Utpal Borpujari

February 7, 2014

‘NE cinema can get global attention if it reflects the ethnic cultures and societies’

EasternChronicleIFFI251113

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, 25-11-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

Panaji (Goa): Reflect the society and its roots, concerns and cultures, instead of aping the worst practices of Bollywood, and only then we can see our cinema get a world stage. That was the loud and clear message that came out in a freewheeling interaction on cinema from North East India at the 44th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) here.

Another strong message that came out was: yes, while it’s a given that our cinemas must travel to the outside world, we must be able to create a platform and avenues to enable people from within the region to watch one another’s films – for example, a Mizo getting access to a film made in Arunachal Pradesh or a Naga doing the same with a Khasi film.

It was virtually an “Adda” session on the sidelines of the festival that is having a “Focus: North East Cinema” section curated by this writer, and filmmakers, thinkers, actors, writers from the region gave their free and frank opinion about how cinema from the region gain both local and global prominence.

Be it Sahitya Akademi award-winning author Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi from Arunachal Pradesh, filmmakeri Manju Borah from Assam, Prashant Rasailly from Sikkim and Joseph Pulinthanath from Tripura, or actors Adil Hussain, Seema Biswas (both Assam), Meena Debbarma (Tripura) and Zerifa Wahid (Assam), the refrain was the same at a special session on “Our Stories, Our Cinemas”.

“We are a region that has over 220 ethnic communities and as many languages, cultures, folk traditions, cuisines and so on. Why then we have to borrow cheap ideas from outside to make films? Why not make films that tell universal stories in settings that are so unique to North East India?” asked Thongchi, who has visited a film festival for the first time in his life and has self-admittedly been overwhelmed by the wide variety of films from various countries that he has been able to watch here.

One thing that everyone agreed upon is that the North East requires more and more cinema halls in the interior towns and cities so that people can get access to their own cinema. It may not be commercially very viable to have cinema halls all over because populations are sparsely distributed in states like Arunachal Pradesh, but it seems ridiculous that while for 15 years Tripura did not have a cinema hall till a multiplex came up recently in Agartala, states like Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh does not have a single cinema hall, including in their capitals, they pointed out.

Policy makers have a big role to play in promoting cinema in the region, everyone agreed, with Pulinthanath particularly pointing out to the sad reality that while states like Kerala and West Bengal which have or had been long ruled by the Left have robust film cultures, Tripura, which is under Left rule for over two decades now, has had no visible effort from the state to promote its indigenous cinema.
Writer-editor-activist Patricia Mukhim was supported wholeheartedly by the participants, that also included Ahsan Mujid (director of Sonam), Mapuia Chawngthu (director of Khwanlung Run), and Tianla Jamir (director from Nagaland), that while thinking of a long-term game plan to take our cinemas forward, one idea that needed immediate attention was the creation of a film festival for North East cinemas that could each year travel from one state to another, so that a film culture develops and also people get to watch films being made within the region.

(www.easternchronicle.net: go to archives and get the 25-11-2013 edition)

November 27, 2013

NEthing…NEwhere… The Joy & Sorrow of curating an NE package at IFFI

EasternChronicleIFFINE171113

(published in Eastern Chronicle, 17-11-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

The title of this piece would perplex many. Obviously, to get the honour to curate a special “Focus” section on cinemas from Northeast India is reason for joy, and pride. There cannot be any second thought about it. The corollary is that there should be no space for the word “sorrow” here. But unfortunately, for this writer, there is.

Let me explain the cause for sorrow. A couple of months ago, I received a call from Shankar Mohan, the director of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), one of the world’s oldest and biggest film festivals which is going to have its 44th edition this year (between November 20 and 30). “Can you come to my office to discuss something important?” he said. A few days later, we met. His wanting to meet me had a solid reason – the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, the parent body of IFFI, has decided to have a special focus on cinemas from Northeast this year, and I was being offered the responsibility of designing and packaging the whole section. There was no question of having said no to such an offer. I was told that as the curator, I had the complete freedom to do my job, but the only additional request from IFFI was that I should also help in packaging a whole set of activities around the Focus Northeast section, so that delegates visiting the festival get a complete 3600 experience of Northeast India.

