13.1 C
New York
Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Buy now

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

WHERE WILL MATTERS

Simi Khongtiang is the only woman Pnar filmmaker in Jaintia cinema. Adity Choudhury explores her journey, films and the future of women filmmakers in the industry.

By Adity Choudhury

A decidedly sharp shift has been observed in the films made by filmmakers of Meghalaya. Rooted storytelling, beautiful editing, nuance, reels-worthy dance videos, and soulful songs characterize the films.

In recent years, Khasi and Garo films have left an incredible mark, putting the state on the global map, earning rave reviews and accolades along the way. That said, little is known about the Jaintia film industry.

One storyteller has risen steadily – as the lone woman filmmaker from the Jaintia Hills, Simi Khongtiang is a force to be reckoned with.

As a teenager, the filmmaker spent her time reading. She said, “Tinkle Digest, for instance, used to be a staple. I would collect money and buy them every month. On days when money was not enough, I relied on my friends to lend me the comics after they finished reading first.”

An artistic side always existed within Khongtiang. In her school days, she would participate in school plays and dramas. William Shakespeare is one of her literary inspirations.

ROOTS OF JAINTIA CINEMA

The first Jaintia film, Man I Sa (2005) was directed by Riquoma RQ Laloo – a love story and a family drama – that dealt with a father’s love for his daughter, and how he cared about her choices.

In almost every family in Khasi-Pnar communities, the youngest (Ka Khadduh) or only daughter inherits family property. She has a maternal role to fulfill, keeping in mind the happiness of all in the family. Choices and decisions, therefore, have to be considered carefully.

Laloo’s execution of the plot left a lasting impression on Khongtiang. The first film itself inspired her to be a part of the world. “I repeatedly watched the music videos of that film. We only had cable network then. I imagined myself working in cinema, making films like him. It feels like a dream. I never thought I would be here.”

Among other filmmakers are Kiki Garod with films like Ka Daw and Sa Chisien and the (late) Michael Buam, who made Ngait O.

THE OBSERVER

Khongtiang credits her ex-husband, a mass media graduate, for being a creative and supportive partner. Both harboured a desire to produce their own film. While he had a computer and a camera, she began writing a script while simultaneously resuming her academics over a decade ago. Thus, was born Ekra_ Yan Production – which later became Eva_Yan Pictures Production. This script became her first film, Skop (2009), a love triangle between a boy with a disability, a girl (Nisha), and a married man (John). The character, Skop, not only accepts the reality but helps her.

She said, “It was not easy to write my first film. He helped me in dividing the scenes. I completed the script in panic because we had only 10,000 rupees in our hands. Despite this, we didn’t give up.”

The next step was getting the actors. With a hint of nostalgia, she recalled, “We started with auditioning only our close friends who were willing to act for six days. We could only afford a week’s schedule with the money at hand. We chose locations carefully and divided work amongst ourselves for a smooth shoot. My ex-husband looked at the technical part while I took care of the actors’ costumes, makeup, food, and my two young children. We actually completed the shooting on time.”

The next big challenge was voice dubbing and background scores. Back then, the legendary musician, Ram Suchiang was the only person who could work on recording and mixing in the Jaintia Hills. The amount for work in the studio was Rs. 25,000. They collected more money from their other business, i.e., wedding shoot.

Soon, it was time to release Skop. They started with printing 200 copies (VCD) of the film at home… At that time, publicity was done through posters, which they could not afford.

Khongtiang took the VCDs all around Jaintia Hills on all market days. The sale in one market, for instance, was (approx) 15 to 20 copies. This effort paid off – after two weeks, news of her film spread. She heard people in the street speak the dialogues from her film. While school and college students sang the songs, the artists were greeted by everyone. Interestingly, even the Khasi community received her film well, despite the difficulty in understanding Pnar (or Jaintia) language.

So high was the demand for the film that they had to buy another printer to print more copies of Skop. This time, however, they delivered directly to video parlors in Shillong and other places in Meghalaya. In the filmmaker’s words, “We were living a dream. After one month, we collected around four lakhs in cash.”

There was no looking back. With 17 films in Pnar and Khasi languages, Khongtiang has come a long way. “I will never take a shortcut. I am here to learn and will put my best foot forward to make good films and hopefully travel outside the state someday.”

Following the success of her debut film, she made Ham Mylliñ ianga (Don’t Forget Me) in 2010, a love story about an MBBS student (Phrang) and an orphan (Pynhun), who is suspected of practicing black magic and on the run from her uncle.

Datheh Lut (With all my heart) followed in 2011. It depicted how love changes a spoiled boy from fighting in the streets for his lover, a god-fearing girl. The sequel, Datheh Lut 2, looked at love against the backdrop of politics.

In 2011, Khongtiang made Chipor don hi (For a short time only) about a child who intuits her mother is still alive and looks for her, following mistreatment from her stepmother.

Among other notable films, mention must be made of the 2013-film, Pynim Ialade (Live with the Lord) about faith and a wife’s suffering because of her husband’s alcoholism; Rikular (Keeping my promise) in 2015 about marital vows in turbulent times; Thong Iong Nga (My Goals) in 2017 about following the heart; and the family drama, Iung U Slaek (House of Slaek).

Her latest film, Ka Chithi (The Letters) is another family drama that looks at how unresolved trauma can severely impact mental health, including how the relationship between parents affects a child.

Khongtiang loves to write about family drama. Citing the example of her childhood, she said, “I love the folktales my mother told me. Some of these were epic romances and love stories between kings and queens. Manik Raitong is one of my favorite stories about love and family, themes you will find in my films as I feel they are the two priorities in our lives.”

A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY

There is no dearth of filmmakers in Meghalaya. Most of them, including Khongtiang, concentrate more on commercial cinema. Ground realities, as she pointed out, are many – they are easier to make; often, filmmakers are in a hurry to get back what they have spent; and there is less knowledge about art films.

A filmmaker evolves with each film. After making 17 films, shorts and music videos, she feels the need to change. “The quality must change and we need to produce meaningful and realistic cinema that will not only educate our people but fill the entire community with pride.”

Speaking about the role of the state government, she further added, “Challenges exist but if there is a robust film policy, coupled with meaningful film festivals and workshops involving the youth who are aspiring filmmakers, communities benefit and transform for the better.”

She respects the value of competition. Not only does it come from outside Meghalaya but within the state. Praising some of the filmmakers, she highlighted how films by Pradip Kurbah, Dominic Sangma, Wanphrang Diengdoh, and Nicholas Kharkongor have changed the filmmaking culture in the state. “They make really good films, take them to different countries, and bag awards. Their success is inspiring. I am optimistic that with the government’s help, more films will travel the world. There is always a big room for learning and improvement.”

As the lone woman filmmaker in the Jaintia film industry, Khongtiang is making waves. Resilience, courage, and self-belief, in her words, are key to leaving a mark in this field.

Smiling, she said, “Yes, our women are more independent now. Presently, both men and women are financially independent while performing their familial responsibilities. That said, some women are still confused and shy when it comes to becoming filmmakers. I would like to encourage them to step forward. Don’t let your dreams die because there is no better satisfaction than being able to follow your passion.”

Long after the conversation came to a close, a famous saying filled the autumn air, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Why should aspiring women filmmakers follow their soul’s calling? To share with the world the stories they carry within themselves.”

Related Articles

Stay Connected

146,751FansLike
12,800FollowersFollow
268FollowersFollow
80,400SubscribersSubscribe

Latest Articles