SOONGAVA

Director: Subarna Thapa
Year: 2012
Country: Nepal

As I write this entry, the news is still abuzz with Moonlight’s win for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. But while the film itself has been overshadowed by the unfortunate envelope mix-up at the ceremony, it’s important to remember what an incredible moment this is for LGBT+ stories in cinema. In honour of Moonlight, I’ve brought forward two films from countries further down my list which feature prominent gay relationships. Nepal’s Soongava is the first of these films, and together with my entries for Lithuania’s Summer of Sangailė, The Bahamas’ Children of God, and Croatia’s Fine Dead Girls, forms a series of entries that showcase international representations of homosexuality in film.

Soongava was Nepal’s 2012 submission for the Best Foriegn Language Oscar, but was not nominated. It tells the story of a passionate romance between two young Nepalese women, Kiran and Diya. Kiran is a tomboy from a modern, Westernised family, while Diya’s household is strictly traditional. The contrast between the old and the new is something I’ve seen in films from many countries now, but never the same way twice.

soongava-1
Diya’s family encourages her to pursue traditional Nepalese interests like dancing.

Of course Diya and Kiran face a series of obstacles – intolerant parents, uncertain sexuality, and Diya’s upcoming arranged marriage are just some of the complications the couple face. Nepal is known for its progressive stance on many gay issues, but the film argues that in some ways this is merely a facade, and that homophobic bigotry is still very real in the country.

The womens’ choice to pursue a life together leads to escalated hostility from their society, frayed relationships in their school and home lives, and eventually, violence. It’s a frustrating trend that I’ve seen in both my entry for The Bahamas, and more recently Croatia. Even well-intentioned films that aim to highlight real discrimination can instead come across as reinforcing the unfortunate image of gays as victims, and their relationships as destined for tragedy.

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The star-crossed lovers, Diya and Kiran.

The visuals are clean and bright in an almost Disney-channel aesthetic, which jars somewhat with the film’s more emotionally heavy moments. The scenery is striking, and the soundtrack is pleasant but not memorable. At times, the dialogue can edge slightly too far into soap opera territory, but the earnest performances from the lead actresses generally save it from becoming melodrama. Soongava is not a bad film by any means, but unfortunately Subarna Thapa’s few stylistic flourishes aren’t quite enough to shake the feeling that this is a story we’ve all seen before.

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