The real-life Gurkha warrior

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In September last year, in the heart of London’s bustling Leicester Square, amid the glow of neon lights and the hum of excitement, an extraordinary tale unfolded. That night, Ritesh Chams, a name once associated with valour on the rugged Himalayan peaks, graced the silver screen as the star of Gurkha Warrior

Directed by award-winning director Milan Chams, the film paid tribute to the legendary Gurkha soldiers and their invincible spirit. The premiere at the iconic IMAX Cineworld Theatre marked not just the arrival of a new film, but also a significant chapter in Ritesh Chams’ incredible journey – from Gurkha soldier to international film star.

Born and raised in the picturesque hills of Nepal, Ritesh Chams’ story begins in a landscape of stunning natural beauty and unyielding Nepali tradition. Nestled among the majestic peaks the Gurkha community lives, internationally renowned for their courage, loyalty, and unwavering dedication to their military roles. Ritesh’s upbringing was infused with the values of honour and discipline that are synonymous with the Gurkha ethos.

Ritesh came from a long line of serving Gurkhas, and it was almost a natural assumption that he would follow in the footsteps of his ancestors. Amongst the Nepali community, being a Gurkha is something to be extremely proud of; many consider it the highest honour. 

Intrigued by the Gurkha legacy and the stories that he had been told growing up, Ritesh first embarked on his own journey when he enlisted in the Gurkha ranks in his late teens. He completed his training with the British Army in the north of England before moving on for further training, in locations including Bosnia and Kosovo. 

His path with the Gurkhas eventually led him directly to the front lines of Afghanistan, where he served two terms, displaying extraordinary courage in the face of adversity. It wasn’t long before Ritesh’s name became synonymous with heroism among his comrades, and he rose through the ranks with distinction. 

But, as fate would have it, his destiny would soon take a turn in an entirely different direction. In 2010 Ritesh was injured while serving in Afghanistan. Whilst recovering from his injury, he engaged in charitable fundraisers and events for other injured soldiers. Sadly, by 2015 his injury meant he was medically discharged from the army, and his time as a Gurkha soldier came to an end.

The transition to post-army life was a gradual one, but it provided opportunities to explore other interests, such as a commercial pilot course, and learning tae kwondo to black belt standard.

Ritesh also decided to pursue another of his lifelong dreams – becoming a cinematic actor. Since he was a child, the magic and wonder of cinema had fascinated him. Nepali cinema, although nowhere near as established as Hollywood or the British film industry, was starting to gain traction; big budget action movies and romantic comedies were becoming more prominent. Ritesh moved to London and enrolled himself in a Master’s course in acting at Pinewood Studios.

After graduating in 2017, Ritesh’s path crossed by chance with that of director Milan Chams. Milan had a passion for telling stories of the Nepali people to the world, and a penchant for unearthing exceptional new talent for his movies. 

Known for writing and directing romance or romantic comedy films, like 2016’s Bir Bikram and 2018’s Lily Bily, Milan was embarking on his most ambitious project yet. He was going to attempt to create a high-budget war film about the Gurkhas and the Malayan Emergency that arose soon after World War II, where British troops were deployed to combat a Communist insurgency against colonial rule. The film would depict the untold true story of a group of Gurkhas who embarked on a daring rescue mission to save their missing comrades following an attack by the insurgents.

Although Ritesh wasn’t an overly experienced actor, and without a large portfolio behind him, Milan claims that he immediately saw in Ritesh the embodiment of the Gurkha spirit and his potential to be a star. It was this chance encounter that sowed the seeds of Ritesh’s transition from soldier to film actor.

Preparing for the role of Corporal Birkha Bahadur Rai in Gurkha Warrior was a gruelling undertaking. Ritesh embarked on an intensive training regimen that pushed his body and mind to new heights. It was imperative that he not only looked the part, but also moved with the grace, strength, and precision of a Gurkha warrior. Months of training, including rigorous physical conditioning and martial arts practice, were coupled with an immersive exploration of the Gurkha way of life.

“The dedication Ritesh brought to his role was nothing short of remarkable,” Milan Chams reflected during the film’s premiere. “He not only looked like a Gurkha but breathed life into the character of Captain Surya Thapa. It was an honour to work with such a committed actor.”

Filming presented a formidable challenge for Ritesh, as it took place during the winter months and within the dense jungles of Nepal and Brunei.

The actor had to contend with 3.30am starts and bone-chilling temperatures. He also did many of his own stunts, including fight scenes and falling from great heights. Whilst filming the combat scenes, Ritesh also had to deal with the memories of  his time in Afghanistan.

