Who Will Be a Gurkha

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A 200-year-old ritual of British imperialism is closely observed in this striking Nepali film.

Director: Kesang Tseten
Year: 2012
Country: Finland, Nepal, Norway, UK
Running time: 75 mins

Producer: Kesang Tseten
Photography: Ranu Ghosh, Yuv Gurung, Gairik Sarkar, Kesang Tseten
Editors: Pauliina Punkki, Kesang Tseten
Sound: Ranu Ghosh, Jyoti Rana
Music: Lasse Enersen
In English and Nepali, with English subtitles

Festivals: Amsterdam Documentary 2012

Britain recruited soldiers from Nepal through most of its years ruling India, and despite leaving the subcontinent in 1947, it still does. In this striking Nepali film we find out just what it takes to be recruited through a close up of a recruitment drive in Pokhara, western Nepal. And we find out how intensively selective the British are in a position to be. It is long odds – after three months, a first cull from 8,000 to 500; after another three weeks, a second and final cull to the fortunate 176. We see 17 to 21 year olds exercising ferociously; being asked why the British Army is in Afghanistan, then running a gruelling cross country course; writing exams; and learning to swim. The tension around the two culls, especially the final one, builds. You find yourself rooting for contenders. And that turns out to be as true, but in spades, for their families. When not only money but status is at stake – particularly when fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers have served – seemingly everything hangs on that final ‘yes’ or ‘no’. — Malcolm McKinnon

“While the film does not directly confront the larger issues at play here – the questions of politics and exploitation that arise when one country’s citizens are mercenaries for another – it captures the burden of history in the small dramas of these young men. This is what the film does best – it takes the audience beyond the Gurkha camp and into the lives of these young, hot-blooded Nepali men…

Early on in the film, during the regional selection interview, one applicant is asked to list a few interesting points about himself. The young man, bare-chested and in shorts, sits ‘upright as a true Gurkha’ and says that he is ‘honest, intelligent and not boring’. While this might be true of the man, it is certainly a succinct description of the film.” — Weena Pun, kantipur.com