He is already here. Reassuringly framed in a snow white couch, causally puffing on a cigarette, Arpan Thapa stands up and smiles as he sees me; the perfect gentleman.
I am inside Reef Restro at Thamel in the middle of a sprawling white and blue themed space that is both bright and soothing to the irises. Thapa offers me coffee as I set up work and he looks politely interested in the workings of a writer. After I comfortably settle in, I get the first close-up of Thapa: He is a strikingly good-looking man.
In an industry where most actors look like your uncles or ninth grade teachers, he clearly stands out; tall, stubble strewn across his chin, a patch of grey hair above his ears at either side with constantly twinkling eyes and a perpetual cigarette that is held casually in his right hand. Dressed in a light beige jacket, slim fitting pants and a blue collar shirt sticking out, making its presence known, the man is a classy dresser. He could very well be Nepal’s answer to George Clooney.
But who is his inspiration?
“Daniel Day Lewis”, he answers without preamble. “He is an absolute method actor and that is what I aspire to become. No wonder he has three Oscars in his bag.”
What did you do before acting then?
He grins roughly: “Sell CDs at Mahabouddha.” Arpan Thapa smiles at my reaction. I stutter for continuation as he smirks at my discomfort.
“I had just got back from Mumbai from a year of preparatory acting course and had taken an additional year to find work in ads and the like there. I did audition for quite a few products but in the end wanted to come back to Nepal. When I got back, I did not really have something to stick to. At that time particularly, you needed a ‘source’ to get into filmdom and I had no references. So when a friend of mine who manned a CD store asked me to help him out, I did. And that is where I chanced upon Murray Kerr, the director of Sick City.”
Arpan Thapa’s eyes twinkle as he remembers his Sick City days; how, in-fact, he had never been the first choice for the lead, a young hustler named Krishna who is always on the run. He reminisces how there had been only four of them shooting on location and how they would lug equipment from one place to the other on their own and how the movie was ‘their’ child in the truest sense of the word. “It pretty much ran from our pockets!” he says, tapping ash into a crystal ashtray.
His very first movie went on to win accolades both within and across the globe, with it being selected at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival and the Copenhagen screening of ‘Realistic Cinema.’
Do these accolades motivate him to choose movies accordingly?
“No,” a serious reply ensues. “I want to be a part of good movies; not movies that win awards.”
Between the constant scribbling on paper and the aroma of coffee amidst the wonderfully luminous furnishings of the place, Thapa absent-mindedly smokes and sips black coffee, repeating the cycle every few non-mediated instances. It gives one the impression that he is pretty much the same serious man that he flawlessly portrays time and again on screen. His presence is reassuringly solid, but like a magician building up the magic with subsequent tricks, he keeps his cards close to his chest.
Is he then worried about being typecast as a ‘one-role man’?
He pauses a while before he answers, eyes fixated on the brown couch next to him. “No. I think I have had more variations in the characters I have played in my films in such a short time compared to any other actor in the industry. You could look from where I started and move on to the likes of Dhanda and Maun to see where I’m coming from. I have also never been scared of newer roles; in fact the more challenging, the better it is.”
Thapa breaks into an open smile, his first one yet as I next ask him about his love life. He replies, shyly, “I have been married ten years now. I married early in life, at 24. But sometimes you just know when it’s the right thing to do. It was a chanced meeting and we fell in love in a very short while and realized we would want to be together for the rest of our lives.”
Adjusting his jacket, he further narrates, “I lived in Darjeeling for around 12 years. I had a best mate called Bipin; we would hang out and play football. That was one sport I was really into then. In fact, had I not been an actor, I would have definitely pursued football. My wife is actually Bipin’s sister, but surprisingly I had never met her at that time even though we hung out at each other’s places all the time. It was only when I had to deliver a parcel to her from her father once that we saw each other. You could say it was love at first sight.”
It is the beginning of the actual freeze of December in Kathmandu and the air outside nips into one’s ears and bites when one least expects it to. Here though, spring seems to be turning up early: Thapa’s guarded demeanor is thawing with every passing minute with every new question directed. However, he has a habit of answering precisely what you have asked and does not lumber around pointlessly. One needs to nudge him over and over again to get at the seemingly inconsequential details. Thapa gives the impression of a disciplinarian; the teacher you wouldn’t want to cross for fear of being reprimanded. However at times, he gives flowing accounts of his ‘other’ life that surprises you after you have already made up your mind that he would definitely not talk to you about something like that.
Like the window he tries to open up for me into his CD-selling days, when he watched almost a thousand movies and how Amitabh Bachchan’s Deewar is still his most watched movie till date. Recently, he has taken up playing the violin and he grins as he tells me how his musical tastes have changed from Iron Maiden to Eric Clapton.
One project that Thapa is clearly excited about is his forthcoming venture Mukhauta, scheduled to start shooting in early 2014. Thapa calls the movie a dark tale based on the underground life of a mafia, who live behind a veil of disguise. Thapa has donned the hat of a director for the movie, which stars Saugat Malla, Robin Tamang and Nisha Adhikari, and keeps bringing it up with enthusiasm. He conjoins how he wants to tell stories and dabble in critical movie-making. Thapa after all, always wanted to make movies rather than star in them.
Arpan wants to get his hands on pretty much everything and after an afternoon with him he seems like someone who is everything at once but no one in particular. One thing for sure is that he is a storyteller. He gave me stories: Stories of a young man who loved football more than anything else in the world, a tale of another one stuck in limbo for nearly a decade wanting to star in cinema rather than just watching them; another yet of an actor who once taught street drama to slum children but was burdened by the fact that it would never really do much for these kids and a narration of a couple who fell in love young and held each other through the devils of the true sick city.
Krishna has just scored a major coup on my laptop screen and is now riding a runaway rickshaw, understandably overwhelmed, through the streets of Thamel littered with cheap souvenirs and unruly tourists. He is running away from his family and hiding from a cheaply suited up drug lord. Krishna is forever on the move it seems; but he cannot seem to put enough distance between himself and karma. As Sick City plays on the background, I recollect the man I had met in the afternoon.
Angry young man? Check.
Real life romantic hero? Check.
On screen romantic hero? Awaiting verdict.