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Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

September 21, 2019 

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom begins with an all-too-familiar Bhutanese story—an apathetic and bored-to-death young professional hates his job and wants to escape to Australia as desperately soon as possible. Ugyen Dorji, a young teacher (played by Sherub Dorji), makes it plain, at the very outset—he is not cut out for the job he has landed and will do anything, even not wake up to it. He parties hard and hangs around in Thimphu’s grubby corners with his friends all night long. And there is that for-god’s-sake-leave-me-alone look about this youngster that is almost too repellent. Words of advice from his doting grandma mean nothing.

But Pawo Choyning Dorji, the writer and director of the film, who was director’s assistant for Vara: A Blessing (2013) and produced Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (2016), does not sink helplessly into bathos although he leads us through a narrative line that more than harks back to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s Travellers and Magicians (2004). Now sent to teach in a school in Lunana before he could make himself scarce with a visa to Australia, it dawns on Ugyen Dorji that he has been delivered the most unkind of punitive actions.

Is it Tshojo or Tshojong? There has recently been mindless molestation of names of places but that doesn’t really matter; better part of the film is based in Tshojo where there is a small school. Everything has, all of a sudden, come to a pretty pass and Ugyen Dorji struggles to teach in a school where there is no blackboard—children have never heard of it or seen one. But it’s the aspirations of the community and the hope in the eyes of his little students that help the unwilling teacher somehow lay his role to heart. Adapting to a new place and culture is always a challenge and Ugyen Dorji must keep up appearances, sometimes terribly.

Impermanence is, most decidedly, the central theme of the film which is played up by the haunting tune of Yak Legpai Lhadar Gawo. Nothing lives on forever; to meet and depart is the way of life. 

The films, juxtaposed, complement each other well to tell the true modern Bhutan story. Where Travellers and Magicians is a story of success, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is one of failure. As Ugyen Dorji prepares to leave, closing the school early in the year along of heavy snow in the mountains, Asha Jinpa (played by Kunzang Wangdi) wonders painfully why Bhutanese youth prefer going abroad leaving everything beautiful behind.

That ‘everything beautiful’ is Bhutan.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is a heart-rendingly beautiful film which has been accepted for more than 10 international film festivals.


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