The Sari Soldiers

The Sari Soldiers


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

With so many documentary films these days opting to take a specific stance on a subject, thanks in no small part to Michael Moore's in-your-face tactics, it's nice to come across one which takes an issue and examines it from several perspectives, in order to highlight the shades of grey. The Sari Soldiers does just that, taking the issue of civil unrest in Nepal and examining it from several angles. What is also interesting about these soldiers is that they are all female.

Back in 2001, Nepal hit the headlines after the royal family was massacred by the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Dependra, before he turned the gun on himself. With 10 members of the family dead, the crown fell to the sole remaining heir, Prince Gyanendra. But he didn't just inherit the throne - he also gained a five-year long Maoist insurgency. And as one of the film's contributors says: "Where there is rebellion there is bound to be sacrifice."

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Gyanendra's response to the crisis was to crack down on civil liberties, declaring a state of emergency in 2005. Filmed across the resulting three-year period of unrest which shook the country, Julie Bridgham's admirably even-handed film looks at six women and their efforts to make a difference to the future of Nepal.

Devi's story is the most heartbreaking. After witnessing her niece being killed by the Royal Nepal Army, she chose to speak out. As a result, the soldiers came back to hunt her down and, finding her out, carted off her 15-year-old daughter instead. Her daughter became one of the thousands of 'disappeared' and Devi spent the next three years battling to find out what happened to her. She was helped in her struggle by Mandira - a human rights lawyer, also risking her life to speak out against atrocities being perpetrated in the name of law and order.

But Bridgham is not in the business of taking sides. She also looks at the story from the position of Royal Nepal Army trainee officer Rajani - who sees herself as a "replacement" for her brother who was killed and feels she is making a real contribution to stabilising her country.

Also explaining her position in the conflict is Maoist rebel commander Kranti - who believes right is on her side; while rural leader Krishna - a monarchist - is determined not to let either the Maoists or political protestors, such as student Ram, overrun her village.

The contrast between the despair of Devi and her husband, and the youthful enthusiasm of both activist Ram and soldier Rajani is a sharp one. By focussing in the pain of the family, the documentary questions the concept of an idealism whose foundation is bodies from all sides.

Balanced, moving and comprehensive, this film offers more than simply a snapshot of a country, it also shows how circumstances can radicalise even the most middle-of-the-road people. Something we should pay more heed to given the current state of world affairs.

Reviewed on: 07 Apr 2008
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Political upheaval in Nepal seen through the eyes of six women.

Director: Julie Bridgham

Year: 2008

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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