21 May 2006

The Cup is beautiful to behold!

A review on Khyentse Norbu's The Cup

What are the first thoughts that cross your mind on seeing a Buddhist monk? Prayer? Penance? Spirituality? Compassion? “Above human suffering”? “Disregard for worldly needs”?

How about football?


That is exactly what The Cup [1999] makes the viewer do, by giving us an insider’s look at a very different side of Buddhist monks, a side oft overlooked by a lot, if not, all of us.

The movie, the first to ever come out of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and based on a true incident, is set in a Tibetan monastery-in-exile in a remote corner of India. It deals with football craze among student monks during the 1998 World Cup in France. The biggest football freak among these students is Orgyen, a ‘barely-into-his-teens’ young monk who, apart from wearing a Ronaldo vest under his monk’s robe, has football photos stuck all over his room. Along with a few others, he also ‘religiously’ steals out of the monastery at nights to watch the World Cup matches on television in a nearby village. During one such night, Orgyen and his friends are caught in the act by the head priest Geko, who punishes them with an entire month’s cooking duty. Orgyen and his friends come up with an idea to watch the World Cup finals, and the execution of this plan makes up the rest of the movie.

Khyentse Norbu, the director of this film, is a real-life monk recognized as the incarnation of a 19th century Tibetan saint. He trained in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism before going to the USA to study politics and film-making. The Cup is his first film, and is, I must say, a very commendable effort for a first-timer, and it’s hard to believe that the screenplay is the work of a debutant.

Though a little slow-paced, the movie flows on smoothly with interesting scenes that ensure that the audience’s attention doesn’t waver.

Also worth mentioning are the dialogues, which are simple, funny and innocent. There is a scene in the movie where a new monk very naively asks Orgyen why he has to steal out at nights to watch the match, and why not during daytime. Orgyen innocently replies, “Oh… It’s something to do with the earth not being flat.”

All the actors have put in decent performances, considering the fact that they are all first-time performers and real-life monks. However, Jamyang Lodro’s performance as Orgyen outshines the rest, thanks to his genuine expressions and effective body language. The kid’s a natural!

Visually too, the movie is a treat: vast stretches of dewy, misty mountains, lush fields, and fluttering monastery flags at sunrise being some of the scenes that stand out. Kudos to Paul Warren, the cinematographer, for infusing vibrancy in every frame.

Though the basic theme of this movie is about football-crazy monks trying to watch the finals of the World Cup, the movie also explores the warm, jocund relationship among the monks, and also the solidarity and co-operation between them when a collective effort is required to watch the finals. The abbot’s dilemma about bringing up young monks traditionally in a modern world, and his flexible approach towards this is also portrayed beautifully.

Overall, The Cup isn’t exactly a classic, but the kind of movie that brings a smile to one’s face, in retrospect, even years later. It’s one of the few films, where the story content ever so subtly and completely involves even the most cynical of audiences who just might find themselves hoping, with bated breath, that Orgyen and his friends would finally get to see the World Cup finals. Do watch!

© Guru Smaran

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