Drapchi: A Tibetan opera singer’s odyssey

Namgyal Lhamo

Namgyal Lhamo is an acclaimed exponent of Tibetan opera and traditional singer. She is based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Wikimedia Commons/Rajeshbm

By Zafri Mudasser Nofil | PTI

NEW DELHI, India, 16 July 2012

Indie filmmaker Arvind Iyer’s new venture “Drapchi” traces the journey of a Tibetan opera singer who survives deadly underground incarceration and escapes to find her true destiny — a singing career in the West.

Spirituality challenges Iyer and Tibetan Buddhism intrigues him and when he was looking for someone who makes strong statements with art as opposed to political rhetoric besides being an international figure, he could not find anyone better than Namgyal Lhamo, whom he calls the “finest Tibetan opera singer on the planet”.

Set in the political hotbed that is modern Tibet, “Drapchi” is the story of opera singer Yiga Gyalnang, who is abducted one summer morning and finds herself in near complete isolation in an underground prison cell. After two years, she breaks free and escapes to Nepal and from there, to the West, taking along her spirituality, her strength and her Tibetan song.

“Drapchi”, according to Iyer, is a work of pure fiction but metaphorically one could argue that Lhamo plays almost every Tibetan woman in the Iceberg Nine Films’ production.

And as a story, it “must be told, discussed, felt, celebrated… Because certainly, her struggle to survive, live as she wishes, to remain true to her roots, is a truthful and ongoing struggle.

“In Namgyal’s voice and music, you can see, feel and hear Tibet. At the same time, because of being based in The Netherlands since a very long time, there is a western European chic and sophistication that is a perfect blend on screen,” Iyer told

The film, of one hour 18 minutes duration, will premiere in competition at the 9th Indisches Film festival in Stuttgart, Germany on 21 July and go on screen at the Osians Festival here later this month in the Indian Mosaic section. It has been written by Pooja Ladha Surti, whose previous works include writing Ek Haseena Thi and editing Johnny Gaddaar.

The film was shot in Nepal, the US, Holland and Lhasa.

According to Lhamo, “Drapchi” is more than just a film.

“It is a clear testimony for the strong human spirit of Tibetans and their unique culture,” she says.

The producers, however, state that the term “Drapchi” is used merely as a metaphor for illegal detention and control of Tibetans inside Chinese controlled Tibet.

“It is and it is not a prison-break film,” Iyer says, whose directorial ventures include Karma and Paradise Lost.

“Drapchi” also stars English rocker Chris Constantinou (De Niro), Tashi Choephel and Gen Tenzin la.

On why he chose Lhamo for the main role, Iyer says, “I needed someone very evolved and intelligent to play the role of Yiga. An independent free spirit. Namgyal Lhamo is all of that, yet she is deeply rooted in her tradition and culture. Someone who makes strong statements with art as opposed to political rhetoric and someone who is largely an international figure.”

He says Drapchi is not an everybody’s film.

Copyright © 2012 Press Trust of India Published in Outlook Posted in Features » Tags: , , , ,