Kahani Cafe with Anmol Gurung
Good afternoon, Mr. Anmol, and welcome to Kahani Cafe. It’s a pleasure to interview you. We’ve all heard that you had an amazing journey, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share your story with our listeners. Welcome to the cafe!
Watch the full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBkfeRFWr1I&t=5s
Thank you so much for having me on Kahani Cafe. I’m excited to be here and share my story.
Great. To begin, could you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what your life has been like so far?
The question of who am I is a big one, but in the context of this interview, I’ll share that I was born and raised in Kalampong, a beautiful mountainous region in the Ding Hills. I grew up as a villager surrounded by cows, cattle, goats, trees, oranges, and stories and music. I went to school in Kalampong and then studied B.Com in St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta. After that, I found my passion for filmmaking, which eventually led me to Bombay for a short stint before returning to Kalampong to pursue my own filmmaking and music projects. Since 2011, I’ve been working as a filmmaker and musician. So that’s who I am in terms of my work, but I hope to answer the question of who I am in a broader sense someday.
Your journey from studying B.Com to pursuing filmmaking and music is fascinating. Could you share more about how you made this transition and what inspired you to pursue these passions?
Yes, I believe someone articulated it quite intelligently – that it only makes sense when delivered in a certain way. When I was starting out, I had no idea what things were or how they were going to be. But now, looking back, I realize that it all started a very long time ago, without my even realizing it. As I mentioned before, I’m from Kalampong. My parents came from different religions and castes and were both kicked out of their families. They struggled to make a life together, and I was born and raised with them. All I knew at that time were chickens, cows, goats, oranges, flowers, and the stories my grandmother and grandfather would tell me. Occasionally, my uncles would come over, and we would play the guitar together as a family. Every evening, we would gather and sing, and music became an integral part of my life.
Later on, I discovered that music was in my family’s blood – my mom, grandmom, and everyone else were into music, and my grandfather was into writing. Without realizing it, I started making up stories in my head as I sat on a branch above the cowshed on Waba Street, plucking and eating gu. Filmmaking came later, but music was always a part of my life. In the Nepali community in India, playing the guitar and music are integral to almost every situation, whether you’re happy or sad. Music is a form of storytelling for me, and if you listen to my music today, you’ll hear a story.
It’s about how I felt. It’s about how someone else felt, or how things can be different, with all the different alterations and stuff like that. So that feeling kept on growing for me until one day, a very significant thing happened to me. You see, my younger brother was very studious and always came first or second in school exams. I, on the other hand, was never forced or expected to come first or second. I never liked the concept of being forced or compared to others. Even today, I don’t like it. But one particular incident in school stayed with me. It was the day of my first solo performance as a singer. I sang “Love Will Keep Us Alive” by the Eagles, and it made me very popular in school. I really wished my father would come, but he couldn’t. Two days later, there was a prize distribution, and my brother came second or third. My father came there, and I felt so hard at that time because he always used to tell me to keep singing and music as a hobby, not as a career. But it was something that came so passionately from me, almost like breathing for me. After that incident, he wanted me to study science, but I wanted to study arts. We settled for commerce as a compromise.
Whenever it came to calculations or something like that, it always just flew over my head. Even today, if you want me to explain a beat, the tempos in music, the numbers still confuse me. Once that happens, I get all jumbled up. I’m not into this, but still, I had to do it. So I somehow passed my examinations, and we had to go to college. Now came the big decision, which college to attend. My father, being my father, wanted me to study at one of the premier institutes, but I only had 70%. I thought I did so great, but it was not enough for the premier institutes. We tried out different colleges, and I will never forget the moment when we went to the lines of Subhash Chandra Bose College. Music is the language of the universe. The stories are the lyrics, and we all are a part of that music. When we went there, we had to give a presentation, and I was one of the last performers. The audition was full of talented people singing different styles, and I realized I had entered into the Eastern music category. I was so intimidated. I still remember how scared I was, but the judges were sweet and understanding. They knew that music was a passion for me, not just a hobby or career.
