At four thirty in the evening, the pre-monsoon thunder is rolling in from the horizon and before rain it is cool and slightly cloudy. I hurry into the Jhamsikhel lane and inside one of its cafes. I had been told to be on time for this interview and indeed I am five minutes early, but seeing her there already and talking on the phone, I try to remember the last time I had tweaked with the time on my cell, and by how much. “Am I late?” I ask anyways, after introductions and taking out a notebook. “Oh, no, no”, she replies reassuringly, “you’re quite on time.”
Mita Hosali speaks clearly. There aren’t many distinctive pauses in her speech and the English is to the textbook, devoid of a definitive accent. Mostly, she is quite collected, save a few topics where she speaks with not so much a burst of passion, but a calm and dignified energy. She also carries a well-scripted Bengali heritage in her, fond of politics and art, both of which have been an integral part of her life, first as a student, then working at the U.N. and now involved in theater and films. As a young student in London and New York, she says, she watched classics of the new wave cinema early into mornings: “I used to belong to these repertory cinema houses where you could be a member and go watch films for nothing. So I used to go and watch films till two in the morning. I saw all the fabled directors, Fellini, Truffaut, Kurosawa”. She would then catch classes, studying International Relations both for her under-graduate and graduate degrees. For the former she applied and got into the London School of Economics (LSE). “My parents had expected I’d study law at Oxford, where my grandfather had gone, or perhaps Cambridge. But I really wanted to go to LSE because, you know, the usual dose of youthful Left Wing idealism back then,” she says.
It came at an interesting time too, when the then U.S.S.R. was experimenting with Communism, and Western academia was teeming with political debate. Curiously enough, years later, she has come to be involved with the theater scene of a country where the same ideology has great grasp over national politics. When I mention to her that the Left Wing is still quite popular in Nepal, she brightens up: “Still popular, yes!!” “But I’m older now,” she adds with a laugh.
Having worked at the U.N. for almost all her life, she came to Nepal in 2009 when her husband got a job in a project that supports the constitution building process. “My husband has had a love affair with Nepal for long time,” she says. “He was here twelve years ago as the regional producer of the Meena cartoon series. I’ve been here on and off and we both loved the country. So in 2009 I took a break from my job and came here”. Later that year, she was delighted when Eelum Dixit requested her to take on the production of Othello to be staged as the first play of the newly formed theatre group, Nepal Shakes. Since then she has also acted in two plays and brought in M.K. Raina, a director who led a renowned team from Delhi’s National School of Drama as well as veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah for theatre workshops. Sudam Chatkuli, an actor who had attended both the workshops tells me it was a milestone in his life and career. “I already had taken a year long training before, but was not doing much, workwise. After the Raina workshop we did the play Andho Yug and it went really well. I met a lot of professionals from the scene and am doing other work,” he says.
Now she is venturing into the production of films. Deepak Rauniyar, director of the well-reviewed “Chaukhaith” and the upcoming film “Highway”, and with whom she is looking to collaborate for an upcoming venture, tells me of his first impressions of her: “I think she is someone who understands films. As a director...you know some people, they know things but don’t understand. When I first met her, I knew our ideas would synchronize”.
Hosali agrees: “He told me about two feature films he had ideas about and instinctively he knew what I’d choose. It was a nice small project”. She is to be a producer of the film and has her responsibilities clearly marked out: “I will be seeing through the needs of the director, connecting the dots, overseeing the logistics, helping with the marketing.” In an industry seen as unprofessional and providing so little scope for original stories, her way of working seems like a silver lining. Rauniyar adds to this and says, “there are mostly only financers in the industry today and not producers and there’s a big difference.”
A reflection of the former cannot only be seen in her involvement with theatre or films but also in her hobby of collecting rugs. She calls herself a “textile hound” and tells me, “I have rugs and carpets from all over the world. Not silk, I don’t want silk, that doesn’t interest me. Each of my rugs has a story behind it.” As with the latter, it stems from her working life at the United Nations. Both of the qualities, however, seem to have been nurtured during her days in New York, where, while working at the U.N. and studying for her graduate degree in the neighboring New Haven, she took in cinema, theater and life in general with great frenzy and excitement. She had first gone on to live in the city after being appointed at the U.N. as a tour guide. Sometime later she also got into Yale for her Masters. Converting her job to part-time, she then led a “schizophrenic” existence commuting back and forth from New York to New Haven (where Yale is) half of every week: “I went back and forth a lot. I had this split personality and some people at the graduation were like, where have you been all this year?” Talking about the days in New York she automatically pulses up and I can easily feel what she is trying to say when she says that she was “sucking up” life in the metropolis: “I loved it, you know when you’re young and the world is your oyster, oh my god, and I had these crazy friends from all over the world and we would be drinking and hanging out.” She also saw a lot of plays in New Haven: “In New York I used to watch some theater, but it was quite expensive. At Yale they had the Yale Repertoire Theatre and they showed some good plays of which I watched a lot”.
