When the Abbess of a local Buddhist Nunnery in Mustang (northern Nepal) dies, her cremated site shows signs that she could be reincarnated if prayers are performed. Wanting her return, the nuns make preparations for the next few months however their current funds won’t be able to support the additional prayers. Looking through their books, they list the number of people they’ve loaned money to and pinpoint Tashi (Jampa Kalsang), a small time business man, who apparently hasn’t be using his money wisely and thus decide to claim it back from him. The senior nun chooses two young nuns, Ani Karma (Tsering Dolkar) and Ani Sonam (Yeshi Lhamo) to journey to other side of the mountains to claim it back from him. Problem is… he’s nowhere to be found and each clue to his next whereabouts usually leads to a dead end. With both provisions and time running out, the nun’s journey takes them across the gorgeous heights of the Himalayan mountains to the deepest layers of Katmandu – where apparently Tashi is trafficking women as prostitutes. Or so it seems.
Karma is clearly a wonderful oxymoron of a film. As an independent project for director Tsering Rhitar Sherpa – budget for lighting, editing, cinematography and at times, the dialogue, is very rough or none existence in some scenes. It’s compensated however by the beautiful backdrop of Nepalese mountains, bustling city life and beautiful colours that surround the nunnery and our two nuns. In contrast to the bland, rocky surfaces or poorly constructed houses, their red Kasaya’s (robes) pop out from the screen. In the opening few scenes, Karma is established as a bit of a rogue nun. While the others are out collecting dried Yak dung, she’s playing around by hiding in the caves and in another scene, makes herself feel like a bird by fluttering her shawl near an air field as the strong winds blow over her. Breaking all kinds of stereotypes, this Buddhist nun is wonderfully energetic as when her senior nun tells her she needs to be more disciplined, Karma does anything but. Upon taking strict instructions to find Tashi in his home town of Jomsom, Karma and Sonam cross a bridge with an old woman carrying apples walking the other way. While Sonam continues on her path, Karma helps the lady cross the bridge and is rewarded with two apples. In a single scene, we see two nuns from the same nunnery but having two very separate personalities.
Karma is not your average Buddhist movie. While many would encourage a disciplined way of life, this film shows one needs to be a little more flexible in order to solve problems. Ani Karma is a wonderfully likable character. Her charm and humour is what truly keeps her motivated in her journey and you are simply compelled to follow her wherever she goes. Her nearest comparison is Audrey Tautou’s Amelie as leaving her nunnery allows her to discover, explore and absorb the majestic surroundings of Nepal and all it has to offer. She questions everything, even the motive of the Abbess who gave the shady Tashi money without really telling anyone why. While chopping onions, take a look at Karma’s take on De Niro’s “Are you talking to me?” scene. It is quite intimidating.
While the ending isn’t what you were expecting, it really is a wonderful look on Buddhist philosophy and how thinking outside of the box can equally lead you to enlightenment.
Karma will have its European Premier on Thursday, 12th April at the International Buddhist Film Festival
Reviewed by Vaskar S. Kayastha