My father and I had a very funny discussion. He just laughed at and smiled at me. I said, “okay, music” and then I had this wonderful Bengali female who followed me around for almost an hour. She even spoke to my dad, and he was laughing, you know? She liked my song so much, and that was the first time my father and I were on the same page. He said, “maybe music is possible,” because we had very few examples of people who had made a life out of music, filmmaking, or something like that. As we went there, my college became boring. I used to hate it because I had ample time with my classmates and didn’t know what to do. I always loved movies, but I never knew I loved movies like that. So we used to contribute five reviews each, and we used to get those DVDs every day. Then we used to watch five movies a day. The movies that I was exposed to at that time just blew my mind. I started watching a lot of cinema, or sub-entertainment, but those movies started to speak to me in a very different way. I realized, “Oh no, I want to do this. This is what I want to do.” I wanted to do this because it was considered like English films. But as time progressed, I remember after college movies, again, one of the first films that we saw was a film called [title unknown]. I knew the song, I had heard it way back, but that movie just blew me away. I realized, “Oh my god, it is such a beautiful movie.” We watched it twice, and we were laughing and expressing so many different emotions. I started to discover and silently, without letting anyone know, I was like, “Yes, this is what I want to do.” My father wanted me to do chartered accountancy, and I was running away from that. He enrolled me into an extra class for that capacity, and I bought more DVDs out of it. Movies, movies, movies, music, movies, music, movies, hotel, whatever. I kind of graduated, and my parents wanted me to do an MBA, and I was like, “No, sorry. Institute of Excellence. I want to make it.” I met so many struggling people, and I asked myself a simple question. “What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to tell stories.” “Do you want to be famous?” “No, I love it, but I want to tell my own stories.” So there were so many examples. “Why don’t you go back and start telling your own stories?” I packed up everything and came back to my hometown. My concrete beginning was that, and that is how I started. So, I thought sponsors discover and their, the father, the mother, the wife, the daughter who was married, but the brother of the bride. But I interviewed slow-motion interviews. It was focused on the emotions of people. It was focused on how the bride felt at that time, how the father felt, how the mother felt, and what they were expecting. So, in a 20-minute documentary, I was so scared of the wedding. That guy, his father, her father, she hugged me, and he said, “That was the beginning of the so-called filmmaking career.”
Host: “Wow, what a journey. Your story narrates and gives evidence to the fact that stories are important in life. They make you who you are. It validates that entire sentiment, to be honest. That is one of the reasons why we do what we do. So, just to take it a little further, are you happy today with your journey?
Speaker: From what I understand, Sochi represents both happiness and sadness as they are part of life. You cannot always be happy or always be sad, but it’s important to consider whether your soul, mind, and body reaffirm your belief in the craft that you have dedicated your life to. If they do, it doesn’t mean that you will always have good days in filmmaking, but it does make you feel alive and motivates you to do more. Personally, I feel very alive, and I always look forward to tomorrow. If I had not discovered this gift that God has placed inside me, I would have been one of the most unhappy people, regardless of how much money I made or what I did. Filmmaking and music are what bring me happiness.
Host: To clarify, are you afraid or is there something that keeps you on your toes all the time? Do you have a sense of loss?
Speaker: Yes, of course. There are different layers to filmmaking, just as there are in life. One of the things that always keeps me on my toes is two-fold. Firstly, never take for granted what you have. Some people believe that talent is everything, but that is a foolish notion because someone else might be more talented than you. Talent is important, but it’s not the only thing that keeps you going. Secondly, time. Time is a piece taken out of eternity that has a beginning and an end. What you do in between, the decisions you make, the choices you make, and their repercussions are the most important things. I never take these two things for granted. So when something happens, it encourages me to think carefully about everything I do. If I am investing my time in a story, I have to make a lot of wise decisions before anyone else sees it. But I never take things for granted because someone else may be better. Celebrating someone else’s success is essential in the field of filmmaking, as it is in any creative field or in life in general.
