Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom will be out in select cinemas nationally on 2 June 2022. Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Pawo Choyning Dorji, this Oscar-nominated film for Best International Feature stars Sherap Dorji, Ugyen Norbu Lhendup, Kelden Lhamo Gurung, Pem Zam, Sangay Lham, and Chimi Dem, and is a winning drama.
A young teacher in modern Bhutan, Ugyen, just wants to go to Australia to become a singer. He doesn't want to be a teacher at all. As a reprimand, his superiors send him to the most remote school in the world, in a village called Lunana, to complete the last year of his five year service to the government. Once there, with the lack of services and the bare necessities, he just wants to quit and go home.
Ugyen lives with his grandmother and he doesn't view his education the same way; it's a privilege to be educated. He just wants to travel far and wide, and go to Australia. He sets his dreams on being a singer, longingly looking at his little Australian pamphlet till it's practically threadbare. He enjoys his life with his friends, and would rather be out than expend more time on his studies. It's the only place you're going to hear an exclamation like his grandmother's when she says 'Ahh, kids these days, roaming like horses at night and sleeping like pigs all day'.
However, he has to toe the line and doesn't have a choice with a year more of his contract to fulfil. He finds himself exiled from his Westernised comforts, and an arduous 8-day trek just to get there. Once there he finds no electricity, no textbooks, not even a blackboard. The villagers, though poor, extend a warm welcome to their new teacher, everyone paying him the respect of an educator.
This film was shot on location in one of the most remote villages in the world with a population of just 56, and it really does take an 8-day trek to get there. Many members of the cast have never ventured outside, or even seen the world outside their village, let alone a movie. To date, there is still no electricity or cellular network connections, and the production of the film was totally dependent on solar-charged batteries.
The major themes of the story are 'the search for happiness and a sense of belonging', but it also speaks to not reaching realisations that are right in front of you, in pursuit of other goals - but that's not wrong either. Ugyen embodies all of that and comfortably expresses these messages clearly through his performance. He matures and grows and is slowly transformed through the lives of the strong and beautiful children he teaches, and the amazing spiritual strength of the villagers. Casting inexperienced local highlanders in the film's leading roles keeps the performance authentic, even if a little stilted at times. Perhaps not as polished as many films in this genre, it's still an endearing fable and an insight into a world of villagers who survive on their sheer strength of character and being at peace and one with nature and the world.