daughter of Nepal tracks the journey of Manushi as she embraces the path that she was meant to take in serving her homeland.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Directed and produced by Surbhi Dewan, the non-fiction film Daughter of Nepal is the story of Manushi Yami Bhattarai, the unassuming daughter of two formidable political leaders of Nepal. As her parents prepared to go underground for the Peoples' War in the mid-1990s, nine-year-old Manushi was sent across the border to live under an assumed identity.

The film catches up with Manushi in 2009, soon after her return to the tumultuous political scenario in Kathmandu, where we see that life in the public eye is new to her, yet it is something she has prepared for all her life.

Despite growing up largely in the absence of her parents and her homeland, her future is intimately intertwined with them. Determined to support her parents' political struggles and begin one of her own, we see Manushi come into her own and become embedded in the concerns of the people of her country. The film presents a rarely seen facet of a revolutionary movement as it brings forth the journey of an emerging political leader.

The film offers a refreshing take on its subject matter, as well as the documentary form as it enmeshes the public and the personal to bring forth an emotional and poetic engagement with its protagonist.

There are certain key moments in the film where the use of animation allows the audience to imagine the hardships that a young girl must have faced while contemplating the intense solitude and uncertainty that had become a part of her life.

Another aspect of the film that allows the audience to connect with the protagonist is the shared intimacy between the filmmaker and Manushi, wherein their friendship shapes the contours of our rather organic involvement with Manushi’s journey. The candid details of family life offer a glimpse into the unassuming personality of Manushi, as well as that of her family.

In an interaction following the screening of the film, the filmmaker described her journey of making and exhibiting the film, a journey that spanned nine years.

Although the film was conceptualized as a thesis film, Dewan said that the idea was not to offer a portrait of her protagonist, rather it was to document the shifting political landscape in Nepal. However, as she saw her friend being increasingly immersed in the politics of the country, she witnessed facets of her personality hitherto unknown to her and realized that Manushi’s journey was an unusual one, one that needed to be recorded. This was also crucial because as Dewan said, “I think she [Manushi] is meant to do great things”, speaking about her as a political leader to watch out for.  

The filmmaker explained that, though necessary, the shift in focus was not an easy one, as Manushi is an intensely shy person and was not comfortable being on camera. This was part of the reason why the film was screened in a public space nine years after it had been completed, with only some minor additions. The film has not been screened in Nepal yet, which is still witnessing political instability and divisiveness.

Daughter of Nepal was screened as part of the IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival, which is being held from 5-7 March 2019 at India International Centre, New Delhi.

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IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival