By Joshy Joseph
When I came to Kolkata,almost 18 years back, although it took no time for me to settle down, socially, culturally and even in my food habits, it took just a couple of days only…but culturally or politically, Bengal was in a moribund state.
It was a `party society` and the effect was a kind of status-quo all around. Maybe the after effect of Bengal renaissance, one could feel in pockets and islands, though… So,when I went to Northeast at that time, that too by road from Kolkata, I had the excitement of a real discovery – a `discovery of Northeast india`.
That passion remained with me all these years. the ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity is amazing.
The unassuming nature of a Northeasterner is something which is a marker.I always find this aspect very humbling, compared to individual or social behaviour of the rest of India.
Since their facial expressions are minimal and the link language always is a limiting element, it takes time to break the ice.
For example, while visiting the Naga inhabited hill districts of Manipur, when you enter a household, they offer you an earthen potful of rice beer covered by a big leaf and a bamboo straw pierced through it……we are supposed to drink it by turns with the same straw.
Metaphorically speaking, it takes just one single circle of that beer ceremony to get connected with them.
You identity and your purpose of being around there are what all the time repeatedly quizzed by military personnel and the underground too.
Since my basic calling is of film-making, not of file-making, I share my films with everybody. It was difficult during the celluloid era as the shadow of suspicion could fall on you till you get a VHS copy and show it to them.
In this way, I maintained a connect with the Northeast over the years, and it is reciprocating relationship.
The idea of the workshop is an extension of this connect when film-makers come and pitch their projects for Films Division,I found that a Northeasterner pitches from a lived through experience not from a mediated source.
But generally, the mode of expression in cinema, was not very evolved, which I think is due to lack of exposure.
So, I gave a proposal to FD, to conduct film-making workshops in all Northeastern states by involving resource people from the film industry for sound, camera and editing, which got through. FD meets all the expenses of conducting the workshop and the local partners could be film clubs, state government information and culture departments or even universities(although my experience with Tripura University was very nightmarish, the crux of which lies in their attitude like `the universe of the university is university`.
But the students were creatively stunning.)
Through the local newspapers, we invited applications from anybody who was interested in cinema from any background of music, painting, literature, theatre, photography or just a burning passion for cinema. No age bar. So, the workshop in Nagaland had a teenager student and a musician couple who were into their sixties. We divide them into two groups somewhat balancing their skills and each group make two different films during the workshop period. Three days of ideation and planning, another three days of shooting and then three days of editing. On the final day, we screen these films to a larger crowd and certificates of participation are also distributed.
We started with Mizoram in 2014, where no cinema theatre existed, but cinema viewing is strong through local cable channels.
They dub Korean serials, cinema, Hollywood and Bollywood films into Mizo language and watch it as a Mizo experience.
The faculty made a film entitled “A Misty Voyage”, on this intriguing and unique experiment.
In Nagaland, in the same nerve, the faculty made a different version of a students` film, which too was
shot simultaneously. This film was ideated by a participant named Anungla and in the process ,two films
on the same storyline were shot . Instead of the originally planned two films, three films were screened
at the finale.These are the thrills which invigorate the faculty. For me personally, every workshop fills me
with stories of a different milieu, articulated by the native minds . That is like reading a thousand people in a crash course of sharing. We make two or three films and impart the skills of film-making through these
workshops. Moreover, I think it is a socio-cultural sphere where we are mutually discovering the `other`, not in a `Discover Channel` mode by keeping the `other` on your check-up table and clinically discover. Instead a journey together of realising something on film, and in the end dispassionately assess our achievements too.
In other words, the journey is a passionate one but the debate is dispassionate. The distance between the `other` gets little more connected into the bridges of cinema, I suppose.