For ten years, this ordinary Nepali man’s photo has been a rallying call for documentary film-makers across South Asia, home to one fifth of humanity.
He has become the symbol, and the logo, of Film South Asia (FSA), a regional film festival organised every other year in Kathmandu since 1997. FSA, whose latest edition rolls out in the Nepali capital this week (11 – 14 October 2007) is the leading and most enduring film festival that brings together South Asian film-makers and film-lovers. It is a low-budget, high-energy festival organised by the non-profit Himal Association.
Having been associated with FSA from the beginning (I was on the first festival’s jury, and have hosted a couple of travelling festivals since), I was curious about who this old man was. On a visit to Kathmandu last month, I asked FSA Chairman and documentary champion Kanak Mani Dixit about it.
It turns out that the FSA logo is derived from this photo, taken of an ordinary Nepali called Ram Bahadur Tamang. Photocredit goes to Cory R Adams.
Ram Bahadur belonged to the Tamang people, who are believed to have migrated to Nepal from Tibet. Today, the Tamangs reside mainly in the high hills north of Kathmandu.
Perhaps inspired by my query, Kanak has written up the story behind the photo/logo in his column On the Way Up in the latest issue of Himal Southasian which he edits.
He says: “The Tamang from Byabar served the Rana palaces as guards and porters. Ram Bahadur was one such. One day, he was caught by a photographer holding an early-model Sony video camera. He had a Sirdi Sai Baba badge on his left lapel. The image of Ram Bahadur is now the logo of the Film South Asia documentary film festival. He looks out over the world through his camera and his other, free, eye. The trophy given to the best film at the end of each FSA is known as the Ram Bahadur Trophy.”
Not much more is known about old Ram Bahadur. He had moved on shortly after this picture was taken. We don’t know, for example, if he ever actually used the Sony camera, or was just playing with what, at the time, seemed a high-tech curiosity. This was, after all, the early 1990s when video cameras were not quite ubiquitous.