As a filmmaker, one of the biggest challenges I face is human resource management. Storytelling happens with characters, and characters happen with actors. We have a lot of heroes, stars, and superstars, but we have very few actors and characters. Whenever a song is created, it’s a combination of great engineering, creativity, lyrics, music, and singing. Only good composition or arrangement is not enough. Human resources are a significant challenge in this industry. Secondly, money is not a challenge, but finding someone to trust with the money who is directly dependent on human resources is. People invest in actors rather than stories, which is a wrong approach. A producer is someone who takes a story, gets a director and a group of people to work on it, and makes sure that the film is made as expected. In the Nepali speaking community, if anyone wants to make a profit, they must be a serious businessman, like a contractor who can finish a project in four to five years.
For example, if you contract to finish a project in four months for a profit of 50 lakh rupees and still make a profit because you are invested, that’s an ideal situation. However, producers often think that it doesn’t happen like that. The biggest challenge we face now is finding the right investments. The Nepali speaking industry has grown positively in the last four or five years. In fact, among the most regional cinemas, it’s highly regarded because of its long history, although it is largely centered on culture. But when it comes to the rural areas, the casual industry of the speaking population is one of the most beautiful and committed ones that you’ll see. The challenge again is to change people’s mindset and belief system so they can open up to investing in these things.
Host: So, just to follow up on a point from our previous discussion, you said that people in this country invest in stars instead of actors or stories. But do you think with the arrival of OTTs, this trend is changing, and regional cinemas are gaining more importance while the so-called Bollywood stars are dwindling a little bit? Or is it being compensated?
Speaker: No, no, no. It’s totally being compensated. I think we’re like a complete body that needs to function together. We need stars as well. I’m a huge fan of stars, but there is a specific place for that, and there is also a specific place for a very simple story. In the world of filmmaking, there are only seven stories, yet we make 3000 films in India every year. How, why, what happens? It’s because expression is a human need, not desire. Language wasn’t discovered; it was an expression of a human need. Therefore, since this is a human need, there is a perfect balance between star-driven films and regional content or content-driven cinema. The OTT platforms have been a long time coming, and we consume six to eight hours of the same content. So the desire for expression, the need to hear a story, is fulfilled by both OTT and star-driven films.
Host: I agree with you. The coming of the internet and OTT has made us realize how important storytelling is. If I may ask, who is the most influential person in your life? Who do you look up to, someone who has been there for you throughout your life?
Speaker: I think it’s been various people at various junctures of my life, but the constant one has to be my family. They understand me even without me telling them. Mostly, it’s my mother and father. Everyone has their own unique contribution to my life, such as my grandparents, friends, and many others. So I cannot pinpoint one person specifically, but it has to be my family and friends in general.
Host: You mentioned that family and friends have always been a constant support for you. You took the decision not to take a part that they had seen for you. What was their reaction?
“It was really funny, and so beautiful. The acting had a very different look to it, and the photograph taken by the cinematographer looked stunningly different from the usual filmmaking. It took time to agree on it, and it was like Christmas in September. It was a very small film, but it turned out to be my best film with the best actor and actress. Most people give up at that point, but I never did. I believe in my work, like a foolish man or a farmer. I am content with what I’m doing because I worked hard, never lied or stole anything. I have seen more than any serviceman or businessman. Some people say they give up everything for a certain amount, but it doesn’t make sense to me. My life is more valuable than that. This belief system changed my mentality and made a huge difference in my life.
As an extension to your question on what freedom means to me, I think freedom is not just about breaking boundaries or walls, but understanding why they were put up in the first place. It means unlocking the mind with the truth and acknowledging those boundaries. The greatest captivity is inside the person’s mind, and freedom means being able to overcome it.
People would be surprised to know that I am single, but I believe that in every story, there is a writer. Recognizing who that writer is in your life can change everything. Nobody is truly original in this world, and we always steal from something. There has to be someone who wrote the coding and the story for everything. So, go back and discover yourself with the person who meets you. Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of Kahani Cafe. It was an opportunity to put out my point of view, and God bless all of you.”