By Syaura Nashwa (24S03R)
This story is the third of a 3-part series focusing on films featured during the Family Film Festival, which focused on family-centered themes and stories.
Balmani, the main protagonist, stays in the orphanage in Chitwan, South Nepal. He lost his mom to an earthquake back in his hometown, Kathmandu. Despite similar circumstances, Balmani wasn’t attached to the other orphans.
Often, he’d be seen in solitude, watching the others at a substantial distance. In fact, he didn’t seem to like them much at all — they made fun of his aloofness.
Balmani with the other children learning in a classroom.
Ms. Hannah, the director of the orphanage, worried and disappointed. For all the months Balmani had stayed, he hadn’t warmed up to the other kids or the staff. None of her efforts seemed helpful; nothing seemed to be able to touch his heart.
Hannah with Balmani.
During class, Hannah asked if anyone knew about the folklore of “The Tiger’s Nest”. Excited that he knew about it because of his late mother, Balmani’s hand shot up. A nostalgic yet painful memory, his eyes were downcast. Balmani recalled the ancient legend — in which a Buddhist guru rode on the back of a tiger to a monastery in the Himalayan Alps.
A mural of Bhutanese folklore, The Tiger’s Nest (Source).
While this was possibly the first time Balmani opened up to the class, the classmates didn’t respond favourably. The others teased him about how superstitious and far-fetched the legend was.
His classmates didn’t understand the impact their actions would have on Balmani, but they solidified Balmani’s lack of emotional connection to his de-facto home.
Avoidance and a Feisty Surprise
There was virtually no reason for Balmani to stay at the orphanage. At every juncture after his mother’s death, there was no place he could call home or people he could call family. He packed his bags in the dark of night forthwith.
Trying to find a road that led back to his hometown, Kathmandu, Balmani came across a frightening (and traumatising) scene. Amidst the tall grass and winter fog, a couple of poachers had slaughtered a tiger mother and captured its cub.
Balmani rushedly takes the tiger cub away from the poachers
Heroically, Balmani successfully saved the cub. Henceforth, they set out to return to their ‘true’ homes, Kathmandu and the Tiger’s Nest.
Balmani feeds the hungry Mukti some milk.
The journey back home was quite literally a rocky one.
In each hitchhike and in each stranger’s home, Balmani learns about another person’s story. The film chronicles the sequence of Balmani and Mukti’s escapades across various biomes and encounters with different tribes and ethnicities.
The film felt refreshing because South Asia, besides the vibrant Bollywood scene, has been rarely represented in mainstream media. In most movies depicting South Asia, the ‘tribal nomads’ exist only to guide the Western protagonists to Mount Everest or give cryptic advice. Films often don’t expand on their own lives and cultures.
The film, however, captured beautiful shots of strangers of different South Asian ethnicities with mutual love and respect. The film showcases stunning cinematography with saturated colours and crisp resolution.
Eventually, Balmani arrived in Kathmandu with Mukti on a hand-made leash. He received quite a few stares from those intimidated yet amazed by Mukti’s presence.
Balmani reunited with his friends from his life before the orphanage. For a long time, Balmani felt like he belonged and was genuinely loved.
A heartwarming scene as Balmani embraces his long-awaited friends.
Predator and Prey
Hannah, distraught over Balmani’s disappearance, travelled to Kathmandu in hopes of returning Balmani to safety. She arrived at Balmani’s registered home address, and unsurprisingly, she found him sitting there in fraught silence. Earlier, the poachers had tracked the pair and took Mukti to a facility.
Balmani returns to his empty house.
In a “one-sided” heart-to-heart between the two, it was evident that Balmani still did not trust Hannah. Hannah had lost his parents when she was younger as well. Perhaps by showing Balmani that she had gone through the same thing, she could convince Balmani to return.
He was still closed off. Even more so when Hannah let her disbelief slip when Balmani explained Mukti’s state of affairs.
They did not trust each other.
Once again, Balmani embarked on bringing back Mukti before something worse would happen.
Balmani and his friends scheming to save Mukti.
With friends, Balmani retrieves Mukti from the poachers.
In the final stretch of his journey, Balmani finally saw ‘home’. It was now Mukti’s turn. The group must hike the Himalayan Alps to the Bhutanese monastery, the Tiger’s Nest.
A couple of families helped Balmani and Mukti along the way. One was a family of ‘honey hunters’; the other nursed the pair when they were found almost dead because of the cold.
After an altercation between Mukti and the poacher, the group finally reached the legendary Tiger’s Nest in the Alps. Mukti could finally be at peace. There, the monk explained to Mukti that he has to be raised by a mother before Mukti becomes primal. The forest housed a tiger mother who could accept Mukti as her own.
The monk and Balmani’s wholesome interaction
Mukti struts down the temple, fond of the attention he gets from the monks.
Mukti is adorably afraid to approach his new mother.
From the still frames shot above and below, there was an obvious parallel of a parental figure accepting a child and Hannah taking care of Balmani. It showed how a family does not need to be connected by blood. Sometimes, only a reciprocal relationship of trust, love, and care is all one needs.
A scene of built-up trust, well-deserved and well-shown.
“The Tiger’s Nest (2022)” is directed by Brando Quilici, an indie Italian filmmaker. Its storytelling was to the point, and its cinematography showcased the beauty of South Asia, particularly Nepal. The sentiment of fostering a familial connection despite different pasts and cultures was wonderfully captured in the two hours.
That’s the beauty of family — a couple of people with different histories threaded by the same fate. When initial strangers decide to share a common future, like in the film, their love is so much stronger.