Utpal Borpujari

May 5, 2019

Of anti-PRC protests, a film festival and a violent night in Itanagar

https://www.firstpost.com/india/of-anti-prc-protests-and-a-violent-night-in-itanagar-6244891.html Published on 12/03.2019

By Utpal Borpujari

It was with palpable excitement that I had taken the flight to Dibrugarh from New Delhi on February 21. The excitement was on two counts: that I will get to cross the Bogibeel bridge, the country’s longest rail-cum-road bridge, across the mighty Brahmaputra for the first time, and that my Assamese feature film “Ishu” will be screened at the 1st Itanagar International Film Festival to be held in the capital city of Arunachal Pradesh from the next day.

The Bogibeel bridge gives a panoramic view of the massive Brahmaputra, and we took just about 10 minutes to cross the river across the 4.94-km-long bridge, which has come as a real boon for people of both Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In a few hours’ time, we had crossed Gogamukh, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur towns to reach Bandardewa, the town on both sides of the inter-state border.

Here we were told, after the border sentries had checked our Inner Line Permits, that we will have to wait for an escort vehicle as there was a 48-hour bandh called by several local organisations against the government’s decision to consider giving Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC) to six non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (non-APST) that had migrated from Assam many decades back and settled mainly in the Namsai and Changlang districts in southern Arunachal Pradesh. These communities are Deuri, Mishing, Moran, Sonowal Kachari, Adivasi and Gorkha.

We reached Itanagar by around 9pm without any fuss, barring a road blockade by a group of youth who let us pass after some initial protest. Next morning, over breakfast at the Waii International Hotel, I met several film personalities from across the Northeast and rest of India – veteran Bollywood director-producer-actor Satish Kaushik, Shillong boy Ronnie Lahiri who has produced all of Shoojit Sircar’s directorial ventures and a few others, National Award-winning filmmakers Pradip Kurbah (Meghalaya), Lipika Singh Darai (Odisha), Meghnad and Biju Toppo (Jharkhand), Haobam Paban Kumar and Oinam Doren (both Manipur), Joseph Pulinthanath (Tripura), Manju Borah and Samujjal Kashyap (both Assam), actress Lin Laishram, musician Joi Barua and directors Sanjib Dey, Mukul Haloi and a few others.

As we got ready to proceed to the opening ceremony, we were told that it has been postponed till the evening because of the ongoing bandh. None of us had foreseen the brewing dark clouds – either during the whole day when we mostly lounged around, or in the evening when we were told that the programme has been postponed till the next day because of disturbances in the town.

It was past midnight, when everyone was ready to retire to his or her room, serious trouble started – we saw some fires erupting at a distance in the area where the Dorjee Khandu Convention Centre, the festival venue, stood. Slowly more fires erupted, and by around 1 am, the entire area surrounding the convention centre and the nearby Indira Gandhi park, was aflame. We could hear tear gas shells going off and then bullets being fired. Later, we got to know that the protestors had become violent as one of them had been injured in police firing earlier in the evening as they tried to storm the Secretariat building.

While we were safe at the hotel, nearly 100 people, mostly performers who were practising for the opening ceremony and personnel of the organizing team, were trapped in the Convention Centre. With Internet having been shut down, there was no way to find out what really was happening, and when I called up Sattriya dancer Answesa Mahanta, who was among those trapped, I could sense a real sense of fear in her voice. “The protestors have told us that they have nothing against us and won’t harm us, and has forbade us from going out from here, but everything is burning outside, and we don’t know what will happen next,” she had told me. Every vehicle parked outside the Convention Centre and at the IG park area were burnt and many musicians, including Alobo Naga of Nagaland and Suman Kalyan Dutta of Assam, lost all their equipment in the fire. Fortunately, nobody was harmed physically by the protestors.

All the five inflatable cinema halls, erected by Picture Time, were burnt down to ashes. So were the numerous food and other stalls around the venue. With the situation still tense but seemingly under control next day, arrangements were made to take all the stranded festival participants out of Itanagar to Assam border via the Itanagar-Gohpur road. Later, as we reached Dibrugarh late evening, we got information that massive violence had erupted again in Itanagar and Naharlagun again, and three people had been killed in police firing. The violence continued the next day (Monday, February 25), with the mob damaging and setting afire the private residence of Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, damanged several shopping complexes, car showrooms, government offices and had looted stores. This, despite the Army having staged flag marches and curfew having been imposed.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu later tweeted and spoke at a media interaction to state that the idea of giving PRC to the six communities had been dropped. Earlier, the government intended to implement the recommendation of a Joint High-Powered Committee (JHPC) to give PRC to the six communities.

