The movie ‘Numafung’ (2002) belongs to the growing genre of ethnic or indigenous cinema (janajati chalchitra), which came into being in Nepal in the 1990s. It can be seen as one of the first attempts to carve out a bigger space for ethnic difference in the area of film production and make use of popular visual culture for the representation of cultural diversity. While the national film industry in Nepal has long been dominated by high-caste producers and artists, the increasing contributions from people with ethnic minority backgrounds has changed the make-up of the cinematic public sphere. This chapter is a case study of one influential ethnic movie and its reception in the media. It tries to show that the general debate it triggered went beyond matters of aesthetics as it touched on crucial issues of cultural identity and social reform.
According to Anubhav Ajit (2010) there has been an annual output of about 5–10 ethnic movies, and so there were more than a hundred in existence around the time of publication. The languages of these films are Tamang, Gurung, Magar, Tharu, Limbu, Dhimal, Newari as well as Maithili and Bhojpuri (Ajit, 2010). Today indigenous film-makers and activists organize their own annual film festival, the Nepal International Indigenous Film Festival, which has taken place regularly since 2007.
What is an ethnic movie? Usually it is defined as such according to the language used, i.e., these are non-Nepali, non-Hindi films, in which one of the minority languages predominates. However, I would argue that the language should not be the sole criterion. Rather it is the representation of ethnic culture as a whole which is the most salient characteristic of an ethnic movie. Thus, the indigenous language of one community need not be the major language and can also have a subordinate role. This is the case in the following example.