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The 2016 Fiction Issue

A Deleted Scene from the Screenplay 'Hema Hema'

Masked guests assembled for an anonymous ritual attend a play within a play: the illustration of the death experience.
Photos by Pawo Choyning Dorji

This story appeared in the December Fiction Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE** *to subscribe.*

Cannes Audience Award–winning filmmaker Khyentse Norbu wrote and directed the movies Vara, Travellers and Magicians, and The Cup. This is a deleted scene from an early draft of his most recent film, Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait. Pawo Choyning Dorji took the photos on the set of Hema Hema.



The forest is dark. There is a bonfire. A play is enacted on the primitive stage with several hundred masked audience members watching. Two fires mark the edges of the stage. There is a semicircle of five WHITE GODDESS MASK DANCERS all with identical masks. Their dance follows the rhythm of a chime. There are a few musicians playing traditional instruments. Bangka, Ting Ting, Posang, Dung, and Dramnyen. They are also all wearing masks. In the middle, on a white bed, lies an actor playing a dead man. His mask has no mouth, no nose, and no eyes. It is blank. In front of the bed are actors in HUMAN MASKS pretending to be the dead man's family. They are pretending to cry. Agay is presiding over the play.

The play is narrated by the BARD, an old lady with a hypnotic voice. Half of her face is covered by a mask.

O! Listen.
The death that you fear most has come.

The FAMILY intensify their crying and wailing.

Fear not death,
But be afraid of birth.

Music and dance continues:

You are in the bardo.
You are on the border of death and birth. You are alone here. If you hear me, it's your mind doing it.

FIVE MASKS appear, representing eyes, ear, nose, tongue, and hand. They move very, very slowly, like Japanese butoh dancers, slowly disappearing.

Your eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and body have left you.
Even though you are dead, your mind's ear will hear me talking to you.

Each time we hear gasping and exclamations from the masked crowd.


You will also hear your relatives crying.
Let go of them.
They don't know how to let go of you.

Audience makes a coordinated sound.

It's uncertain how long you will linger here.


The stage has changed. In the center of the stage is the giant LORD OF DEATH, with an enormous RED WRATHFUL MASK, seven feet tall. There is no human being inside—just an effigy with huge eyes and mouth. Kneeling in front of him is the same dead man.

His right hand is holding a long knife, and his left hand is holding a big round mirror. His arms and legs are made of clothes stuffed with hay.

In the presence of the Lord of Death, in the court of the Netherworld, you will be judged.

DRE NAKCHUNG, with a very wrathful black mask, dressed in black with horse bells on his ankles, leaps unto the stage thunderously, dramatically. He dances around the spirit of dead man, looking at dead man with disdain. He glances to one side. Suddenly, his retinue of seven WRATHFUL MASKED DANCERS similar to him but smaller, all wearing big bells on their feet, come unto the stage.

They carry weapons: nets, spears, machetes. There is wild noise of whistling and crying.

Today you will be judged.
Have you deprived anyone of life? Have you taken things that are not given?
Have you raped body or mind?

A person with a SNAKE MASK enters. He dances to the dead man and throws a rain of hundreds of dice over the kneeling man. When they land, they are on all fours. All the wrathful masked dancers bend over in laughter. The kneeling dead man acts like he's crying, beating his own chest.


Oh you, have you seduced your mother? Have you chewed and swallowed your daughter? Have you raped your father?

Then a person in a PIG MASK comes to perform with a mirror. The pig prances around, glancing at the mirror and the reflection of the dead man.

Yes, you are hiding something. It's very clear. You are hiding something. Confess.

Pig mask polishes the mirror and looks at it.

Yes, you have let a whole family suffer on earth. I can see it.
What did you do?
You had better confess before we find out, or else you will also be judged as a liar, and the repercussions will be graver yet.

The dead man acting remorseful. Crying. Beating his chest and rolling on floor.

Then, Dre Nakchung's retinue comes to attack the dead man. They try to bind him with net and rope, spearing him with the staff. They try to drag the spirit of dead man.

"Wait!" says the angel.

A piercing tingsha cymbal sounds as LHAKARPO, a beautiful gentle goddess in a white gown, carrying finger cymbals, walks in front of the dead person. She is followed by graceful WHITE CLAD GODDESSES. When they enter, the animal-masked ones scatter in different directions. As they scatter, they dance with grotesque motions and outstretched arms and legs and gradually fall to the ground, some facing downward, some staring upward, as if dead.

Wait! There must be one thing he has done right. We will weigh his deeds.

The MONKEY MASK comes to perform with a scale. He places black stones and white stones on each plate. He stands over the dead man, weighing his deeds. The black stones begin to sag.


Encouraged by the seeming predominance of the evil deeds and sensing imminent victory, the animal demons who are lying on the ground start to twitter in laughter and slowly get up again.

Lhakarpo playing her finger cymbals, dances with her retinue for the fate of the dead man. The demons dance greedily to pull him into hell. The two sides dance a swirling tug of war, weaving in and out of each other. At the end, the demons win the war as we see the kneeling man being dragged away from the stage. Lhakarpo begins to beat the finger cymbal gently as if giving up.

They are saying he has lied.

The demons swirl closer to the dead man, enclosing him. Lhakarpo moves toward him.

Lhakarpo urges the dead man to confess, "You must confess, it's all your mind, you are confessing to your own projection. He must have done at least a few good things in his past lives."

Intercut this with the audience, all wearing masks. We see a sea of masks. Most of the audience is sitting on the ground surrounded by animal-masked staff watching over the event. Some of the audience is hanging from the trees over the crowd. The staff is carrying spears and machetes.

EXPRESSIONLESS MASK fidgets and glances around right and left. He looks at the staff people, he looks behind.

Among the sea of the masked audience who are all looking at the show, he stands out because he looks around the most. As he glances around at the other masked participants, suddenly he catches one person in a SERENE MASK stroking the leg of another with a HIDEOUS MASK. It lasts only a fraction of a second, but there is definitely something happening.

This story appeared in the December Fiction Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE** *to subscribe.*