A recent function honouring cinema from Uttarakhand brought to light unique talent in an industry suffering due to lack of State support and recognition

On a hilltop near a temple, villagers gather. Traditional performers play the drums. At a corner a man sharpens a khukhri — sharp and heavy knife used by Uttarakhandi and Gorakhas — on a hard stone, occasionally eyeing a little goat on a tether near the temple at some distance. Sad, worried but alert, two boys observe the entire ritual. Lo and behold, the little goat disappears.

This is one of the vital scenes in the film “Aas” in Kumaoni, which bagged a number of awards, including those for best film, best direction, best camera work and best story, at a Cine Award 2013 gala organised by Young Uttarakhand at a function at Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan Auditorium, Delhi Cantonment, last week.

At a time when the Uttarakhand film industry is in a pathetic condition because of the State Government’s apathy towards the promotion of local films, the efforts of Young Uttarakhand in honouring talented filmmakers and artistes is providing a boost to the sagging morale of film artistes in Uttarakhand. It is a pity that no feature film in Uttarakhandi languages has been produced in recent times. We have only video films and music albums.

Written and directed by Rahul Singh Bora, the beauty of “Aas” is its economy of words and the power of its realistic depiction of social milieu and visuals that capture the deep bond between the little boy and the little goat. Shot mostly outdoors against the backdrop of beautiful hill slopes, forests and stair fields, and hilly villages near Ranikhet, the camera’s main focus is not nature but people, their daily chores and interrelationships. Without resorting to melodrama and high-sounding dialogue, the video film made on a shoestring budget indicts the primitive practice of animal sacrifice. Close-ups of the little goat brought for sacrifice at the temple and its saviours — the kids and adolescent lovers — are subtle comments on the human brutality that continues the primitive practice.

The complications start with the sale of the little goat by the father of the little boy in love with the goat. Shattered to see his lovely goat being taken away by a stranger, the boy asks his father why the man has taken away the goat. The father says that they have sold it to the man and now he is its owner. The boy is not convinced. He wants it back at all cost. This sets off a chain reaction.

While hiding the little goat after liberating it from the temple in a deserted and dilapidated house away from the village, the child asks his friend, “Why they are killing the goat at the temple?” His friend replies, “To please the God.” The little boys look at each other without uttering a word. There is a long pause. Their expressions convey the disapproval over the acts of the adults. While the film has been produced by Jeevan Singh Rawat, the cinematography is by Vidhya Nath Bharti.

Another film that deserves special mention is “Kamali” in Garhwali, though it could not manage to win any award. Writer-director Anuj Joshi has depicted the struggle of a brave girl who pursues her studies in the midst of heavy odds. The film comments on the condition of girls in the hills who continue to suffer gender bias. Writer-director Joshi has treated this tender tale with remarkable sensitivity and restraint. It offers us movements of poignancy alternated with comic ones.

These two films from Uttarakhand deserve wider screening for children and support by lovers of children cinema.

Besides these two films, six other films were submitted for various categories of awards — “Ikhari Maya”, “Kuholoo”, “Darolya”, “Mayadaar”, “Gunddhu Banige Hero” and “Chhora-Chappar” — which deal with a variety of themes like romance, murder mystery and comedy, indicating considerable potential at the box office.

This award function by a voluntary organisation formed by young Delhi-based Uttarakhandi deserves admiration as well as raises some pertinent questions. Why is the State government not recognising these talents? Why has no feature film been produced the last two decades? In fact, the first Uttarakhandi film, “Jagwaal”, in Garhwali was produced by theatre personality Pareshwar Gaur about three decades ago, followed by “Dhai Ghar Jeven Videsh Nodiyaal Ki” and “Kabhi Sukh Kabhi Dukh”.

Jeevan Singh Bisht, a bank officer and theatre activist, produced “Megha Aa”, the first Kumaoni film. All these efforts were financially not sustainable. “We were better looked after during the time we were part of Uttar Pradesh, to maintain our distinct identity. With the formation of new State we are losing our cultural identity because the State government has no cultural policy, nor has it formed financial corporation for films,” says an anguished theatre artiste-turned-filmmaker.