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Dreaming Lhasa Reviews

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½ June 27, 2011
Life of a Charm Box

Dreaming Lhasa is technically a road movie; its story essentially about searching. At the heart of the film is the mystery surrounding a Ghawu:Who does it belong to? What story and what history would the revelation unearth, about what person and which people? And more immediately, what bearing the answer would have on the life of Dhondup, who has come to Dharamsala from Tibet to fulfill a wish he had granted his mother on her deathbed, minutes after she had handed him this relic from an unknown past?

Ghawu is a charm box, blessed by high lamas, traditionally worn for good luck and protection. The amulet has been made legendary by its life-saving power through real-life experiences of CIA-backed Tibetan resistance fighters in the sixties and seventies, and the Bangladesh Tibetan war veterans in 1971.

The Ghawu here is more than a cryptic puzzle screaming for resolution. It is a metaphor for the very plight daunting the Tibetans today: the violence that China‚(TM)s military occupation has wrought on a people both sides of the Himalayas: in the uprootedness of a generation now all but vanishing, and with them a way of life; in the identity crises of their children, younger by age, weaker by faith, and enfeebled by circumstances; and in the multifarious versions of flight, both in mind and physical space, that occupation and exile entail.

And it is this twin impetus ‚" occupation and exile ‚" that makes people leave homes, undertake journeys and cross borders. Some as in the case of Karma, the woman documentary filmmaker from the United States, to reconnect with her past, the place of her origin, Tibet, by inhabiting an idea of it which is Dharamsala. Some as in the case of Dhondup to find answers to a mystery that death had bequeathed him and which during life had kept hidden from him. And some as in the case of Jigme, a local vagabond, with all his ready charm and inborn rebelliousness, to just be somewhere else, anywhere else, but here.

Karma too is on a mission of her own, to make a documentary about former political prisoners. After each interview, with nuns who had been arrested for shouting slogans, with monks who had been imprisoned for distributing flyers; after each remembrance and recounting, of blows and humiliation: hands across face, cattle prod inside vagina, it is like unto the US-returned expatriate is passed, in the solitude of her sparse hotel room, the impact, the wound, the damage. It shows in the silence and in the sigh, and in such insignificant and asymmetrical shot as her glasses resting on a camera tripod.

Despite her pain, there is about Karma a certain purpose, which as she sets about her business takes on the form of an unmistakable resoluteness; a will to accomplish. And it is this quality that makes her want to throw her lot with Dhondup, in who she finds everything which is pure and right, as if he were not a person but the very embodiment of her vast unseen country, the id of her idealism. Her emerging detail, as a mother of a girl with an American man with who her relationship is strained, only adds to the poignancy.

Her at-will assistant, an adept navigator through the psychedelic corridors of Dharamsala‚(TM)s Mcleod Gunj, is a local chutzpah-laden youth, Jigme. With long disheveled hair and a rock star swagger, clad in vintage denim Jacket and torn jeans, he is the quintessential exile youth. Having his fancy set on Karma, it is for obvious reasons that he is irked by her growing fondness for Dhondup. But it is also because in life if he has learnt anything it is to be skeptical, to not give in to appearances, while belying his own with a ready smile. For a place the smallness of Dharamsala, he appears cosmopolitan, so much so he even wears his handicap, his limp, almost like an accessory.

The characters having been established, the film now takes us on the road. It leads us to Delhi and the Tibetan settlement of Clement Town and the desert city of Jaipur, where resides an elderly and ailing Tibetan sweater seller with his family, their rented quarter cramped with garments in squeaky plastic bags. One finger points to another, one clue to next, before they finally locate the owner of the Ghawu, and it is his identity and his back story and the circumstances under which the amulet came to be in the hands of Dhondup‚(TM)s mother that renders the film‚(TM)s climax portent and powerful and profound.

The film has been shown and lauded at thirty-plus film festivals around the world, including the prestigious Toronto Film Festival where it made its international debut, alongside such critically-acclaimed fares as Ang Lee‚(TM)s Brokeback Mountain and Deepa Mehta‚(TM)s Water, and in many it has won the audience favorite vote. It takes little to understand why.

For one, the film refuses to dabble in hysteria (Take note, makers of Pun Anu Thanu and Milarepa). The narrative thread is contained within a structure that is impeccable, and throughout one observes a certain economy of words, gesture, shot duration, which is but the result of a finely-executed storyboard, and because of which every frame becomes worthwhile, every scene inevitable. The characters here actually talk, not rant; they perform, not exaggerate; the emotion is here subdued and not a contortionist‚(TM)s spectacle; and instead of letting jargon-filled winding monologues do the job, the filmmakers let the interaction among characters and the dynamics of their situations establish and move forward the story.