While the movie is replete with pulse-pounding action sequences, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Himalayas, it is equally a tale of camaraderie, loyalty, and the profound sense of duty that defines the Gurkha way of life.

Ritesh’s performance received thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the premiere. His portrayal was hailed as a rare blend of authenticity and emotion, capturing the essence of the Gurkha soldier while portraying the character’s vulnerability and humanity with a poignant touch.

The film’s action sequences, choreographed to perfection, had the audience on the edge of their seats. The rugged terrain of the Himalayas, expertly captured by the film’s cinematography, served as a breathtaking backdrop for the riveting battle scenes. The meticulous attention to detail, from uniforms to weapons, transported viewers into the heart of the Gurkha experience.

Ritesh Chams’ transition from Gurkha hero to international film star is not just a remarkable story of personal achievement; it is a testament to the power of storytelling to bridge cultures and celebrate the shared humanity that unites us all. His journey serves as a reminder that heroes exist both on and off the screen, and the valour and dedication of the Gurkha soldiers continue to inspire generations.

Beyond the spotlight and the glamour of the premiere, the journey of Ritesh Chams is a tale of transformation and the relentless pursuit of excellence. It’s a story that underscores the significance of resilience and unwavering dedication. 

Ritesh told me why he believes this story is such an important one. “The Gurkhas have a 208-year long history,” he says proudly. “Gurkha soldiers have been involved in almost every conflict where the British military were involved during and after the World Wars. 

“During the Malay Emergency, when this film is set, my Grandad was serving and was injured. I myself was injured in Afghanistan in 2010. When I was only three years old, he passed away, so sadly I never got the chance to hear his story, and there are so many who didn’t get the chance to tell their story too. This film is an opportunity for us all to realise what it was like for these soldiers at the time.”

To finally see his film on the big screen was overwhelming. “It was like a dream to me,” Ritesh recalled. “I found it breathtaking how the audience connected with the story, and you could see how emotional it made them. For me, the most emotional part was when I got to meet the audience members. Particularly when I met Hari Buda Magar, a double amputee Afghanistan veteran who had recently climbed Mount Everest, and his wife. The story truly touched them, and meeting them was a real honour. I would like to thank each and every one from bottom of my heart for supporting the film that night.”

Ritesh’s dedication to his craft was evident throughout his preparation for Gurkha Warrior. His physical transformation, coupled with the in-depth exploration of Gurkha culture and values, was a testament to his commitment to his role. This dedication extended to his emotional preparation, as he sought to understand the experiences, motivations, and challenges of Gurkha soldiers on a profound level.

Moreover, Ritesh Chams’ journey is a testament to the power of cross-cultural storytelling. The Gurkha soldiers, while legendary in their own right, often remained shrouded in mystery for international audiences. Through Gurkha Warrior, Ritesh and Milan Chams have opened a window into their world.

Gurkha Warrior isn’t just a film; it’s a celebration of an extraordinary community and a tribute to the countless unsung heroes who have served as Gurkha soldiers. 

The legacy of this film extends beyond the silver screen. It serves as an opportunity to educate and inspire future generations about the Gurkha tradition and the values it embodies. In a world that often craves heroes, Gurkha Warrior reminds us that they are still very much in existence.

As Ritesh Chams stands on the precipice of international stardom, the world eagerly awaits his next steps. Looking to the future, Ritesh has big aspirations: “There are so many more untold stories of the Gurkhas and their history. We have already written four more scripts, so we will continue to work on and develop those.”

“I have also recently auditioned to star in a biopic film about Tenzing Norgay, the first person to climb Mount Everest [alongside Sir Edmund Hillary] for a Hollywood production. A dream would be to do a film about the ancient history of the Nepali people that takes us back 4,000 years to the start of the Kirat dynasty, the warrior tribes, and the Kingdom of Himalaya.”

Ritesh Chams, the Gurkha warrior turned film star, is a testament to the boundless potential of the human spirit; a shining example of how dreams can be achieved with determination. His story is a reminder that sometimes reality can surpass the most captivating of cinematic stories. 

Images courtesy of Gurkha Warrior

Louis Mason

Louis has always been passionate about writing and creating content, and this comes in handy in his day job as a content and marketing director in London where he is based. Over the years, Louis has written pieces for national magazines and international news outlets both digitally and in print. Louis joined the Sorted team in 2020. His main areas of interest are conducting interviews with interesting and inspiring people and writing about metropolitan life.
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