Chat Arvind Iyer on his debut film Drapchi which narrates the story of Tibet through the life of an opera singer

“T his film is about six million plus people across the world who live on hope and a woman who represents that hope.” This is what Arvind Iyer says about his debut feature film, Drapchi , which portrays Tibet through the life of Yiga Gyalnang, a traditional Tibetan opera singer.

Drapchi , which premiered at Osians Cinefan festival in New Delhi earlier, was screened at the Warsaw International Film Festival and the Cairo International Film Festival- in competition for Best Film on Human rights. Drapchi , in English and Tibetan, has been written by Pooja Ladha Surti, who wrote Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddar . Arvind, who has his roots in Kerala and is related to acclaimed jurist V.R. Krishna Iyer, has been brought up in Mumbai. He started out as an ad filmmaker, research writer and graphic designer before making his short film in Dutch, Karma , and a music video, ‘Paradise Lost’, which was released on the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In an e-mail interview with MetroPlus , Arvind talks about what went into the making of Drapchi . Excerpts…

Drapchi is about…

Drapchi deals with issues that Tibetans in Tibet face. The title of the film is a metaphor from the Drapchi prison in Lhasa. Yiga Gyalnang, the singer, is abducted one summer morning and finds herself in near complete isolation in an underground secret prison cell for what is seen by the government as rebellion because of her songs of freedom and expression. After two years, she breaks free and escapes to Nepal and from there, to the West, taking with her the Tibetan song and spirituality.

The inspiration

It is based on a true story and certain events from the life of famed Tibetan opera singer Namgyal Lhamo who portrays Yiga. She is the soul of the film and the inspiration behind Drapchi .

Challenges while filming

A huge amount of underground research went into the crafting of the central character. Stories and topics relating to Tibet need to be handled sensitively and responsibly. History was an extremely important subtext at the scripting stage. Tibet is out of bounds for film crew. We ventured out into some of the most dangerous terrain in the world with cast, crew and equipment and shot across real locations and seasonal changes. The film has taken over three years to complete. The film was shot in Nepal, the United States, the Netherlands and Lhasa, Tibet.

Music in Drapchi

Having grown up watching Bollywood films, it was natural to use music. Since I’d worked with Namgyal Lhamo (in Karma and ‘Paradise Lost’), she was chosen for the role. The soundtrack of the film is an amalgamation of various elements. Classic vintage rock and world music have been blended with Tibetan classical music and opera. Namgyal Lhamo is popularly known as the 'Nightingale of Tibet', has performed solo at many concerts across the world and has also shared space with the likes of Alanis Morissette, Beastie Boys and Icelandic singer Bjork. Next in line

Currently, I am working on an untitled script for a film that is Tibetan in terms of premise and outline but a legal political thriller. It would be a complete departure from Drapchi in terms of treatment. Namgyal Lhamo will play the lead once again.

Drapchi will be screened in the Top Angle Indian Cinema category of the 17th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) on December 9 at Kalabhavan Theatre (3.15 p.m.) and on December 10 at Sree Padmanabha Theatre (11.30 a.m.)

Athira M.

Tibet is out of bounds for film crew.

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