Dreaming Lhasa is imaginative without being preposterous and realism is its biggest USP, a strength that owes to the filmmakers‚(TM) background in documentaries. Former political prisoners play themselves; their brutal past is portrayed simply through close ups and voiceovers, as captured on a video camera. For all her anguish and awakening, when the time comes, Karma returns to America, the country which had inscribed upon her identity a million questions, leaving behind Dharamsala, her idea of Tibet, without Dhondup or Jigme; without love, without absolution.

For all his past, of courageous resistance and blood-dripping sacrifices, Dhondup makes no affectations of a grand plan for the freedom struggle which in exile he finds has become a subject for sweeping, sometimes mocking, commentaries by his counterparts, the likes of Jigme and company. He indulges in no reprimands; instead he minds his own business and trudges onward, with his eyes set backward on his enslaved land where lives his wife with his newborn child, the only future he has and he knows of.

On the surface, Jigme is a typical Dharamsala delinquent, full of amorous streaks and if not bedding Westerner tourist women, then smoking pot, drinking beer and shooting pool. A hybrid between a fractured past and fleeting present, one conversant beyond detection in the affectations of accent and attitude, the very disguise with which to give his self relevance and visibility. But when inspiration strikes him, he takes to the guitar and belts out an anthem of his own, ‚Zugu ruko naza tangwa, nying la sugpo gangda du, ga dang dukpo gangda du, sosoe mitse kyipo duk pe (I play till my finger joints hurt, tell me how deep I strike in your heart, how much of pain and joy do you feel, are you happy with your life?)‚?

It is to the film‚(TM)s great advantage that the filmmakers incorporate Jigme‚(TM)s character with his real-life nemesis‚(TM) passion and profession. Actor Tenzin Jigme is part of a popular three-member band ‚JJI Exile Brothers‚?, all real siblings, whose music combine Western rock and traditional Tibetan influences. In the age of effeminate vocals, their hand-me-down lyrics stilted in honorific vocabulary of the yore, which proliferate the modern Tibetan music scene, JJI‚(TM)s in-your-face, don‚(TM)t-take-no-prisoner, fart-if-you-feel-like-it, variation is a refreshing departure.

The film‚(TM)s innovative soundtrack also includes such jarring accompaniments as a Bollywood oldie ‚Aghe bhi Jaane na tu, peeche bhi jaane na tu, jo bhi hai, bas yahi ek pal hai (what is in front of you, you do not know; what is behind you, you do not know; what there is to it, is this just one moment)‚? and a strange fusion genre, Dub. A fitting ode to the ambivalence that is exile experience.

Among the actors, Jampa Kalsang who plays Dhondup is phenomenal. He is perhaps a true movie actor we have in the Tibetan world, one with a face an actual reminiscent of the country‚(TM)s anguished fate. From Windhorse to Dreaming Lhasa, the artist has come a long way, and somebody ought to give him an Achievement Award already. Tenzin Jigme is a delightful revelation and Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso, who plays karma, holds her own admirably.

Finally, the film‚(TM)s greatest achievement is its deep meditation on that enduring measure of loss, beyond occupation and exile, in the labyrinthine thicket of which we thrash everyday and yet we sometimes so easily overlook, called time. It pays a fitting homage to the sacrifices made by our father‚(TM)s generation, especially those who were part of the CIA-backed Tibetan resistance fighters, that soldiered on amid a barrage of Chinese bullets, with a hope of leaving behind for us, a living struggle, a fight not yet surrendered.

