This excellent movie had a limited release over this last weekend and extending into the week. I encourage everyone to find and watch “Highway to Dhampus”. It has romance, tragedy, relevance, and gorgeous scenery. The Nepali actors are great, particularly the lead actress who has a captivating screen presence.
Highway is not without its flaws–it is too long and sometimes glosses over important issues–but it is beautifully filmed and examines important issues related to do-gooding.
I have personally spent a fair amount of time in developing countries with problems similar to those in Nepal. So this review will be colored by my travel and volunteer experiences.
The plot of Highway centers around an orphanage in rural Nepal. The major roles include a shallow-minded heiress, a cynical photographer, an earnest Nepali headmistress, an adorable orphan, and a skillful local pilot. Their interplay and maturation are the heart of the movie. The first part of film deals with the interaction between the heiress and photographer. The second part with the romance between the headmistress and the pilot. In the background are the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas.
According to the film’s writer/director Richard McFarland, Highway has a spiritual component:
Nepal was mystic and beautiful with a melancholy that hangs in the air that resonated with me. It also reminded me of where I grew up because Utah is also full of mountains and valleys. The highly religious culture in Nepal, while different, reminded me of the devout religious practices here on the Wasatch Front.
The movie asked 2 very spiritual questions:
- How important are motives? Does it matter why the heiress is helping the orphanage? Does the idea that the heiress is trying to rehabilitate her image lessen the value of her gifts and effort? To the headmistress it does not; any help is appreciated. To the cynical photographer and the hotshot pilot, her gifts are something to scoff at.
- Are gifts–particularly token–too insignificant to matter? The photographer takes the heiress on a short foray through some of the poorer sections of Nepal in an attempt to show her that her effort is insignificant.
In my travels, I’ve seen schools and orphanages that are in much worse condition than the one highlighted in Highway. So the emphasis on an orphanage in this movie really struck home. There is so much need out there.
So my answer–and that of the Highway’s–writer and producer Rick McFarland to the above questions would be: no gift is too small and motives–unless nefarious–can evolve.
While it is important to see movies like Highway, it is also important for parents and grandparents to travel with teenagers to areas in developing countries. Kids need to understand that their “problems” pale in comparison to those of children living in developing countries. Volunteering is important even if it is initially quite superficial.
For me, a fun part of the movie was when the heiress brought a swing set and other outdoor recreational equipment to the Nepali orphanage. I love the idea of installing playgrounds around the world. Kids in developing countries greatly enjoy the moments of relaxation and social interaction that comes with a playground.