Reviews

Published on March 3rd, 2014 | by Caroline Clastres

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Preview: Who will be a Gurkha

Still from the film

The film’s plot unfolds freely as the camera moves through the lakeside town of Pokhara in Nepal. [Taskovski Films]

Award-winning director Kesang Tseten’s film documentary Who Will Be a Gurkha will be screened for the first time in London on March 6.

Tseten offers a nuanced and remarkably humble perspective of the Brigade of Gurkhas; beginning with the recruitment process for potential new soldiers and their rigorous training once accepted.

Beautiful images support the story of the interaction between Britain and Nepal – the employer and the employee. The film also shows how the young Nepalese men see the world, themselves and their future.

The tough reputation of Gurkha soldiers dates back to 1815 when the British dominance in India was put at risk by marauding forces from the expanding Nepali state. Impressed by their warfare skills and tenacity, Britain began recruiting Nepalese soldiers.

Killed

Around 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in both World War I and II and 60,000 were killed in action.

Today, Gurkha soldiers are sent to areas of conflict such as Afghanistan or Iraq where they do not fear fighting in hand-to-hand combat for the British army.

Tseten sets the scene of his documentary in summer 2011. Every year, thousands of Nepalese men compete for the few places to become Gurkhas. The selection, which extends over a few months with a three-phase procedure, tests the aspiring soldiers’ physical condition, intelligence and motivation.

Interspersed with archive footage, Tseten presents an observational documentary which gathers all elements to build up a personal feel and opinion.

Stories unfold

Deliberately wishing to show rather than tell, Tseten chose to let the stories unfold freely as the camera films through the lakeside town of Pokhara in Nepal.

still from the film

This immersion into the world of the army has a strong element of frankness [Taskovski Films]

“This ‘direct cinema’ approach meant I could not include any on-camera interviews, crucially because it would have been hugely intrusive to pull out individuals from their intense recruitment activities, ” Tseten explains. Even though this process of selection has been used for 200 years, it is the first time the tradition has ever been witnessed so closely.

“Before making this film I did not know much more about the Gurkhas than most people. In fact, I thought I could just walk into the British Gurkha Camp in Pokhara, and start filming. However I soon found out that very few had ever been allowed into the camp to film the recruitment stage and no one had ever filmed the entire process,” says the director.

Strong characters are clearly identified through the film as potential recruits and their training is captured as they go through the selection, right until their validation or rejection.

High spirits and hot tempers

Although high spirits and hot tempers are found as much in the British officers as in the Nepalese applicants, the leading forces state their intentions firmly concerning the selection process: “Fair, free and transparent. We select the ones at the top. Not a single Rupee will get you in,” says the commanding officer. It is made obvious that the determination from the Nepalese applicants is far from being strictly military-motivated.

While being asked why they would apply to the British army, many Nepalese reply that “it gives a name and fame” within their society. Salary and recognition are clearly the applicants’ main motives.

This immersion into the world of the Army is all the more striking because of the absolute frankness of the Gurkha aspirants. The young Nepalese laugh and then ponder on their possible fate; they talk with pride of becoming a Gurkha but then fear to face their families in case of failure.

“I’m going, even if I die. It’s better if we die, then our parents will get money,” says one of the young recruits.

“If you join the British army, you will go on operation; you will go to war. You might die or get injured. Every day you will be out because this is your duty. You will grow up and change and from boys you will become men,” says one of the officers to the group of recruits.

After three months, only 176 Nepalese men out of 8,000 will be selected to be Gurkhas. This film is a fascinating vision of a military world that goes further than you could ever imagine.

 

Who will be a Gurkha will be showing at The Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise on March 6 2014 at 9pm.

Tickets cost £7 for adults or £5 for concessions.

 

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