Nepal doesn’t strike one as a film country, but it’s home to some of the most scenic places on the planet. The Nepal government has a film commission to assist you with visas, work permits and local crew.
Nepal is the second richest country in the world for water resources, with 82,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity potential. Or so all Nepali youths have read in school, most likely by candlelight due to scheduled power cuts that have now reached 84 hours per week. This irony is not lost on the makers behind an upcoming Nepali film, Bijuli Machine (Electricity Machine), which brings a story of two struggling undergraduate students in their quest to convert sound to electricity.
This movie comes amid natural disaster, political turmoil, languishing economy, and dwindling hopes of people in Nepal. In late April and early May of 2015, two massive earthquakes devastated Nepal. Continued aftershocks and a slow rebuilding effort have led to frustration and helplessness. Within months of the natural disaster, politically-motivated blockades have obstructed the importing of medicines, oil and gas, and other supplies from India, creating a fuel crisis and exacerbating the already battered economy. In addition, people are facing up to 15 to 18 hours per day of electricity cuts due to lack of adequate power supply. While a tiny portion of people with power and resources may still afford a good life, either using black markets or other expensive alternatives, the daily life of common people in Nepal has been very difficult lately.
Nepal’s energy sector is an epitome of unmet potential. The country has enough resources for hydropower, solar, and wind to fulfill its energy needs and export excess energy to India and China. However, current production is half of domestic demand. The problem is in the instability and the inability of government, the rampant corruption in the country, and the exodus of Nepali youth.
Every year, thousands of low-skilled Nepali workers go to countries like Qatar, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait. The majority of these workers are youth between the age of twenty and thirty. In addition, thousands of bright Nepali students, mostly after high school, go abroad for higher education. They mostly go to the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and other countries in Europe. After completing their studies, most of them end up staying there taking high paying jobs and becoming naturalized citizens.
There aren’t much youth left in Nepal who own the problems of the country and come up with solutions. Sadly, I myself am an example of a youth that left the country and its problems to pursue my dreams in the United States.
Despite many unfavorable circumstances, a youth team of filmmakers is set to bring a pioneer film on the subject of science, youth innovation, and positivity. The movie offers much more than the scientific subject it undertakes. It is a due time that Nepali cinema also evolves from conventional formulae movie.
Bijuli Machine uses the scientific idea of converting sound to electricity as a metaphor to encourage youth to own the problems, think outside the box, and innovate. To be sure, the idea of converting sound to electricity is scientifically not as attractive as it sounds. A normal sound has a low amount of energy. It would be hard to capture it all and it is usually not continuous. Unless there are great advances in material science and the ability to capture many little mechanical vibrations from larger areas, such that we collect a lot of small amounts of energy, the current state of scientific ability can only produce a tiny amount of energy from normal sound.
As a science advisor to the movie, I had this discussion with the director and writer Navin Awal. But, the story Navin tells is about two students at undergraduate level, their idea, their hope, and their persistence to do something new. So, we thought it was logical to use the students’ idea as a metaphor to show that every innovation begins with an imagination and one has to pursue it. Although one may fail, it will teach valuable lessons and help with other endeavors.
Although the movie takes some scientific liberties to tell the story, the students are taking a reasonable approach. The blueprint, as shown in the trailer, has science behind it. They are building a circuit using a piezoelectric material to convert sound to electricity. In scientific research, small amounts of usable electricity have been produced using piezoelectric materials that stretch to create suitable voltage difference when small electric charges are applied to them. But the main concern of the movie is not in the capability of science today, but the bigger story that the youths of Nepal are trying, being optimistic about better tomorrow, bringing solutions to the country’s problem themselves, and applying the things they learn in school.
The movie is trend breaking, being one of the first to use a scientific subject to tell a story about youth’s innovation. It is a celebration of young Nepali filmmakers, the film’s characters, and their hope for a better Nepal. For a country like Nepal that is going through a dismal situation, a new idea, a new solution, a new thinking from the youth should be welcomed.