travelers and magicians

(Welcome to A Passage to India, a new series where we explore great works from all over South Asia for unacquainted viewers, all of them available to stream.)

To cinema, he’s Khyenste Norbu, New York Film Academy alumnus, consultant to Bertolucci on Little Buddha and Bhutan’s premier director. His second feature, Travelers and Magicians, was the first to be shot entirely in the Kingdom; his third, Vara: A Blessing, was the first Bhutanese film in the English language.

To Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhism however, he’s Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a reincarnate lama and the grandson of spiritual leader Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, the first supreme head of the Nyingma lineage appointed by none other than the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama. Few filmmakers occupy such a unique cultural space.

It would be natural to think these worlds incompatible. One some level, Norbu himself might agree; such is the tragedy of modernity, captured here on celluloid in ways that attempt to reconcile two warning halves of the soul. Dzongkha-language Travelers and Magicians (2003) tells the tale of a man trapped similarly between realities. A city dweller, appointed to a tiny village in the Kingdom of Bhutan on India’s north-eastern border, making his way to America in a tale that feels both fundamentally Buddhist, and yet fundamentally Western. An internal struggle, externalized ethereally, in the form of stories within stories.

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