Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Looking at Tibet through filmmaker Tsetan's camera lens

July 8, 2008

By Madhusree Chatterjee
Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)
July 7th, 2008

New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) -- Meet Sonam Tsetan, one of the many young
Tibetan filmmakers living in exile outside their country, who is
trying to redefine the political turbulence in Tibet through his lens
and narrative. "We, the new generation of Tibetan filmmakers, are
looking at our homeland that we left behind through the eyes of the
Tibetan youths in exile," the Delhi-based filmmaker told IANS here.

A television journalist by profession, Tsetan's film was screened at
the India International Centre that has organised a Tibetan film
festival July5-9.

Cinema has been a powerful vehicle that has taken the Himalayan
country to the world outside. Several filmmakers, including some big
names from Hollywood, have taken up the strife-torn nation as their subject.

Tsetan's signature movie is "Tsampa to Pizza" -- a 45-minute telling
docu-feature on the new generation of Tibetans in exile and their
dilemmas that he made in November 2007. He is one-movie-old and is
currently working on his next project, "The Girl From China."

For the uninitiated, his movie needs a little contextual analysis.

"Tsampa is a traditional Tibetan dish cooked with barley and pizza is
the country's hottest fast food. The title should tell you that the
movie is about the journey of the youth bred on Tsampa in their
homeland in exile to the culture of pizzas - modernity," the
filmmaker explained.

The storyline of the movie is small. "Tsampa..." is about two friends
in college, Tenzin and Dhondup, who share a room and similar
interests in girls, music and sports. But they are clueless about
their own identity. Born to Tibetan parents in exile, they have
learnt to accept their adopted homeland - Dharamsala in Himachal
Pradesh - as their own and assimilate its culture.

"I have tried to raise some serious questions in the movie. Like why
Tibetan youth are not consistent in their struggle for freedom? Are
they losing focus of their goals and priorities in their race to
follow in the footsteps of the West and the contemporary culture?" he said.

"Our school teachers in Dharamsala used to say that we were the
future of Tibet," he added.

Tsetan said that he has tried to answer these questions in his own
way in the movie.

"I think one of the most important factors that breeds inconsistency
in the struggle for a free Tibet among the youth is poor management
in terms of money, time and resources. The second is the western pop
culture, which is a distraction. Deep down, our youth have a huge
sense of nationalism but just can't give practical shape to it, but
there is no one to help them at home or outside," he said.

"Indian parents are so concerned about their children. If a kid asks
his parents for money, they would want to know what he would do with
the money. This instils a sense of accountability and management. Our
parents are very affectionate, but they would never question us about
what we would do with the money.

"As a result, money and resources are often mismanaged," the filmmaker said.

Tsetan added that the "affinity of Tibetan youth to Western culture
saps energy and the motivation to carry on the struggle."

"For instance, if we are called to take part in a demonstration at
Jantar Mantar, many of our boys would fritter away their energy
visiting discos and drinking the night before. There is no one to
advise them," he rued.

Tsetan's new movie "The Girl from China" is a political commentary
based on his personal interactions with a dancer from China who has
settled in India.

"I showed her some Tibetan movies which she liked. And only then did
she begin to talk. I shot queries like 'suppose you had a Tibetan
boyfriend, what would you do?' The movie is set in Shanghai, Delhi,
Agra and Dharamsala."

His new film also portrays how Tibetans in exile often go out of
their way to help Chinese travellers in distress.

"And in this case, a Tibetan welfare organisation helped a Chinese
tourist who had lost all his baggage return home by donating
Rs.15,000 for his passage," he said.

The message, as Tsetan says, is that "there is no enmity between
Tibetan and Chinese youth at a personal level despite the political
tussle between the leaderships of the two nations."

"My script is ready," the filmmaker said. All he needs is a producer.

But the fledgling Tibetan movie industry still has a long way to go.
"Filmmaking has yet to pick up because anything cerebral puts off
Tibetan youth," Sonam laughed.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank