By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Director Veemsen Lama paints with the entire spectrum of the human experience in his tender and tragic sixteen minute short, “Maya” (2015). At times painful and others loving, optimistic, genuine and poetic, this work is undoubtedly full-bodied and alive. Lama, courtesy of a beautifully written and endearing screenplay by Tayo Odesanya, offers a stunning behind the camera bravura throughout. It is one which makes its more gentle moments all the more tearfully stirring. Likewise, it assists grandly in making the far more intense, dramatic instances all the more riveting.
The pace is just as masterful. In the tradition of the best brief compositions of this ilk, we walk away from the exertion impressing upon ourselves that we have been amended a feature length story. Yet, one that never feels condensed in any manner to fit into its fleeting span. Much of this has to do with Odesanya’s filler-free script. Every sequence directly continues the gripping narrative expertly. The believably wrought dialogue follows suit. Yet, the piece never feels rushed. Everything comes to us with an apparently natural progression. Such is just one of the many incredible feats this ground-breaking artistic construction conveys.
Lama tells the tale of three young children. Their names are Bikram (Suraj Tamang), Kancha (Aakash Malla) and the title heroine, Maya (Ashmita Tamang). The incredibly likable trio are seen escaping a seller in the immediately attention-garnering opening minute. These commencing seconds are smartly edited by Biki Gurung. Such is issued in an assortment of quick cuts. The decision to do so only increases the power, confusion and intrigue of what we are viewing. After this daring undertaking, they find themselves in the center of Kathmandu (Bagmati, Nepal). From this point, they are forced to steal food and other items necessary to ensure their survival. All the while, they occasionally labor at construction sites. This is while dreaming of, and slowly building, a home that the three of them can live in. Such becomes a testament to their will to endure. We, the audience, notice this all the more as such aspirations meet impossible to conquer obstacles at practically every turn.
Suraj and Ashmita Tamang, as well as Malla, are exceptional in their undeniably courageous roles. The Javiya Films production sports a small secondary cast which is just as impressive. Ben Winwood’s music captures the alternately fearful and inspirational tone of the undertaking. This is erected with simple beauty and maturity. Arran Green’s cinematography frames the entirety in a visual splendor. It is one where the same sentiments certainly apply. Shyam Khadka’s set decoration and costume design, Hannah Barnett’s vocals and Michael Ling’s sound carry on these attributes further. Everyone involved does marvelously in their respective technical arenas. The result is accessible in every achingly gorgeous, emotionally rousing sight we encounter herein.
Lama punctuates the account with a finish that is as enthralling as everything that came before it. Such a climax evokes the perfect concluding note. It is a send-off that impeccably captures the heart-tugging gambit of all that arrived prior. Such only highlights the topic of love, hope and innocence amid the harsh, adult landscape these youthful individuals find themselves in. This makes the ultimate culmination all the more effective. It escalates and underlines the impact of the theme of the stalwart nature of valor and virtue, and its ability to carry those instilled with it through an unapologetic environment, vastly. It also adds layers of potential allegory beneath the visage of its rather straight-forward approach.
The strength at hand is greatly heightened when we realize Maya, Bikram and Kancha are an extension of many of us. Such are those who try to abide by an unspoken code of kindness and mutual affection for those around us despite abundantly negative circumstances. In this sense, as well as uncountable others, “Maya” is irrefutably relatable. It is also meditative, gentle, striking and quietly authoritative. Lama has created a cinematic endeavor, full of well-developed protagonists, which demands deliberation and respect. This is an opus which lingers in the psyche long after its fittingly underplayed closing credits have ran their course. Lama’s sincere, well-rounded portrait is an absolute masterpiece; searing, challenging and ingenious all the way.