The history of Northeastern cinema dates back to 1935, to the making of Joymoti by Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, just four years after Alam Ara—Bharat’s first sound film. Despite its rich tradition of eight decades, the Assamese and Manipuri cinemas are still in the area of darkness that remain unacknowledged by majority of the audience of mainstream cinemas. In a bid to bring the Northeastern cinemas in the glare of media and public attention, The Directorate of Film Festival (DFF)(Ministry of Information & Broadcasting) organised ‘Fragrance from the North East’, a three day long (August 21-23, 2015) film festival of cinemas from the Northeastern states of Bharat at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi. Inaugurating the festival, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore said, “The Centre is fast tracking the process of establishing the film institute at Arunachal Pradesh, initiated as part of the overall vision to promote and strengthen youth talent in the Northeastern Region”. The film festival set off with the exhibition of Manipuri film Pallepfam, directed and produced by Wanglen Khundongban. There was a magnificent section of special retrospective of films made by veteran Manipuri director Ariban Syam Sharma that comprised of six of his films, including two feature films. “More of our films should be shown on Doordarshan. This attempt by the government is good for the northeast. Directors and artists from the northeast will come under focus through this festival”, Shri Sharma said in the interaction session.
Every film exhibited in the region was distinct in its theme, texture and narration and deeply rooted in the socio-cultural milieu of the region. Unfortunately, so far, the films from the Northeastern region have been confined only in the film festivals and academic circles. To give an exposure to the young film makers from this region of Bharat, a special segment on Northeastern cinemas was included in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa. ‘Fragrance from the North-East’ also aims at giving a platform to these filmmakers to showcase their creative and vibrant works. Along with other cultural programmes, the spectators had an opportunity to relish authentic delicacies from the Northeastern regions. An exhibition of creative handicrafts and books was also arranged as a part of the event. Along with the other 21 movies from the languages like Assamese, Nagamese, Khasi, Assamese, Manipuri and Monpa, renowned Assamese film-maker Manju Borah’s Ko: Yad was also showcased. Speaking to the Organiser about the scope and relevance of the festival and associated events, Manju Borah said “Our language speaking people are very limited and the audience is of complex characters. Everybody, whichever language he/she speaks, goes for Hindi films. Many youngsters are coming to the industry and making very good films in regional language. But they cannot release their films. Only big banners and producers were given top priority by the distributors. Even in Hindi, so many good small budget films are coming up. But they are also facing the same problem.” She cited the example of Maharashtra, to substantiate how the State policy helps in the promotion of regional films. “Every new Marathi film has to be given first priority and full shows in the State. Though Mumbai continues to be the main centre of bollywood, the Marathi films are competing with them only because of the State’s film policy. Our state governments should also do this”, she added.
Shortage of finance and market are the main crisis faced by the Northeastern films. According to the views of the filmmakers, the state and Doordarshan should grant financial assistance to the regional films. Previously, Doordarshan had financed regional and art films. Now they have ceased to provide financial aid to the regional films. Now the I&B ministry has taken a key initiative to organise Northeast film festivals in all metro cities from next year onwards. For the film makers from the region, it is a welcome decision which may hopefully bring a new wave into the future of the Northeastern film industry. Ganesh Krishnan R