Looking from a neutral viewpoint, both sides of the PRC debate have their valid arguments. For its 83,743 sq km area, Arunachal Pradesh is very sparsely populated – it has a population of just 13.84 lakh according to the 2011 Census – with 26 major and over 100 sub-tribes making up its ethnic diversity that is an anthropologist’s delight. Many of these tribes have populations less than 50,000, some even less than 10,000. Most of them oppose the idea of giving PRC for the six non-APST communities whose total population would be not more than a few lakhs, saying such a decision would negatively impact the smaller tribes. They contend that giving PRC will lead to influx of more members of these communities from Assam, leading to threat to existence of communities like Singphos who are just around 6,000 in number.

On the other hand, the members of the non-APST communities argue that because they do not have PRC, they cannot get land pattas, deprived of government jobs, and cannot for UPSC and other competitive examinations, among others problems.

Quite clearly, it’s a complex issue concerning right to live and right to dignity on one side and right of smaller communities to exist without any ethnic pressure on the other – an issue that must be handled sensitively and carefully in the long term. In the short term, of course, the all-round violence has dented the image of otherwise peace-loving people of India’s easternmost state, an image they themselves won’t like to harbour for sure.

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January 23, 2015

Gulzar Retro in IFFI gets a high with Libaas premiere 26 years it was made

By Utpal Borpujari
Panaji: Of all the films that are having their premieres at the ongoing 45th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), one has been a 26-year-old, but it hogged the maximum attention when it got screened.

Yes, you heard it right: a film getting premiered after 26 years of having been made. But it was not surprising that it attracted great attention, because the film in question is Gulzar’s “Libaas”, made in 1988 but never released in India.

So, when it was screened at IFFI as part of a special retrospective on Gulzar, not only the regular festival delegate, but Gulzar himself was excited and emotional. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Raj Babbar, the film was never released its producers considered it too bold for its time and apparently developed cold feet.

“I was worried that the film would look dated. But I guess the intricacies of the human relation are eternal and universal,” Gulzar told the audience immediately after the screening that was attended by, among others, director Vishal Bhardwaj and his singer wife Rekha Bhardwaj.

“The film remained unreleased because of some issues with the producers. Many approached them for rights to release the film on DVD and even on television, but they continue to refuse,” Gulzar said, adding in his inimitable style that “after watching the film after such a long period, even I feel I am a good writer”. Though the film was unreleased, its songs, composed by R D Burman, including “Silli hawa chhoo gai”, “Phir kisi shakh ne” and “Khamosh sa afsana” have remained ever popular.

“Human relations are so incredibly complex, there are several layers which you can keep uncovering. It will never go out of fashion. What excites me is the study of human nature. It is something I draw from real life. It never fails me,” said Gulzar explaining the philosophy behind the film.

Just before the screening began, however, Gulzar was as excited and nervous as a youngster appearing for an exam would be. “I feel like a school kid appearing for an exam. The dubbing quality could be bad. Maybe we might not get to hear some of the dialogue,” he had said. After the screening of the print was reasonably of good quality, he heaved a sigh of relief. “What a relief!” he said.

The film’s story revolves around a theatre couple, played by Azmi and Shah, and how their relationship undergoes an upheaval when Babbar’s character, a friend of Shah’s character, enters the scene.

The Gulzar retrospective comprises, apart from “Libaas”, seven other films by the Dadasaheb Phalke Award-winning filmmaker-poet-lyricist. They are “Aandhi”, “Angoor”, “Ijaazat”, “Koshish”, “Lekin”, “Maachis” and “Mere Apne”, thus encompassing his journey as a filmmaker.

“I just couldn’t stop crying after watching the film. For the past 23 years I’ve been wanting to watch the film and here at IFFI 2014, my dream came true. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss the film’s screening. Libaas has touched my soul, I feel so satisfied now,” said Rekha Bhardwaj after the screening.

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, http://www.easternchronicle.net; 08-12-2014)

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