A Small Taste of South Asian Music and Cinema

Our program has talked a lot about Bhutanese (and also Indian and Korean, as both influence Bhutan greatly) popular culture. We have talked among ourselves, with our culture teacher, and with young people we meet in Chamkhar. We find it really interesting to learn about the ways that Bhutan’s culture has been changing so quickly, even in the last ten years. This is h happening, in part, because of increasing development, modernization, and contact with the West, East Asia, and the rest of South Asia. Korean pop culture is particularly popular here, and lots of young Bhutanese have Korean hairstyles and listen to K Pop.

One can’t say whether this is good or bad. The most extreme story we have heard about the downsides of these cultural changes is that sometimes members of the same family literally do not speak a common language. This can happen when, for example, grandparents speak a local language, like Bumthap, and grandchildren living in the same house only speak Dzongkha and English.

I am sure a lot more research can be done on this subject, and many students in our program are interested in learning more. But, on a lighter note, we have also been the beneficiaries of fantastic South Asian culture. I’ll provide just two examples.

First: One of our professors is from south India and has a passion for Indian and Bengali cinema. Our program has hosted two events called “Nerd Night,” where any student or staff member can speak for five minutes about something random that interests them. Our professor spoke about Satyajit Ray, a twentieth-century Bengali filmmaker, writer, and lyricist. Ray’s first film, released in 1955, is called Pather Panchali. It was produced by the Government of West Bengal and is based on a 1929 Bengali novel of the same name. It is often featured in lists of the greatest films ever made, and we got to see it! A couple weeks after our professor told us about the film, he screened it in the auditorium of the Madanjeet Singh Center, and many people watched and enjoyed it. It’s engrossing and paints an incredible vivid picture of village life in West Bengal during the 1950s.

Second: All the students have come to love the popular Bhutanese song “Namkhai Tshentra,” which we learned the lyrics to in our Dzongkha class. We know a lot of the words but one line is particularly popular, and we like to sing it at random moments. We also love when the song plays in a shop or someone’s home, and we can sing along. It was particularly exciting when we saw it performed at the opening of the Gross National Happiness Center in Bumthang, which we attended last Sunday.

I highly recommend watching the movie if you can get your hands on it (I don’t know whether that’s difficult) and listening to the song!

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