It plays on their real experiences, their hard won wisdom, and their vanishing turn as an ancient generation; and it asks of the younger lot a most strident question: what end are we going to give to their sacrifices?
June 10, 2011
interesting & informative doc
½ April 8, 2009
This is a really great movie, that anyone who has struggled for identity and meaning in life can relate to. It was also a surprise to learn about the C.I.A/US involvement training and militarizing Tibetans for guerrilla war.
½ September 10, 2008
well done movie inter-twining both personal stories as well as the frustration facing Tibetans today.
½ July 25, 2008
Helps you empathize with the plight of Tibetans and understand that people across the world feel loss and loyalties, love and pain just like you. Makes you want to do something, not just watch it and say 'next'.
Super Reviewer
½ June 11, 2008
[font=Century Gothic]In "Dreaming Lhasa," Karma(Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso) is in the city of Dharamsala in Northern India to film a documentary with the assistance of Jigme(Tenzin Jigme) of Tibetan exiles detailing their ordeal at the hands of the occupying Chinese.(Karma herself is of Tibetan heritage.) One of her interviewees is Dhondup(Jampa Kalsang) who has been charged with returning a charm box to a fellow Tibetan whose current whereabouts are unknown. Sensing a story, Karma helps Dhondup, even accompanying him to Delhi...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"Dreaming Lhasa" is a well-meaning movie with a paper thin story and amateurish performances. Still, this is an honorable try at depicting the heartbreak of a people watching their country slowly disappear under the weight of oppression and deciding what to do next. Some simply move on while others fight in whatever way they know how, be it to return to their native country and an unknown fate or to begin a hunger strike. [/font]
½ April 20, 2008
I saw it back in 2004, when I stayed at the same hostel where partof the scenes had been shot.
The theme, really relevant this year.
March 7, 2008
I liked the quiet, understated style of this film; the profundity came across without the need for the usual drama and racket. Very well done.
½ March 1, 2008
Definitely worth a watch. It's a realistic peak into the lives of exiled Tibetans.
February 25, 2008
Interesting and moving at points, but didn't blow me away. Could have used more ambient soundtrack to fill the silent spaces. Inclusion of reggae was cool, but seemed a bit out of context.
February 24, 2008
a well documented movie! from the shadow circus to dreaming lhasa! great work!!
January 10, 2008
Lovely story, providing an excellent realistic and comprehensive overview of Tibetan society in exile.
½ December 11, 2007
This is sensitively done, showing the stories of exiles from Tibet and the different way it effects them. From the American-born Tibetan who has never been to Tibet, to the Tibetans in Dharamsala; to the Tibetan who later becomes a monk, who fled after the Chinese take over and his son who searches for his father and is homesick for Lhasa, despite all the problems returning might bring.
November 17, 2007
Here is a modern day story about Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India. A filmmaker is trying to capture several refugees stories for her movie, but becomes involved with a recent immigrant who is looking for his mother's long lost friend...and in the process he uncovers his past and the past of his people. A little slow, but a very realistic picture of the Tibetan situation in India.
September 27, 2007
Dreaming Lhasa *LIMITED* *XviD* - DVDRIP -
April 10, 2007
Not My Kind Of Movie.
April 10, 2007
You get hte picture...
November 17, 2005
Dreaming Lhasa, is the product of over four years of arduous labour of love
and commitment to depicting issues facing contemporary Tibetans by the
Tibetan Indian Directors, Ritu Sarin and Tenzin Sonam. Although Ritu and
Tenzin have worked on several Tibet related documentaries, this is their
first feature film. The film has been selected from among many films for a
number of high profile international Film Festivals. It was screened under
the Discovery Section of the Toronto International Film Festival. 'Tibet is
the heart and soul of Dreaming Lhasa... Truth may often be stranger than
fiction; good fiction, of course, can also be a powerful window into many
kinds of truth.' writes the reviewer for the Festival publication. The film
will be screened at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain later this

Dreaming Lhasa - a simple narrative set in Dharamsala tells the story about
Karma; a thirty-year-old New York bred Tibetan American filmmaker. Escaping
a failing relationship with her partner at home, Karma goes to Dharamsala to
make a documentary film about former political prisoners who have escaped
from Tibet. The journey brings her closer to her roots and establishes new
bonds as her world collides with Dhondup's, an enigmatic ex-monk who has
recently escaped from Tibet.

Dhondup, in order to fulfill his dying mother's last wish, seeks Karma's
help to track down a former CIA trained Tibetan resistance fighter to whom
he must deliver a Charm Box. These two very different Tibetans embark on an
unsettling journey into Tibet's fractured past. The story takes us deep into
the heart of Tibetan exile existence and digs up aching memories of the
years that followed the events of 1959.

During the course of the journey, Karma finds herself inadvertently falling
in love with Dhondup. But then there's Jigme, a long-haired careless youth
from the streets of Mcleodganj in Dharamsala. Jigme befriends Karma much
before she meets Dhondup and occasionally even vocalizes his desire to be
with her. Thus a love triangle is formed.

Although the focus of the film is the voyage itself, the underlying love
story is as powerful and evokes as much emotion as the main plot. As one of
the older Tibetans who had acted in the film tells us, "this is a story that
all generation of Tibetans in exile can relate to". The film portrays both
the hopes and frustrations of Tibetans in exile. It gives out a strong
message of hope that inspite of forces of globalization/ westernization/
assimilation, contemporary Tibetan exiles are struggling to maintain their
sense of identity.
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