Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – Film Review

Written and directed by Pawo Choyning, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is a drama film starring Sherab Dorji as Ugyen Dorji, a young teacher that lives with his grandmother and aspires to move to Australia to become a singer. But when he is offered a teaching job in the remote town of Lunana, he reluctantly accepts the job at his grandmother’s request.

When Ugyen arrives in Lunana, he soon learns that the electricity cuts in and out and is disappointed about the living and teaching conditions, as well as the fact that the kids don’t have any toys to play with. So, Ugyen attempts to teach the children by making the teaching facilities better and providing them with books and toys.

Ugyen begins to enjoy teaching, the children, and the locals like having him in town as well. The recommended way to light a fire in Lunana is by using yak manure, so one of the locals gives Ugyen the oldest yak in town as they provide the best manure. But the yak must stay in the classroom as it is too cold to stay outside.

When winter and its snowy weather threatens to extend Ugyen’s stay longer than originally planned, Ugyen has to decide on whether he will stay in Lunana, or if he will return home to follow his dream of moving to Australia.

There’s a lot to like about Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom. I was impressed, as this is the feature directorial debut by Pawo Choyning. He appears to have a knack for writing and directing, and the film also flows really well, with each scene progressing the story along nicely without it feeling like it’s dragging on.

The filming locations for Lunana looked cold and very unpleasant, and you can understand from the visuals on why Ugyen would not want to go there. Lunana is presented as the kind of place where the weather is always wet with lots of mud, and the need to wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm. There’s also no heating. You have to use candles for light, and it doesn’t seem like personal hygiene is priority in Lunana either.

There is a special moment in the film where Ugyen teaches hygiene by showing the children on how to brush their teeth and I believe Choyning did an impressive job overall of presenting Lunana as an undesirable place. The clothing choices also change when Ugyen moves to Lunana from the city. He goes from wearing typical city clothes such as jeans, a shirt and jacket to wearing robes, including a blanket draped over himself to keep warm during the colder months. In fact a lot of the locals wear robes which is another example of how Lunana is different from the city.

The film itself has a lot of heart and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the story arc of Ugyen, as he goes from reluctantly accepting the teaching job to wanting to provide a better learning environment for the children. I also enjoyed watching Ugyen use his music skills to help the kids learn, showing off his great singing voice and seasoned guitar skills. This comes down to the strong yet subtle performance by Sherab Dorji which is one of the many highlights of this film. He is believable as your average man, but with big dreams, and he could be a performer to look out for in the future.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is a film with an inspirational story that shows something good can come out of a situation that isn’t ideal, and that you can make a big difference, even if it is under the smallest of circumstance.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is in cinemas now.

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