Myanmar comedian and activist visits Penh

Myanmar comedian and activist visits Penh

Zarganar was in Phnom Penh this week for a screening and Q+A .

The Myanmar comedian and former political prisoner Zarganar started his three-day trip to Cambodia in the capital’s Meta House on Wednesday, meeting local and international filmmakers to learn more about documentary film production.

According to Nicolaus Mesterharm, German filmmaker and founder of the Meta House, “It’s a research trip.”

“Zarganar is thinking of producing a film with young Burmese film makers and as Meta House is running a film school he wanted to visit us and learn about our programmes and how we actually manage these kinds of film projects.”

On December 31, Zarganar plans to start a five day ‘Freedom Film Festival’ in Yangon, giving local and foreign filmmakers the chance to screen their work.

Last night, Zarganar presented a selection of short films from other Myanmar filmmakers at Meta House, and participated in a Q and A session.

The famous comedian is a fierce critic of the Myanmar government. “I think that art and politics should be mixed and combined. I’d like to push that trend,” he said.

He has recently been granted his first ever passport, thus enabling him to go abroad for the first time in his life. “I’d like to share my experience with all of my friends back in Myanmar,” Zarganar said.

Having studied dentistry, he said he prefers being a comedian. “As a dentist I can open one mouth. As a comedian, I can open many mouths,” he said.

Zarganar is the first Myanmar activist to come to Meta House. “People believe in him, people think he’s an honest fighter for the improvement of Human Rights in Myanmar,” Mesterharm said.

Born as Thura in 1961, Zarganar started working with several theatre, dance and comedy groups in college. After graduating he performed full time as a comedian under the pseudonym Zarganar – “tweezers” in English.

After making political jokes, which ridiculed and criticised the Myanmar regime, Zarganar was imprisoned three times and spent a total of eight years in prison. In 2006 he was banned from performing publicly. His last conviction came in June 2008, following criticism and jokes about the government’s mismanagement after devastating Cyclone Nargis.

Sentenced to 59 years, which was later reduced to 35 years, he was freed during the government’s mass release of prisoners in October 2011.

According to Mesterharm, both foreigners and locals have a strong interest in Myanmar, and Meta House is keen to maintain the contact with Zarganar after his visit.