When you are a journalist and you get to meet a star of an internationally acclaimed film, running a shop near the banks of the Indus river, 45 km from Leh (meaning the middle of nowhere for someone from Delhi) your hand automatically reaches for your phone and your fingers swipe and touch the screen till you find the voice recording app.
At first Tsewang Spalgon’s shop is like any other tea shop you would find on a highway crossroads. He stocks biscuits, chips, daily use items, and little Ladakhi memorabilia for the passing tourist and some stationary. A set of table and chairs inside the shop make for a cozy seating and few chairs outside gives you a chance to sip on your gingery tea while looking at the beautiful Stakna Gumpa, a monastery. All this is seems quite different when you finally find the neatly framed poster of the 2010 anthology film Bardsongs hanging over boxes full of chips, chocolates etc. Not many people would know about this film when they see the poster but it does look like the poster of an interesting film and a pushes you to probe.
Spalgon says very lightly “I was in that film” while he brings the tea. And as you wrap your head around that revelation he points himself out on the poster. Spalgon says he got the job when they were looking for actors for Buddhist roles, some of his friends from his film-making days recommended him. “Film-making days! He runs a tea shop on a highway,” you ask yourself.
The look on your face is verbalized soon enough, “Please start from the beginning, when did you start working in film?” “I started maybe in the 90s. At first I wrote songs in Ladakhi and then wrote some films,” he says as if his careers path was as self explanatory as him inheriting the shop from his father. Spalgon got his chance when the radio services started to expand in Ladakh and they wanted Ladakhi songs for the listeners of the region. He says that he wrote up to 250 songs for the radio and some were recorded in cassettes. He still gets appreciations for them from fans.
This brought us to the question, “If he had ever been to Bollywood?” He said, he has’nt. Though his film Bardsongs was felicitated in a festival in Mumbai, his other job kept him from going. This other job, he said, was his teaching job. Spalgon is also a general teacher at the local primary school where he teaches almost all the subjects — a requirement of the job. Though he didn’t get to travel with the movie, he talks fondly of the big awards it won in distant places like Washington D.C.
Now at the age of 60, he says, he is passing time in his shop before his school re-opens for another term. During the holidays he runs the shop himself but the rest of the year he and his wife divide the job in shifts. His two daughters are both students studying in Jammu and New Delhi. Over the years his enthusiasm about films has faded a little. Though he watches movies rarely now, he still has a little ambition left in him. He would like to make movies about the adventures of Kesar Gyalpo, a legendary folklore hero whose stories he and other children from the Himalayas grew up listening to.