When he is not fulfilling his duties as a spiritual leader of Bhutan’s Khyentse Buddhism sect, Khyentse Norbu follows his passion of filmmaking. His latest feature film Vara: A Blessing looks at the life of a devadasi who falls in love with a sculptor. It was the Opening Selection at the Busan Film Festival in 2013 and it premiered in Delhi at the India Habitat Centre on Friday. He talks about why he thinks he is not an ideal spiritual guru and about losing his temper over Argentina’s exit from the 2014 FIFA World Cup:
How do you balance your duties as a spiritual leader and filmmaker?
Obviously, I am not a good spiritual person. I am distracted, I have hobbies and passions. But Buddhism never asked anyone to shun any means of communication. Filmmaking is just the 21st century medium. But filmmaking has not disturbed my spiritual path. Many times my producers have lost their patience, since I give preference to my religious duties.
Vara… is based on an adaptation of Indian novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Rakta Aar Kanna. What drew you to this book?
I was drawn to the story about India. India is a very profound country but it is not easy to make a film about Indian subjects such as classical dance and rural life. I realised there are so many things about India I do not know, even though I have grown up in India in places such as Sikkim and Uttar Pradesh. There is a very strong Indian influence in Buddhism and naturally there is a lot of intrigue towards Indian art and lifestyle.
This film deals with Bharatanatyam, which is known for its sensualness. How do you as a spiritual leader deal with such themes?
I have an aspiration to become an ideal follower of Buddhism. But speaking as a filmmaker, when you need to show something sacred, you need to show the other side as well. So when you need to portray the good side of a human being, you need to show the dark side also like sensuality. The film is about the ideal courage of a woman, and you need to juxtapose that with tough nature of life.
What are you working on now?
I am shooting my next feature film in November, which is tentatively titled Sing Me A Song While I Am Waiting. I am going back to my origin again for this one and it is based in Bhutan. It will be obscure and it’s sort of fictional. The film is about identity, guilt and remorse and how you are your own witness.