Kabaddi 4: How an actress slapping a monk irked the entire Himalayan Buddhist community?
Anmol Gurung (left) and Sushma Gurung

Gangtok: The release of the Nepali movie Kabaddi 4 was supposed to be a joyous occasion. Instead, the movie was embroiled in a controversy after leading actor Meruna Mangar slapped a monk, Phurba Lama, during the movie premiere in Kathmandu, Nepal, last month.

In a video widely circulated across social media, actor Meruna Mangar accused monk Phurba Lama of touching her inappropriately during the premiere rush at a cinema hall in Kathmandu. She was seen in the video punishing the monk by making him ‘hold his ears and doing sit-ups.’

The incident took a turn for the worst when representatives from various monasteries in Nepal and the Buddhist community at large, tore movie posters with calls for ‘Ban Kabaddi 4’ from screening in Nepal. While echoing the call for ‘Justice for Phurba Lama’. The incident pushed the movie’s release to other parts of the Himalayas too. However, both Phurba Lama and Meruna Mangar reached a consensus days later. 

The movie has since been running in theatres in Nepal, completing 15 days on June 13.

However, the sentiments for the monk reached Sikkim days later. Initially, a monk named Ongdi Pintso raised the issue in favour of Phurba Lama, demanding a ban on the movie in Sikkim. On June 11, representatives of the All Sikkim Monks’ Association also demanded a ban on Kabaddi 4.

The Association members contended, “We are not saying that the movie should be banned in Sikkim indefinitely. We want justice for monk Phurba Lama who was wrongfully slapped and disrespected by the actress.”

“Till the controversy is amicably settled in Nepal, Kabaddi 4 should not be released in Sikkim. This is our honest appeal to the Sikkim government, the film-makers, and to movie theatre owners in Gangtok and Namchi,” said the All Sikkim Monks Association.

The association demanded a public apology from the actress ‘for hurting the sentiments of Buddhist people’. The association has contended that the monk is innocent of the incident and was humiliated for an incident he was not guilty of.

On June 13, producers of the film Kabaddi 4 – Sushma Production – led by Sushma Gurung and executive producer Anmol Gurung addressed a press conference in Gangtok. They initiated an apology to the Buddhist communities in Sikkim and Nepal for the controversy surrounding the monk and the actress.

Executive Producer Anmol Gurung, who spoke on behalf of Sushma Productions, stated, “We are not against the Buddhist community in Sikkim or Nepal or anywhere globally. We support the call for ‘Justice for Phurba Lama’, we understand the issue raised is valid. We have extended apology letters to the Buddhist association here in Sikkim and Nepal. The matter has been amicably settled in Nepal, and there has been no ban on the film in Nepal. It is doing so well, and everyone is curious to know what happens in this love and cultural saga involving the lead character Kazi.”

Gurung contended, “Since the matter has been settled amicably in Nepal, we feel the Buddhist community here in Sikkim must accept the apology that we have issued. We are not against the Buddhist community, the film doesn’t depict anything against the community. But the incident involving the individual actress has engulfed a call for a ban here in Sikkim as well as in Darjeeling Hills. Initially, when the incident happened, we didn’t know to whom to apologise or send our apology letters. But now, we have reached out to the All Sikkim Buddhist Forum, the All Sikkim Monks Association, and even the film theatre owners for lifting the call for a ban on the movie in Sikkim.”

Anmol batted for producer Sushma Gurung, who hails from Gangtok. “Sushma Gurung is a daughter of Sikkim, to have her production, which caters to so many artists not just from Sikkim but even Nepal, the people here must be proud of how much she has devoted to making of Kabaddi 4. She too deserves justice here in her home state, for her dedication not just to this one movie, but to countless social services that she has done in the state. She has led a movie production house promoting talents and the state of Sikkim globally. She deserves to have her film showcased here in Sikkim,” Anmol added. 

The producers placed Khadas on the microphones as a mark of respect to the Sikkim monks, while apologising for the incident. “We feel Phurba Lama should get justice, but equally, Meruna Mangar should also get justice. It’s a war of perspectives. But those suffering currently are the fans of the film who silently are waiting for its release away from all the controversy. We also incline on carrying out a special screening for the monks in Sikkim at different theatres here in Sikkim.”

Furthermore, the movie producers informed how they have cut away the actress from the promotional events for the movie, from the movie posters, and even a few song releases were cancelled due to the controversy. The producers claimed all of this was done to respect the sentiments of the Buddhist communities.

The movie, which has been running in theatres across Nepal for 15 days, has generated over Rs 17 crore in Nepalese currency. The filmmakers asserted how the Indian market is crucial for them, starting with Sikkim, where a large section of the Nepali-speaking diaspora lives.

Producer Gurung shared, “We have reached a No Objection consensus with the three film theatres in Sikkim – the Vajra Cinema Hall, the Denzong Cinema Hall in Gangtok and Imperial Talkies in Namchi for the release of the film on June 17 in Sikkim. We have also written to the police officials such that controversy doesn’t occur at the film theatres while ensuring a smooth premiere in Sikkim.”

With or without the protest from the monks calling for the ban on the film, the filmmakers have intimated film theatres for the film’s release on June 17 in Sikkim.

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