It was not very difficult to prepare a “longlist” of films from the Northeast. The names of the important films from our region are virtually on the tip of my tongue. Then I started looking for those films in the list. And that is when the “sorrow” part started. Let me include either “Era Bator Xur” or “Pratidhwani” as a sample of Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s filmmaking capabilities, I thought. But where can I get the prints? Nobody had a clue. The National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in Pune does not have any of the films directed by him. The State Film Archives started by the Assam Film (Finance & Development) Corporation Ltd has the print of “Shakuntala” but it is without subtitles. I asked Kalpana Lajmi about these films, and her reply was frank and forthright – “these films had happened long before I came into his life, and no one knows where the prints had gone even then”. My guess is that – and I am sure I am correct – we have lost all films directed by Dr Hazarika, except “Shakuntala”.

It was almost the same case with “Matamgee Manipur” the first Manipuri film made in 1972. Directed by Deb Kumar Bose and with music by eminent filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma, the print of “Matamgee Manipur” too is almost non-existent – it is in a shambles. Luckily, a DVD copy of the film exists with filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar, and – thank god – I was able to convert it to Digibeta so that it can be shown at IFFI, though the quality of the visuals is really poor. “Manik Raitong”, the only film ever to win a National Award (in 1985) from Meghalaya, is also likely to meet the same fate soon. Informed sources say that the subtitled print of the film, which was sent for a festival in Russia, was misplaced by the Indian Embassy in Moscow years ago, and the only existing print that is with the producer’s family does not have subtitles and could already have got damaged as it is lying in the cans for years without scientific archival. Indeed, though we may have a list of around 300-plus films till date from the Northeast, it would be a big surprise if in reality more than 150 exist. As someone immersed in cinema, it pains me deeply that many of our films are lost forever due to lack of archiving. On a personal level though, I have a sense of satisfaction as I could find the print of my grandfather’s “Runumi”, the ninth Assamese feature film, after nearly 40 years of having gone lost, and could get it (about 80% of its undamaged portions) not only restored but digitalized at the behest of NFAI.

The second cause of “sorrow” was more of a technical one that happens with almost all film festivals. Originally, the Northeast Focus was scheduled to screen nearly 30 films from the region. But finally I am being able to showcase only 18 as the number of available slots got reduced because of introduction of some additional sections. As a result, I had to delete quite a few films from the list – including Padum Barua’s “Ganga Chilanir Pakhi” and Atul Bordoloi’s “Kallol” (prints / tapes of both films with English subtitles exist luckily with the State Archive and NFAI respectively), which are two classics that have not been seen outside Assam. But I am sure I will get the opportunity sooner than latter to showcase these two and other left out films at other festivals.

But the “sorrow” has been overcome thanks to the acceptance of my suggestion by IFFI authorities to include another classic from the region – Abdul Majid’s “Chameli Memsab” based on Nirode Choudhury’s (a fantastic litterateur whom our literary pundits and bodies have chosen to forget for some unknown reason – but that is another story) novel and with some immortal songs by Bhupen Hazarika (his only National Award for Best Music came for this film in 1975) – in a special section showcasing the musical journey of Indian cinema.

What is important about the Focus Northeast section is that the movies will be supplemented by cultural shows and handicraft exhibitions (organized with the help of the West Zone Cultural Centre of the Union Ministry of Culture) as well as a special food stall showcasing Northeastern cuisine. That the NE section is getting serious importance is apparent from the fact that perhaps for the first time ever, any section of IFFI is getting a special and separate opening and closing ceremonies. The Indian Panorama and other sections are opened with a brief formal speech and felicitation of the directors of the opening films, but the NE section will have a special cultural performances too – by talented Naga folk fusion band Purple Fusion from Dimapur at the opening and by a Thang Ta group from Imphal led by Raju Laishram at the closing.

The section will kick off in the evening of November 22 with the screening of “Khawnlung Run” (Dir: Mapuia Chawngthu), which will be the first-ever Mizo film to be screened in any international film festival. The special inaugural ceremony will be attended by several prominent cinema and cultural personalities from the region, including internationally-acclaimed actress Seema Biswas and actor Adil Hussain.

