By Adity Choudhury
Day three of the Meghalaya International Film Festival (MeghIFF, for short) and the 2020 Chilean film, Pacto De Fuga (Jailbreak Pact, in English) ended… one of the last films to be screened for the day.
Directed by David Albala, it is based on the real-life event, Operation Exito, that took place on January 1990, where 49 prisoners escaped undetected from the now demolished Santiago Public Prison, during the last days of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
The audience clapped, with some viewers stepping out with big smiles and others talking about the film in hushed, albeit excited whispers. People looked at each other, caught in the moment of collective viewing, nodding in acknowledgement that they felt something powerful as the Spanish film kept them wide-eyed and quiet, till the end.
This is the power of cinema. To be able to watch films with friends, family and strangers brings a sense of community even if people don’t know each other, and come from diverse sections of life.
In this context, what does the first ever MeghIFF mean for the future of regional cinemas of the state? Let’s find out!
Organised by the Meghalaya Filmmakers Association (MefilMA) in collaboration with the Department of Tourism and DIPR,this four-day event had made U SosoTham Auditorium a colourful space. NEHU and St. Anthony’s College assisted them to bring the first ever international film festival in the city.
Sharing her thoughts on the occasion, filmmaker Lucky D. Kharsati said, “This is a great experience for us because we have never experienced this in the state or outside Meghalaya. We don’t get opportunities of this kind. A film festival like this has arrived here and we’re proud of it. This shows the government is concerned about the film industry of the state and wishes to see it grow.”
On how this festival was organised, she added, “We had a film curator, Srinivasa Santhanam, who brought the films and a film preview committee.”
A Diverse Selection
One only needed to look at the schedule to gauge the careful selection of films.
Some of the films screened – Father & Son, Mosquito, Krem: Saving the World Beneath, Ka Chithi, Iing 156, Lorni: The Flaneur, to name a few.
Simi Khongthiang’s Ka Chithi garnered appreciation, with two young mass media students praising her film, especially the cinematography and the acting.
Both agreed that this festival gave them an opportunity “to witness the growth of cinema here in Meghalaya that show the beauty of this land, making it a collective responsibility to keep stories alive,” adding how there is tremendous potential of regional cinemas here.
The documentary, Krem: Saving the World Beneath, by Ferdinand Rani and Sawdamut Kharbuki, explored the caving culture of Meghalaya.
The filmmakers journeyed along with cave enthusiasts from the Meghalaya Adventures’ Association (MAA) to explore the stunning caves in the southern region of the caves, and also focused on the importance of conservation.
Opening a World!
Actors Adil Hussain, Sanjay Suri and Moon Moon Sen, and filmmakers Onir, Amar Kaushik and Nicholas Kharkongor, among others, had graced the occasion.
But was it necessarily well organised, despite the chaos?
While some people in the audience remained starry-eyed, there were those who pointed out the chaotic media coverage of the inauguration and the late arrival of Paul Lyngdoh as the Chief Guest on day one.
Perhaps, a tinge of sarcasm as they said, “The first international film festival also means guests come on time because it puts us on the spotlight and negatively so.”
Others noted grammatical errors in posters and updates on MeghIFF’s Instagram handle, saying, “This is embarrassing. The organisers should get their basics right.”
Speaking on this, Kharsati stated, “People should understand it’s the first time for us. We are learning in the process, and what better way to learn than being on the ground. Hopefully, we will be better organised during the second edition of this festival.”
Interestingly, a moment to remember (forever) involved the Assam-born actor, Hussain, who graciously shared his lighter for the lamp lighting ceremony.
Referring to the moment later on, Lyngdoh recalled how he met the renowned actor during the shoot of Wanphrang Diengdoh’s Lorni: The Flaneur.
“I saw him (Hussain) in the kitchen of our house. Who knew this day would come where we would light the lamp with his lighter?” drawing amused laughter from the audience.
Sessions, worth attending!
One of the interactive sessions revolved around the “Changing Narrative of Queer Community in Indian Cinema”.
Filmmakers Onir and Nicholas Kharkongor, spoke on how onscreen representation of the LGBTQIA community continues to evolve. That, despite challenges, art always finds a way to overcome hurdles.
Referring to his own films, My Brother Nikhil (2005) and I Am (2010), he emphasised on the importance of community representation in cinema.
During the Q & A session, a young audience member raised his concern about how he finds “gay-ish behaviour” problematic in public spaces, while adding a disclaimer that he is “not homophobic”.
Responding to this, Onir said, “The queer community is far more embracing of people with diverse identities. Perhaps, because we learnt this on our own, we understand the culture of silence as well as the journey of coming out. It’s not a problem for us to see lovers… be it man and woman, or man and man, among others, holding hands in public.”
Another session focused on content in OTT platforms. Actors Sanjay Suri and Moon Moon Sen spoke about transformation in this space. It was titled, “Changing Prospective of Mainstream Cinema and OTT Format”.
Women empowerment did not escape the attention of the organisers. One of their sessions was titled, “Changing Narratives with Women Empowerment and Strong Female Character”.
The Road Ahead!
What do the different responses to the MeghIFF mean for the state? Will there be an international film festival every year?
Commander Shangpliang, President of MefilMA answered this, “I have seen cinema grow here. I can say for certain that the time has come for us to grow in leaps and bounds from here on.”
On how this will change perception of local cinema, he added, “Filmmakers from here continue to leave a mark. We can see how their films have not only travelled to national and international film festivals, but also brought home accolades, putting Meghalaya on a global map. We aim to cater to talent from within our state. We may not be able to give white-collar jobs to everyone, but we call upon the youth to join us and develop the filmmaking culture here. There is tremendous potential in this field.
He also expressed his gratitude to all who took out time to attend the event, saying how this will lead to bigger and better collaborations between filmmakers in the region as a whole.
In his words, “I can confidently say this festival will grow. This also provides an opportunity to watch and appreciate cinemas of the world as important learning. We have entrepreneurs who can come forward and build cinema halls across the state so that we can screen films in the different places of Meghalaya.”
Does this sound to be ‘too good to be true’?
The excitement and curiosity of the people vis-à-vis the festival was palpable.
Keeping this in mind, the MefilMA must take note of diverse voices within the state. Collaboration is, after all, the courage to disagree and still work together.
Summing up, the words of Hussain come to mind, “There is an interesting word anagram. Earth… if you take away ‘art’, what we are left with is ‘eh’. Earth without art is just ‘eh’. It is so important we understand the role of art in human society.”
“Cinema is a powerful medium. It can change our world views and society itself. Hence, it is also our responsibility to steer the ship of this particular medium of storytelling forward in a positive, inclusive manner. There is so much talent here, it has to be tapped,” he added with his trademark humility and warm smile.