Monday, 20 February 2017

Films from the North East

-Brian Mendonça

Far away from the brouhaha of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), was another event equally laudable in Goa.  Mallikarjun college tucked away on the Southern tip of Goa hosted an International Interdisciplinary Conference on Indian Cinema and Women from 3-4 February 2017. I chose to focus on films from the North East of India.

Although there is a fair degree of contribution of films from the North East to the Indian film industry, much of the efforts go unnoticed. Regional film has sadly lost out and continues to lose out to the exorcising influence of Bollywood, its glam quotient, its suave marketing and its allure for the youth.  North East films seem to explore more mature themes of men and women in their mature years. Set against a backdrop of insurgency, killings and dislocation, it is these voices which we seldom hear – or choose to ignore. 

The movie AFSPA 1958 (2006) written and directed by Haobem Pabam Kumar is a documentary film in Manipuri about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 which gives sweeping powers to the security forces. It reaches back to the episode of the torture and death of Manorama Devi and the consequent protest by Manipuri women who disrobed and walked through Imphal in 2004.  Journey to Nagaland (2011) is an animated film from Nagaland about a young girl led by dreams to her roots. The Headhunter directed by Nilanjan Dutta, is a film from Arunachal Pradesh which tells about the erasure of the old ways of life of the tribals.  

With regard to Assamese film, the latest poetic offering Dau Huduni Methai/ Song of the Horned Owl (2016) by Manju Borah catalogues the human cost of insurgency seen through the eyes of a rape victim Raimili. Adomya (2014) by Bobby Sarma Baruah tells the story of Juri infected by her AIDS-stricken husband who dies later. Juri has to bring up her daughter in these circumstances.

From Bhupen Hazarika’s trailblazer Shakuntala (1961) in Assamese to Santwana Bardoloi’s Adajya (1996) also in Assamese, directors have provided keen insights into the psyche of a woman. The themes have been bold. Adjaya, is about Giribala a young attractive widow who has to confront her needs when an American scholar comes visiting.  The film is based on a novel by Indira Goswami and is set in the 1940’s in Assam. 

Widowhood has also been the theme of Padum Borah’s Gonga Silonir Pakhi/ Wings of the Tern (1976). In Aparoopa (1982) by Jahnu Baruah, Aparoopa is forced to give up her University education to marry a rich tea estate. She later realises she was a pawn to repay her father’s debts. She begins a dalliance with an old classmate. Agnisaan (1985) by Bhabendranath Saikila dwells on the theme of the revenge of the first wife who has been discarded.  In Kothanodi / River of Tales (2015) Bhaskar Hazarika has taken recourse to Assamese folktales weaving in witchcraft, infanticide and snake worship – practised by women and endemic to Assam.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 February 2017.

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