One of the special attractions of the section is Dr Bhupen Hazarika-directed “Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad Aru Joymoti”, a documentary on the making of “Joymoti”, the first film made in the North East in 1935 by cultural icon Jyotiprasad Agarwalla. Incidentally, the documentary contains the only surviving portions of “Joymoti” and thus is an important cinematic document. Another film with archival interest will be “Matamgi Manipur”. Along with it will be screened Haobam Paban Kumar’s documentary “The First Leap”, on how “Matamgi Manipur” was made, as recalled by the actors as they watch the film after over three decades of its making.

The other films to be screened, representing all the eight North Eastern states, are “Sonam” (Dir. Ahsan Majid, Monpa language) from Arunachal Pradesh, “Ishanou” (Dir: Aribam Syam Sharma, language Manipuri) from Manipur, “Kathaa” (Dir: Prashant Rasailly, language Gorkhali) from Sikkim, “Ka Lad” (Dir: Dondor Lyngdoh & Gautam Syiem, language Khasi) from Meghalaya, “Songs of Mashangva” (Dir Oinam Doren, Language English & Tangkhul) from Manipur, “Going the Distance” (Dir: Tianla Jamir) from Nagaland, “Panoi Jongki” (Dir Dilip Doley & Narayan Seal, language Mising) from Assam, “Yarwng” (Dir: Joseph Pulinthanath, language Kokborok) from Tripura, “Papori” (Dir Jahnu Barua, language Assamese) from Assam, “Hagramayo Jinahari (Rape in the Virgin Forest)” (Dir: Jwngdao Bodosa, language Bodo) from Assam, “Agnisnaan” (Dir: Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia, language Assamese) from Assam, “Baibhav – A Scam in Verse” (Dir: Manju Borah, language Assamese) from Assam,
and “Wosobipo” (Dir: Gautam Bora, language Karbi) from Assam.

Incidentally, “Ka Lad” is a short film that is being shown as Meghalaya, despite a slowly growing local film industry, has not yet come up with a feature film that can be showcased at an international film festival. The case is similar with Nagaland too, and hence the state is being represented by Jamir’s documentary. And, though technically Doren’s documentary is about Reuben Mashangva who hails from Ukhrul district of Manipur, the spirit of the film more represents the Naga ethos through its story of Tangkhul Naga folk music and Mashangva’s efforts to revive it.

The section will close on November 27 with the screening of Arup Manna-directed Assamese film “Aideu” which chronicles the tragic life of “Joymoti’s heroine Aideu Handique, who for years was socially boycotted by people for having acted in a film despite being a woman.

That is not all. The 44th IFFI will also pay a homage to noted tea planter Hemendra Prasad Barooah, screening “Ek Pal” produced by him and directed by Kalpana Lajmi. The film, starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Faroukh Sheikh, has music by Dr Bhupen Hazarika, who counted Barooah among his closest friends. The

These are in addition to Manju Borah’s Mising language feature film “Ko:Yad” and documentaries “Manipuri Pony” by Aribam Syam Sharma, “Resonance of Mother’s Melody” by Dip Bhuyan and “By Lane No. 2” by Utpal Datta, which are part of the Indian Panorama section.

As part of the Northeast section, a panel discussiontitled “Our Stories, Our Cinemas”, will be organized on November 23. The discussion, to be moderated by this writer, will see the participation of the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi from Arunachal Pradesh, Aribam Syam Sharma, noted social activist and author Patricia Mukhim from Meghalaya, actress Meena Debbarma from Tripura, Manju Borah, apart from Chawngthu, Rasailly and Tianla Jamir.

Another North East link to the 44th IFFI, meanwhile is veteran Assamese filmmaker and painter Pulak Gogoi, who is the art director for this edition of the festival and thus is responsible for designing the art work for both the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival as well as all publications and memorabilia related to it.

Quite clearly, if you are in IFFI this year, there is every chance that you would be engulfed by the aroma of the Northeast.

(The writer has curated and programmed the Focus Northeast Section of 44th IFFI)

(http://www.easternchronicle.net/index.php?archive=17.11.2013&city=2# – when page opens, go to page 10)

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