Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines

NEPAL: New TV Mini-series Is Development Catalyst

Suman Pradhan

KATHMANDU, Jan 10 1996 (IPS) - Producers of a new Nepali-Finnish television mini-series to be shown soon on screens in Europe and Asia came across the answer quite by chance: Water.

That was what the village of Ramghat needed the most. Water to irrigate their dry fields, and safe water for their children to drink so they wouldn’t die of diarrhoea.

Even after millions and millions of dollars of development aid, most Nepali villages like Ramghat still don’t have safe drinking water or irrigation.

‘Guhar’ (Help in Nepali) is a film about ‘development’ gone wrong. And while shooting, the film itself became a catalyst for development in Ramghat, a tiny village in Nepal’s south- western corner.

Ramghat’s misfortune is that it is perched on the edge of a cliff 50 metres above the mighty Karnali River. Villagers have to run down to the river to ferry drinking water, and there was no feasible way to bring the water up for irrigation.

Now, an ingenious small pump worth 400 dollars which does not need diesel or electricity because it is powered by the river’s current brings an endless supply of sparkling clean Karnali water up to Ramghat.

‘Guhar’ is about a 20 million dollar rural development project in this area 10 years ago which didn’t benefit anyone except foreign consultants and bureaucrats in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu.

Ironically, the film succeeded where the project failed. The pump was supposed to be only a part of the film’s story-line, but unexpectedly turned into a real-life success story. It has given Ramghat new hope, and other nearby villages now want the pumps as well.

The film is a joint venture between Nepal TV and the Finnish Broadcasting Company, YLE and is directed by one of Nepal’s brightest young film-makers, Deependra Gauchan.

The language is Nepali, English and a smattering of Finnish and Swedish. But the film will be shown with subtitles in Finland, Nepal, Denmark and Sweden.

‘Guhar’ is also unique because Gauchan has used local villagers to act out their real life roles with help from professional Scandinavian and Nepali actors.

The story tells of promises not kept, misplaced priorities, wasted resources and the final realisation that development will only work if the local people have a say in it.

Herein lies the story of Ramghat which is told on two levels: the main part focuses on the intricate development problems of rural areas and why villages have missed out. At another more subtle level, it is the story of the quest for water by Ramghat’s villagers.

In the movie, Ramghat is a fictional village called Sungaon (village of gold). The ten-part series weaves a story of the women of Sungaon which is in the midst of a development crisis brought about largely by indifferent bureaucrats in Kathmandu.

Along comes Cecilia, a Scandinavian development expert with degrees in interactive community management and development support communication. Cecilia, played by Finnish actress Marina Motaleff, helps the women of Sungaon with communication skills so that they can get their needs and ideas across to the decision makers who are too busy to come down and see for themselves.

Her solution – teaching the village women about the technique of using a video camera so that they can send video letters to the capital’s bureaucrats detailing their needs is based on an actual project in which the director, Gauchan, was involved.

“All the women of Ramghat really needed was water. For irrigation, to drink, to wash…for normal household chores,” says Gauchan. “But despite a huge integrated development project which happened to be in the area, Ramghat did not have water.”

“The project showed me all the difficulties of development. Governments think at the highest levels, but they often miss out on the ordinary needs of villagers. One small missing link, and all the effort is wasted.”

Gauchan shot to fame after a controversial 1992 feature film he made for UNICEF, ‘Ujeli’, which tackled the issue of child marriage, using villagers to act out the poignant story of a little Nepali girl and her family.

Guhar’s film’s Finnish producer, Leena Vihtonen says: “Right from the beginning, we wanted Deependra to direct this film, it

was his story originally. And we had also watched Ujeli and the marvelous treatment of the subject he did on that film.”

Gauchan and Vihtonen say they want ‘Guhar’ to be a message about how a little can go far. How sometimes so little money can make so much difference and how at other times a lot of money makes no difference at all.

Says Vihtonen: “This message comes naturally in the film. In spite of all the millions of dollars spent on development, what Ramghat really needed was a 300 dollars water pump to bring the river water to the village. Most of the problems can be solved by the villagers themselves. All they need is a little help.”

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