Tashi And The Monk


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tashi And The Monk
"Tashi's fierceness and imagination make her a highly engaging subject."

Once upon a time there was a little boy who was very, very naughty. He didn't have parents to raise him like other children did - he didn't really have a childhood - so when he became a man, he decided that he wanted to help other naughty, lonely children to have better lives. That man was Lobsang Phuntsok, now a monk, and this is the story of Jhamtse Gatsal, the community in which he is raising his 85 charges.

Not all of the children are orphans. Some are victims of abuse; others were passed to Lobsang by parents who simply couldn't afford to keep them. Limited resources mean he has to turn down 90% of those referred to him, despite knowing it could cost them their lives. In the face of this, and the badmouthing that accompanies it, he shows remarkable serenity. He is lucky, he says, because now he gets to have 85 childhoods. But with such difficult backgrounds, it's not surprising that many of the children are disruptive. Five year old Tashi is one of the wildest, and by focusing on her story this handsomely shot documentary neatly encapsulates the challenges of Lobsang's world.

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How did Tashi come to be here? A ghost ate up both of her parents, she declares. She's determined not to be scared of anything, and positively seeks out conflict, threatening to colour in one boy's face and casually asking another if he would like a slap. As a result, the other children avoid her, playing together whilst she's left to play alone with barbed wire. Lobsang's initial assumption that she'll improve with time is not borne out, so he appoints an older boy to be her big brother and teach her why things like friendship and sharing matter.

For all that it reveals the financial struggles the community faces and Lobsang's inability to save everyone, this isn't a critical or downbeat tale. Tashi's fierceness and imagination make her a highly engaging subject, and her developing relationship with her new brother and the monk provide a strong narrative. Other children flit in and out of the story, their faces and body language revealing as much as their words. This is a community built on resilience, one where the pain of the past is not hidden but loses something of its power in the face of so much opportunity for learning and fun. Set in one of the poorest parts of the world, this is a celebratory film which sees a little humanity go a long way.

Tashi And The Monk will première on HBO on August 17.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2015
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A documentary exploring the community of Jhamtse Gatsal, where a devoted monk cares for 85 children.

Director: Johnny Burke, Andrew Hinton

Starring: Lobsang Phuntsok, Tashi Dormal

Year: 2014

Runtime: 39 minutes

Country: India


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