SPIRITUALITY: In the few years since TV and internet were introduced to Bhutan, daily rituals like candle lighting and recitation of prayer now compete with the lure of smartphones.
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: March 13, 2020

When social networking sites such as Facebook popped up and became popular around the globe, few could have imagined the extent to which they would transform the way we interact with each other — and their capacity to manipulate our behaviour. With the addiction that comes with the dopamine hits a «like» brings built into their very design, the reality has emerged that they were built not, perhaps, to bring us together, but to distract and control us. The revolution could not be starker than in Bhutan, and its isolated village of Laya, nestled 4,000 feet up in the Himalayas, and until the turn of the millennium without even electricity. French filmmaker Thomas Balmès documented lights and television sets coming on in Laya as cables were laid in his prior documentary Happiness (2013), named in reference to a comment by King Jigme Wangchuck that the «gross national happiness» of the masses would shoot upward as a result of the development. This was seen through the eyes of Peyangki, an eight-year-old monk-in-training. With Sing Me A Song (2019), gorgeously shot with a clear reverence for Laya’s ritual-punctuated simplicity, Balmès returns to the village to determine whether the king’s prediction has come to pass and to see how Peyangki has responded to this seismic shift, as the outside world is now beamed in daily.

Sing Me A Song-documentray-post1
Sing Me A Song, a film by Thomas Balmès

Second-hand simulation

Footage of Laya a decade ago, and Peyangki as an eight-year-old, is shown at the beginning of Sing Me A Song. The boy, whose temple study sprung from his own interest in Buddhism, expresses excitement about electricity, but also fear, as he has heard it is «one of the main causes of houses catching fire.» The fact that the impact may be greatest in its psychological and social aspect, of course, does not occur to him, for how could even an adult grasp the ramifications of a kind of second-hand simulation they had never before known? The site of a picturesque temple far removed from the bustle of the capital Thimpu, Laya has enabled prospective monks to …

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