Along the years, she also moved up ranks in the U.N. working in the Public Relations side of things. Before coming to Nepal, she was the chief of the news website at UN.org, looking after its French and English content. From 2004 to 2006, she worked with a high-level team under Kofi Annan, in the inner circle of the organization’s top brass as a convenor, laying out policy issues that needed to be tackled from a strategic communications perspective: “It was a very fascinating and stressful period. The UN as an institution was under attack because of the Iraq-related oil-for-food scandal and the sexual harassment scandals that were drawing in senior officials. The Right Wing press in the west was having a field day and there was some very damaging, manipulated misinformation being circulated as the Sec. General was made a point of attack. From the communications point of view, we were trying to set the record straight – and that meant being factually more alert and careful.”
Coming from that, to the film and theater scene of a small South Asian nation looks like a lot of homework but she seems generally aware of where things stand, especially with regards to the movie industry here: “When it comes to films and here maybe I’m talking on a bit, but it’s something I feel quite strongly about, this is obviously a sub-continent where everything is dominated by the Indian film industry. And if it isn’t Indian then it’s Korean or Hollywood. So between that it’s such an overwhelming and stifling influence, I must say, that it has prevented a lot of indigenous stuff from happening. People are always coming up with ideas but a lot of the best ideas probably bite the dust because you know, absence of resources, not good enough production and distribution.”
I ask Bharati Manandhar, her production assistant on Othello, Exit the King as well as the two workshops, about her working style. “She is very organized by nature and always prepared for deadlines,” she says., “Right from the first job, she wanted to do everything right, she’s also very good at marketing and thinks two steps ahead.” She had met Hosali during the second year of her A-Levels and before being involved in the production of Othello, had worked on a number of plays: “I was interested in theatre and wanted to help out. The production side was new to me, but she was very friendly and comfortable to work with.” Kedar Sharma, a freelance media professional, who has been a close friend and supporter adds, “The artist inside of her makes her involved in every part of the process, which in return causes her pain. She might be happier being less emotionally attached to things; she has to consider the level of professionalism here”.
While talking about the competition between theatre groups in Kathmandu turning into personal friction, she opens up: “I haven’t felt it personally, but I understand that we are all competing for the same resources. I think at the end of the day it’s just about being professional and bringing a whole range of experiences, to people. Do your work, get on with it. I am sometimes dismayed about the negative energy out there.”
I tell her that the mainstream film industry here is hardly famous for its professionalism, that the distribution chains are rigged with personal connections and internal politics. “You know, I think there are people trying to break out of that, they’re trying hard. One of the actors from the workshop, who’s played in three films this year said to me, ‘you know Mita, that’s it, I’m really, done with it, I can’t deal with Nepali films right now and I will go back to theater.’ And if he is more discriminating and people like him are more discriminating then maybe they’ll lead the way and refuse to do the garbage that some directors want them to and with the directors who have talent and want to do the parallel cinema type of stuff, maybe, that will create a new energy, so that everybody will not end up doing copies of the Korean films.”
I ask her if she wants then, to be a part of this changing face of Nepali art scene, especially with the coming of new, young people and more original and unique ideas. “I would love to be a part of it although I am still tied to the UN and feel the tug of those obligations. Absolutely. In any small way--my name doesn’t need to be in the lights, if I put people together, if I speak to a production house in Europe and they’re interested in encouraging somebody, if I can help in even a quiet way, I’ll be so happy. If Deepak and other film-makers can be part of a new wave of Nepali cinema and they are recognized by Hollywood or Cannes or Sundance, this would be deeply gratifying, And if we just make a movie that resonates within Nepal and South Asia, that’s enough as well.”
When I meet her again, she is back from a trip to New York, tired of travelling, but also with optimistic news. An independent production house based in New York whom she approached and pitched the proposal of a Nepali film ‘Kaalbela’ (the Hour of Darkness) had been very positive about the idea of the new venture with director Rauniyar. “It’s a production house that supports parallel cinema, they are familiar with the film festival route and they are very enthusiastic about this project”, she says. Thus was the collaboration with the award-winning Louverture Productions headed by the famed US actor Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes born. Louverture has also taken a lead role in the post-production, international marketing and distribution of ‘Highway’. Hosali is excited and hopeful that if Highway goes places, it will be kudos to the Nepali team that worked on it – and a lift to Kaalbela’s fortunes. Along with the project in hand she has also committed to produce David Mamet’s Oleanna, the first play of a newly created theatre company One World Theatre, looking forward to work with other directors and actors in the months ahead, and if it happens, to act as well.
Does she get similar vibes of her youth in New York, with all the creativity of the theater and the new film scene here? “The time in New York was truly a lot of fun because I was really exploring and discovering a whole new world and the time here has opened doors, its opened vistas, it’s opened my eyes. I see so many things. You learn about people. It’s all about the human condition.” “Do you feel revived?” I ask her, for, perhaps, a finishing dramatic stroke.
“If I say I feel revived that would mean I was dead at some point and that’s not good. But, it definitely brings a rush, there is a definite rush, no question” she replies adding, “But if I hadn’t done this, I don’t know, I may have done something else, I have no idea. Maybe I would have renovated old houses – I have a passion for vintage homes! But I am so thrilled to have down time with my kids, my mother and to be here in Asia.” An avid traveler, writer and bon vivant, she says “I have time to dream and breathe. My life is very open right now and it’s kind of great not to have parameters. It’s very liberating.”