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Kyrgyzstan|art & entertainment|July 5, 2021 / 11:17 AM
In search of Shambala - film review by Asian World Film Festival Co-founder and Managing Director Asel Sherniyazova

AKIPRESS.COM - The first film based on Chingiz Aitmatov's novella The White Ship was shot more than 40 years ago by the famous Kyrgyz director Bolot Shamshiev. When I first heard about Artyk Suyundukov's new film Shambala, also based on Aitmatov's story, I feared a remake of Shamshiev's film. However, the new version is not only dissimilar to the original, but portrays very different events to those described in the book. The general theme is the same but the chronology and events differ and it is set in modern-day Kyrgyzstan.

The title of the film is interesting. Shambala is the name of the main hero, a young seven-year-old boy. "Sham", in Kyrgyz, means "candle" and "bala" means "boy". Shambala is a boy who spreads light and positively amongst the people around him, his surroundings and the universe. At the same time, as is well known in Buddhistphilosophy, Shambala is a spiritual kingdom, invisible to human eyes, where desires are fulfilled and only pure hearts are able to find their way to it. According to the legends of Shambala, a great battle took place between the forces of good and the forces of evil, symbolizing the victory of wisdom and spirituality over ignorance, and self-assertion over egoism.

Kyrgyz film director Artyk Suyundukov has been working on Shambala for over 40 years. It is noteworthy that 20 years after the screening of Bolot Shamshiev's version, Suyundukov spoke with Chingiz Aitmatov about a remake and received his blessing, mainly due to the length of time which had passed since the first film was made. Interestingly, a number of years earlier, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni had come to Kyrgyzstan to discuss plans to shoot a remake but Aitmatov refused to allow the project to go ahead.

Suyundukov, in one of his interviews, has said that, to some extent, the long period of realization of the idea actually benefits the film, as it gave him time to rethink the script and to view the story through the eyes of a man living in the 21st century.

Indeed, Shambala acquires an additional edge, due to its portrayal of the importance of cultural values and the loss of moral orientation. It also addresses ecology and the invasion of civilization, which may bring physical comfort and make life easier, but risks destroying the soul.

The acting of all the lead characters is very natural, but I would like to particularly single out the two actors who play the grandfather and grandson, Nasret Dubashev and Artura Amanaliev. Grandfather Momun is a very happy and well respected individual at the beginning of the film, but his personality changes as the film progresses and he becomes more dependent and eventually helpless towards the end. He reminded me of the characters from the Japanese animation works of Hayao Miyazaki, especially in the scene where he asks permission to cut down a tree from the Spirit of the forest.