Guwahati: It’s a region that has produced acclaimed directors like Jahnu Barua and Utpal Borpujari, singers like Bhupen Hazarika and actors like Danny Denzongpa and Adil Hussain, but sadly the northeast has never been on Bollywood’s radar. Hopefully, this is set to change with the announcement of Kalpana Lajmi’s biopic on Hazarika and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film on Olympic boxing bronze medalist from Manipur Mary Kom.
“Bollywood has not touched the northeast with due seriousness though it has got so many stories to tell and has such beautiful locations for shooting,” rued Borpujari, a national award winning film critic-turned-filmmaker from Assam. His film “Mayong: Myth & Reality” is being archived by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland.
It’s not only the stories and the people but even the beautiful landscapes of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Megahlaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland have failed to attract the Bollywood filmmakers over the years.
“Bollywood filmmakers would like to shoot in places where there are sops and facilities given to them. They get so many sops for shooting their films in various European countries that they prefer to head there. Unless the northeastern states create a proper business model and infrastructure to lure film crews, Bollywood would not take a look at the northeast,” Borpujari told The Journal of Sikkim.
The few Bollywood efforts to “portray” the northeast have ended in disaster.
“Mani Ratnam’s ‘Dil Se’ was set in the northeast but was shot in Himachal (except for the ‘Chaiya Chaiya’ song that was supposed to be set on the Lumding-Haflong railway line but was shot in Ooty). Priyadarshan’s ‘Bum Bum Bole’ was also set in the northeast but shot in Ooty. A village in Assam in that film was shown getting snowfall! Mani Shankar’s ‘Tango Charlie’ represented Bodo militants as having cannibal tendencies,” Borpujari said.
Kalpana Lajmi is the only Mumbai-based filmmaker to actually shoot a film in the northeast, Borpujari said.
Lajmi’s “Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence” (2001) was the tale of a battered wife in the backdrop of Assam. Raveena Tandon won a Best Actress National Award for her role as Durga Saikia.
Nine-time national award winning filmmaker Jahnu Baruah who made his Bollywood debut with “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara” with popular Bollywood actors Urmila Matondkar and Anupam Kher in the lead, said most filmmakers did not want to come out of their comfort zones.
“They do not have the urge to explore various aspects of India’s rich cultural diversity. The Ahom kingdom that ruled Assam for 600 years is a rare historical event, but not a single Bollywood filmmaker has come forward to explore the subject,” the noted filmmaker lamented.
He however denied that there was any cultural bias or racial prejudice against the people of the northeast. He said that people in India generally lacked the urge to know one another.
Sikkimese singer and director Prashant Rasaily, who assisted Anurag Basu in Hrithik Roshan-starrer “Kites”, said bad roads, short-sighted policies and poor facilities for filmmaking kept Bollywood away from the northeast.
“It’s just that we haven’t reached their level of professionalism and we don’t have the resources to fulfil their demands. It becomes hard for them to work in an environment where there aren’t enough resources and people are not as professional,” the young filmmaker told The Journal.
After Danny Denzongpa, Adil Hussain, who was born in Assam, is among the very few successful contemporary Bollywood actors from the northeast. He first came to limelight in Abhishek Chaubey’s “Ishqiya” (2010) and went on to bag major roles in “Agent Vinod” (2012) and “English Vinglish” (2012).
“The business part dominates art in Bollywood. So, many people are hesitant to explore new territories. They are making films that they are comfortable with,” said Hussain, who has played important roles in Hollywood director Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’ (2012) and Meera Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ (2012).
Many feel that had the northeast been made more visible in Bollywood films, the sense of alienation that many in the region have could have been alleviated to a large extent.
“Some small but sensitive scenes in ‘Chak De! India’ must have helped people in understanding the people of the northeast to some extent. If mainstream films are made with stories and characters from the northeast, it will definitely help remove the gap,” said Borpujari.