Deepak Rauniyar is a Nepali screenwriter, producer, editor and film director. After participating in Locarno's Open Doors initiative, Rauniyar's debut feature Highway screened at MoMA's ContemporAsian series and was the first Nepali film ever to be selected for a major international film festival, premiering at Berlin where it was nominated for Best First Feature. Rauniyar's second feature White Sun premiered at Venice, Palm Springs, Rotterdam and Singapore, where it won Best Asian Film.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Deepak Rauniyar discusses Nepal's civil war; race, discrimination and national borders; the corporeal nature of government; and his next project.
FILMATIQUE: Highway seeks to capture both the political and individual climates of a world rarely depicted onscreen— contemporary Nepalese society. What was your inspiration for this story, and why did you choose to frame the narrative in the details of interpersonal relationships, rather than making a film that was overtly political?
DEEPAK RAUNIYAR: Highway is inspired by my own travel experiences, especially in 2009. At that time I worked for the BBC World Service Trust, the BBC's international development charity, writing and producing radio dramas. We used to record on location, mostly using non-actors. It required a lot of travel. I have spent a lot of time during those bandhs, stuck up to 57 hours once, with no food or drinking water.
A new trend has emerged in post-war Nepal— people who are "unhappy" and have a "demand" with the government shut down major highways. This is known as a bandh.
We were returning to Kathmandu after the recording in Ilam, about 350 miles between the two. At least 3 separate political parties had organized bandhs in different parts of the country. No vehicles were moving besides journalists, weddings, and ambulances. We were in a BBC car so we could move. But every time we approached a protesting group, we had to stop, talk to them, show our ID's and then pass.
In Sunasari, near the Koshi river, a few people approached us asking for help. A small van with the bride and her the family were stopped by bandh organizers. They needed to reach the nearest temple about an hour away, but they didn't have a wedding banner or a music band so the bandh organizers didn't believe them. We escorted this wedding party to the temple and from here began to talk about the idea of a film, which later became Highway.
When I thought of a bus in Nepal, I thought of the country. The country is comprised of people from diverse strata of society. And a bus is one of the few places where you get a cross-section of society. So I thought, it would be a great "vehicle" for the film, which provides an opportunity to explore the contemporary Nepali society we were living in.