Fulbari is a Nepali-language family drama directed by Ram Babu Gurung and written by Upendra Subba. Jaya Narayan (Bipin Karki) is celebrating his retirement from a life’s service as a teacher in the local school by dedicating a scholarship fund for its students. He’s a loving and generous man who only wishes his three adult sons would be more like him—or at least, not live so far away. When the three come home together for their one time a year they bother, it goes poorly. But as their mother Laxmi’s (Aruna Karki) health declines, the two parents are forced to leave their rural town for Kathmandu and their oldest son’s home.
Fulbari is a lot of incredible things, but a story of coming to an understanding is not one of them, and this is to its enormous benefit. We’re not prompted to believe that either generation is going to change, or frankly, that one is more right than the other from the start. Rather, we’re strapped into a more than two-hour affair watching the consequences of a family’s distinction unfold. It’s beautiful, sometimes upsetting, and altogether just so worth every minute.
When we first meet Jaya Narayan and Laxmi, they are the picture of a loving couple. Jaya Narayan is a headstrong man who never asks for anything from anybody he ought not to, talks over his wife when he gets flustered, and never goes a day without wearing clothes that signal a wealth he no longer possesses just to keep up appearances in the community. Laxmi meanwhile is headstrong just as well, letting her husband have his way over frivolous matters but refusing to let any injustice go unaddressed as best as she can. A few moments early on demonstrate that they may fall into some of the social expectations of an older rural couple—Jaya Narayan does call his wife Mrs.—but they’re not all that out of touch with modern social norms. They don’t get bothered when their closest neighbor (Dayahang Rai) gets a little too randy with his wife in the daylight hours, despite what they expect the older couple will think.
But even still, the expectations they put upon their sons are more traditional than any of the three would prefer. Each has gone on to leave home, one to become a wealthier businessman, one to pursue a career in a band, and the third to marry and move away to Australia. None can satisfy their parents’ perhaps unreasonable expectations that they stay around forever to care for them, but all five struggle to communicate in a healthy way about this. Their neighbor plays this consistent fool to the family as the “good” child who stayed behind, yet the movie never seems to moralize any of the six characters’ choices. They’re merely choices that have consequences good and bad and everyone must live with them.
Karki is absolutely the emotional and actorial heart of the movie. His performance is so strong, especially in the scenes where he really lays into his kids over how they make him feel. But he always is able to turn around and revert back into a faux-jolly state to calmly and clearly give them their blessings, despite his wishes. Karli is just as powerful in a major fight she has with her daughter-in-law over the way she treats other women in their house, including her own daughter. It’s one of the strongest scenes in the movie thanks to all parties involved.
Fulbari does have a few moments of random melodrama in what is otherwise a very straight drama. They’re usually coupled with very melodramatic turns in the otherwise excellent mood-setting score. These moments happen with regularity and do take me out of it for a brief moment, but they are always fleeting. But then again, perhaps one of the soapiest moments of the whole movie, an absolute left-field deus ex machina character introduction, generates one of the movie’s two most tear-jerking scenes.
It’s too much of a spoiler to explain in detail, but the scene is directed so impactfully, despite being built on nothing but a few minutes of flashback exposition just beforehand. This twist could have been an empty gesture for its randomness and initially awkward 30-second introduction before a title card that wasn’t subtitled in my screening. But instead, it lands like a pound of bricks during an already highly emotional late-movie act.
Fulbari is an excellent family drama, demonstrating so well the ways that familial expectations impact every generation while never attempting to declare one or another right. Their pain and regret are the point, not reconciliation. If that happens, so be it, and perhaps in the end certain characters are given more empathy than others, but if the movie has a specific point of view on which generation is in the right, its characters and their choices muddle that point well.
Fulbari is playing now in select theaters.
- Rating - 8/108/10
Fulbari is an excellent family drama, demonstrating so well the ways that familial expectations impact every generation while never attempting to declare one or another right.