Mukundo- The Mask of Desire was Nepal’s official selection for the Oscars in the year 2000, first independent Nepali movie to do so. Based on real incidents, the movie revolves around a religious wife and her husband who resorts to a shaman to communicate with the powerful deity named “Tripura Mata” to amend her wrongdoings as well as to fulfill her wishes.
Saraswati is a superstitious and religious woman living happily with her husband and 2 daughters. They both desire a son in the family for which Saraswati prays to an unknown deity called “Tripura Mata ” and her prayers are answered. But their happiness is short-lived as unprecedented events occur in their life and Saraswati tries to find the answers through the jhakrini (shaman) Gita who is closest to the deity. The weird climax is what will leave you bewildered.
Mukundo has experienced and talented casts of Mithila Sharma, Gauri Malla and Ratan Subedi. Mithila as Gita is the show stealer. She as the character of Gita switches between the soft women yearning for touch of love and the fierce healer who cures her patient by violently beating them. Her expressions when she is possessed is the one to look out for. Gauri Malla’s energy also matches with Mithila Sharma. Gauri as Saraswati who is sorrowful with trauma, anxiety and on the verge of a mental breakdown is brilliant. The most underrated aspect I felt was Ratan Subedi as an actor. We have seen him in comedic songs all along our childhood that it took me a while to adhere to him with a serious role. How come our makers never see him as a capable actor? The colors seem to be vibrant according to the scenes and camera movements are unprecedented for that era, not just cinematography almost everything seems unprecedented for that era.
Now let’s come to some underwhelming aspects. I can understand the technical and monetary constraints that limit the movie to be produced as a full spectacle. The dark scenes are so dark (darker than the episode The Long Night of GOT) that you cannot see the faces of the actors and their expressions. Some biggest moments are unraveled in the darker scenes and it would have more impact if those scenes were lit up with a little bit of external light. From what it seems the movie is lit with only natural and available light to illuminate the characters. I have no complaints over its picture quality because the movie seems to be filmed in reel and converted to digital and up scaled to match the current streaming standards. The climax fused with beats from the background music of the parallel machhindra jatra is dizzy and will leave you flabbergasted.
The theme of desire is showcased through Gita’s need of human love and affection while just her opposite Saraswati tries to be closer to her god.
The movie along with its central theme about witchcraft, superstitions and desires also underlines other themes like mental issues, masculinity, loneliness, and animosity and child marriage.