fond1 logo Rana Tharu


In the far west of Nepal, bordering a forest called Lalzarie, there is an indigenous ethnic group called the Rana Tharu. Known as the Princesses of the woods, they are one of the lowest Nepalese classes.
Pierre Benais, an adventurer and filmmaker, went alone to live among them in order to study their culture and the functioning of their society. This documentary follows Laltilla, 72, "bourilla" (dean) from the Rana family, as she discusses and talks about her daily life and beliefs through village activities, tasks of backbreaking toil that makes Rana Tharu's daily life a difficulty that can't be named.
Laltilla sketches the portrait of a society that is dying out. The main question being: must a society withdraw and lock itself within its own culture?
Through this documentary, Pierre Benais leads us into a mystical world, illustrated by photographs and music composed by Frank Zaragoza.


Realization and cinematography - Pierre Benais
Writing - Pierre Benais, Marion Laguionie
Original music - Franck Zaragoza
Sound design et mixage - Rafael Bernabeu García
Editing - Pierre Benais
Animation - Victor Angel
Vois off - Danielle Pierre Calary
Etalonnage - Julien Raynaud
Producer - Thomas Bouniort

Rana Tharu community

patchwork d'image

To understand the Rana Tharu, one must forget any reference to their own culture.
Their incredible historical destiny has endowed them with a strong identity and a way of life hermetic to that of western civilizations.
They are direct descendants of the ancient Rajasthan sultans. These women fled with their slaves to the Nepalese forests in order to escape war, leaving their husbands behind to fight. They gradually built their own society and took new husbands among the slaves, which they continued to feed on the ground, only three centuries ago. Although today men have gained a certain share of power, there are still however relics of this “matriarchal reign”: the traditional costumes that are clad with gold and silver, treasured yet rarely disclosed for show ; when it comes to sharing the day to day work, women will exclude men from certain types of jobs or give them the hardest ones.
The Tharu community consists of several clans Dangoura Tharu, Kathariya Tharu, and Rana Tharu. Each clan has its own language, different traditional clothes and separate animistic beliefs. They live together in a peaceful agreement, even befriending when it comes to younger generations. The young however dream of leaving the country and wish to get closer to the Indian culture.

The project


Pierre Benais discovered the Rana Tharu clan through photos and videos on the internet and decided to search for this ethnic tribe that seemed too good to be true.
His goal is to bring an "inner" vision of the Rana caste, in opposition to the “folkloric and unrealistic” vision shown by the media or travel agents of this remote tribe.
Equipped with only a backpack, containing his audio and video equipment, and a simple black and white printed photo of the Rana Tharu tribe, he travelled Nepal from East to West, by bus, by foot, by motorbike or bicycle, until he finally found them.
For two months, he shared their lives. Putting a strain on his body, he tried as hard as possible to fight diseases, the fear of malaria and the “boredom” induced by the heat, and participated in village activities while documenting their story. He discovered a clan where the values of sharing, hospitality and brotherhood remain intact, a nation of peasants covered with precious metals, living in homes beset by flies by day and mosquitoes by night.


Sharing and exchanging

Having travelled to Africa on several occasions for previous projects, Pierre recalls :
"During my first trip to Morocco, I measured the importance of sharing my pictures with those I documented. Seeing that the communities that welcomed me had neither mailbox nor Internet access, I went back to visit them once the photographs were printed in order to offer them.For a project in Senegal, I felt extremely embarrassed when unable to return due to the distance. It bugs me to not have been able to show the printed photos."
Refusing to repeat that mistake with the Rana Tharu, he took a Polaroid and a video projector, which allowed him to show the evolution of his work on a regular basis.

patchwork de polaroïd

A photograph as a way of measuring time

According to the Rana Tharu, it will take about ten years before their culture entirely disappears.
Fortuitous coincidence, it is also the lifespan of a Polaroid image. Pierre Benais had the idea of using this medium as a "fingerprint" of time, measuring this way their extinction.
These photographs, some of which will be presented at the exhibition, will gradually disappear at the same time as the clan itself.


During his visit Pierre organized weekly projections of the collected images.
The whole village would be present for this occasion. These popular meetings would not only raise debates about their perception, but would also lead them to accept the cameras and act naturally and freely when filmed. The last of these projections was filmed, and will be exposed during the exhibition.

photo portrait de Pierre Benais

Pierre Benais

Graduated from Bordeaux Beaux-Arts, specializing in Photo and Video, PIerre Benais set himself the goal of conveying social and cultural worlds that are unfamiliar to us.
Since 2009, in order to leave room for chance and spontaneous exchange, he travels hitchhiking, wandering from an encounter to another one, picking his filming projects as they occur.
Mainly travelling to Africa, his path led him to Nepal for the previous months.
The bonds he got with the persons he met by hitchhiking have radically changed his way of working, allowing him to film people from an intimate point of view. Today, far from only glancing his eye over the tribes he documents, he lives among them so as to bring us back their perspective and culture, devoid of our Western design.