(Published in The Sunday Times of India, 15-04-2012)
Archana Khare Ghose, TNN Apr 15, 2012, 06.43AM IST
Chances are that most Indians didn’t know what Byari was till a film of the same name was recently announced joint winner in the Best Film category at the 59th National Film Awards. Courtesy the award, most of us now know about this language – without a script of its own – of the Byari people of south Karnataka.
But the importance of Byari is more than just being the first film made in the language, or being the first in that language to win the prestigious national award. Its importance is in its symbolism – a perfect reference point to measure the distance traveled by Indian cinema since April 21, 1913, when the first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, had premiered.
“It is a comment on how strong the medium of cinema is, and also the most accessible, the world over, for any small community to express itself,” says Utpal Borpujari, the 2003 National Award winner for Best Film Critic. And Byari is but a recent link in a long chain of films of and by the smaller communities of India that have told stories of people with strong cultural ethos of their own, as against mainstream philosophy.
Beginning with the first Bhojpuri film in 1962, Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo, little cinema has taken birth, and struck roots in the unlikeliest of India’s remote corners. For instance, the first Chhattisgarhi film, Kahi Debe Sandesh, was made by Manu Nayak in 1965, 35 years before the region attained statehood. The successful Manipuri cinema, on the other hand, sees the production of nearly 40 films each year.
While these are relatively the more visible ethnic and linguistic groups within the minority, films are being made even in languages with almost the same status as Byari in the mainstream mindframe. Borpujari cites examples of Monpa language of Arunachal Pradesh and the Kokborok language of Tripura in which films have been made.
“A lot of interesting work is happening through cinema beyond Bollywood and powerful regional centres. There is, however, also a tendency to ape Bollywood,” says Borpujari.
What has helped these marginal filmmakers is technology that has reduced the cost of production. National Award winning Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua says, “Technology has taken the strong medium of cinema to grassroots. The best thing about technology is that nobody can own it and those who understand the power of cinema are putting the two together to good use.”
Problems, though, remain in the form of accessibility. But zealous filmmakers almost always find a way out. While Ladakhi filmmakers are doing a successful job through mobile theatres, most others target global audience through cyberspace for minimum returns . Quite a few others skip the route of theatres and release films directly on videos/ CDs. What ensures continued production of films in the far-flung pockets of India is the strong urge to make films. KP Suveeran, the director of Byari, says, “Though I don’t intend to make any more Byari films, the young people of the community who assisted me are very enthused. They will carry the work forward in that language.”
And we will continue to learn about more unknown and unheard of stories through cinema.