The Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in collaboration with AJK-Mass Communication Research Centre recently conducted a two day North East Film Festival called ‘First Cut’ on 16th and 17th August, 2013 at the Tagore Conference Hall in Jamia. Over the course of two days, about 10 North-Eastern regional films were screened at the Tagore Conference Hall ranging from documentary films to feature movies.
Present at the venue were Assamese directors Maulee Senapati, Merajur Rahman Baruh and Utpal Borpujari showcasing their films ‘Where There Are No Roads,’ ‘The Macabre Dance’ and ‘Mayong’ respectively. After the movie screenings, the directors took part in a panel discussion titled ‘Our Films, Their Films’ chaired by Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika on Saturday, Aug. 17. Also in attendance was film critic Subhra Gupta.
They shared their experiences in film-making as someone from the North-East and the notion of how within the film industry, the North-Eastern film industry is considered as a separate entity. Talking about his experiences, Merajur Rahman Baruah said that being from Assam it had already made him “the other” in the eyes of most people. Similarly, for being a Muslim in Tamil Nadu, filming for his movie, he was already perceived as “the other” due to his name. Utpal Borpujari, on sharing his idea of film making said that “when I make a film it has to have my voice in it.” About the Assamese culture Borpujari said that “it is a very diverse culture” but according to him the North-Easterners did not have a sense of mutual trust between them which led them to not getting along and he remarked that even within the North-Eastern community he felt that “Assamese is (sic) the least trusted community in India.”
Film critic Shubhra Gupta said that as a film critic, she found it very difficult to come across regional films because not many people were watching them. Though she said that she actively took an interest in watching these regional films as opposed to the Bollywood drivel she had to review, she found that the North-Eastern film-industry was not doing enough to push their movies forward, stating “we need to be talking to each other and there needs to be a dialogue. We have to say ‘here we are, here are our films, come watch us.’”
Director Maulee Senapati had several things to say on what he thought was wrong with the Assamese cinema. According to him, “commercial cinema is socially irrelevant cinema” suggesting that commercial cinema nowadays had lost touch with society and only pandered to showing off extravagant movies than dealing with social issues. Speaking of the Assamese society, Senapati said that “Assamese suffer from a case of hegemony” and that “the whole social fabric of Assam is shrinking”. Further criticizing Assamese society, he said that “they’re like a ‘frog stuck in a well’ where they don’t allow exposure to themselves or don’t want any exposure.” He also suggested that the government needs to help the small cinema. Senapati also blamed the media for the declining quality of movies as he said there weren’t any good film critics.
In the end they all agreed that the main problem with the North-Eastern film industry was the lack of interaction with the other regional film industries in India and there was no real proactive effort on their part. Citing the censorship of Bollywood movies in Manipuri cinema in the 2000s, they agreed that much had to be done to fill the gap between “our” and “their” industries. Gupta said that for any kind of change to happen, we have to be the change that we want to see in cinema, to which Borpujari added that it was time for them to push for their own space in Indian cinema.