Indian Cinema has always been known for bollywood and tollywood which already dominates it wonderfully, yet the culture cinema has retained it value.
North-eastern region of India which is popularly known as ‘seven sisters’ has proved its talent by winning several national and international awards for critically acclaimed films and documentaries. This region has also contributed pioneers such as Pramathesh Chandra Barua, SD Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Bhupen Hazarika, Danny Denzongpa, Zubeen Garg, Adil Hussain and Seema Biswas to Indian cinema. North-eastern Cinema is mostly restricted to regional level but it has great potentials. On the occasion of celebration of 100 years of Indian Cinema let’s see North-east Cinema with a wider angle.
North-east Cinema enriched with regional culture
The root of the North-east Cinema was implanted way back in 1935. Unlike Bollywood or Tollywood North-east Cinema does not come under any particular roof. However Assamese and Manipuri films dominate North-east film industry. North-East also produces many films in different regional languages and dialects such as Karbi, Mishing, Bodo, Garo, Rabha, Monpa, Kokborok, Sadri etc.
Assamese film-mirror of Assamese culture
Assamese films have great contribution towards North-east film industry. The first Assamese film, indeed the first film from the north-east Joymoti hit the cinema hall on March 10, 1935. The film was made by Assam’s noted film director Jyotiprasad Agarwalla. Lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker Bhupen Hazarika made his directorial debut with Assamese film Era Bator Sur (Tunes from the Deserted Path) in 1956. He directed films like Pratidhwani, Lotighoti and Chikmik Bijuli, each different in genre and thus reflecting Hazarika’s versatility.
Assam bagged four prestigious Rajat Kamal Awards along with the Special Mention Award for the film Baandhon by the maverick Assamese filmmaker: Jahnu Baruah at the 60th National Awards in 2012. Also Ko: Yad, a film by Manju Borah on the struggles of life, won the best feature film in the Non-Eighth Schedule Language category. Assamese film Mayong: Myth & Reality is archived by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland.
The list also includes Bidyut Chakraborty, Sanjeev Hazarika, Jwngdao Bodosa (who has made several acclaimed Bodo films), Sanjib Sabhapandit, Haobam Paban Kumar and Joseph Pulinthanath (a Malayali settled in Tripura who has made two feature films in Kokborok language) who have bagged several national and international awards.
Critically acclaimed Manipuri films
Manipur also did not escape from the glamour of films. Manipuri film producers are inspired by the love of the medium and the art rather than for commercial consideration. Matamgee Manipur was the first Manipuri feature film produced by Karam Monomohan Singh in 1972. Manipur has completed three decades of its film records with 54 feature films and 35 documentary/non feature films. During this period Manipur brought 9 international awards and 10 national awards. The blanket ban on Hindi Cinema by militant outfit Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) has turned beneficial to this regional cinema.
Several noted film directors like Aribam Syam Sharma (who directed Imagi Ningthem-My precious son and Ishanou-Chosen One) and Makhonmani Mongsaba (who directed first Manipuri feature film Chatledo Eid) have bagged several national and international awards for their masterpieces.
Insurgency hit North-east film industry
North-eastern states have always remained tense due to ethnic conflicts and insurgency. The insurgency has affected North-east Cinema severely. It is a soft target of militants. Strikes and blockades called by militant groups disrupt film production. Insurgent outfits do not oppose local films but they have banned the screening of Hindi films. Ironically, those militant outfits who ban Hindi films do not oppose Hollywood films.
Film production in North-east
Unlike big budget Hindi and south Indian films, the average investment for north-east films is around Rs 20 lakh. Due to lack of availability of resources, films production remains restricted to local level. The state government provides financial aid for film production. The movies are released through ‘mobile’ cinema format and shown in community halls through LCD projectors to small groups. Since the turnouts of these films are discouraging— some of the movies are released in DVD/CD versions. North-east faces acute shortage of equipment, finance, technicians, theatre and infrastructure. Most of the films are exposed, printed, processed and re- recorded at Kolkata or Chennai or Mumbai. These makes film production more costly.
North-east Cinema restricted to film festivals
Despite national and international acclaim, north-eastern movies have remained restricted to regional level. North-east’s first ever Indian Cinema film festival was organised in Shillong in January 2013. North-east’s first Children Film Festival kicked off in February in the same year. The Festival travelled in 8 cities namely Guwahati, Shillong , Dimapur, Kohima, Aizwal, Agartala, Gangtok and Malbasey. CDs/DVDs of northeastern films are hardly available in the other states. These films are mostly featured in national and international film festivals and remain restricted to a certain class of people. Language is also one of the barriers for restraining north-eastern films to reach to the masses.
Bollywood changing perspective towards North-east
North-east region is gifted with scenic beauty and unspoiled environment. The ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the region is as much breathtaking as its verdant hills, meandering rivers and lush valleys. North-eastern people are art lover and aesthetics in nature and gifted with arts like paintings, dancing, singing, crafting and much more. Manipuri classical dance has gained fame among the country’s performing arts. The choir from Mizoram and Nagaland has gained popularity on the international platform. Renowned Assamese playback singer Bhupen Hazarika popularised Assamese folk music worldwide.
But now North-easterns’ voices and works are getting the attention of the Bollywood. Famous Bollywood film maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali is making film on Manipur’s Olympic medal winner boxer Merry Kom. Similarly, Film maker Kalpana Lazmi is working on her upcoming venture on biopic on legendary singer Bhupen Hazarika. Sikkimese singer and director Prashant Rasaily assisted Anurag Basu in Hrithik Roshan-starrer Kites.
Nine-time national award winning filmmaker Jahnu Baruah made his Bollywood debut with Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara. Mania Shankar’s Tango Charlie represented Bodo militants as having cannibalistic tendencies.
North-east has ample shooting locations, North-easterns are artistic in nature, the region has ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity. Bollywood can make use of these ‘in-house’ resources.
Can the Films become a medium to link other India with North-east
A strategic region for national security, The North-east India has always remained neglected in the rest of India. The insurgency and cross border terrorism overshadowed potentials in this region. Despite lack of finance, poor infrastructural facilities, lack of modern technologies and insurgency, today North-eastern films are acknowledged on national and international platform. Films are the best medium of understanding North-east’s culture and traditions. Also it is a source of employment to youth who otherwise walk on the path of militancy for bread and butter. North-east Cinema is overflowing with talent, only thing it requires a boost to flourish and prosper.
(Courtesy: News Bharati News Services)