Giving indigenous India a voice through the visual medium

Four films on indigenous Indian communities showing at the ongoing International Indigenous Film Festival of Kuching, Malaysia

July 08, 2019 10:10 pm | Updated July 09, 2019 04:29 pm IST - Mumbai

A still from the film Dibi Durga.

A still from the film Dibi Durga.

Niranjan Kujur’s Dibi Durga is a unique short film about a day in the life of an indigenous woman. In its duration of a mere six minutes, it manages to encapsulate the sheer range and amount of work the woman (from the Santhal tribe in the Purulia district of West Bengal) manages to carry out — be it at home, in the fields, or the forests. “It’s true of any society, anywhere in the world but we remain blind to women’s labour,” says Mr. Kujur, a graduate of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, who was born in Jharkhand’s Lohardaga district and grew up in Ranchi.

Dibi Durga is one of the four films on indigenous Indian communities made by native filmmakers, or in collaboration with the communities, that are showing at the ongoing International Indigenous Film Festival of Kuching, Malaysia. The other three are Niyamgiri -The Mountain of Law by Surya Shankar Dash (Odisha), Shot Awake by Anungla Zoe (Nagaland), and Strength in Diversity by Chentei (Nagaland).

Giving a voice

On various issues involving the indigenous communities — from State and corporate oppression to environmental degradation, and from gender to lifestyle and culture — these films are an attempt to give indigenous people a voice to raise their concerns and create awareness in the world about themselves. “The films are on a gamut of issues and subjects,” said filmmaker-activist Mr. Dash, also the founder of the International Indigenous Film Festival of Bhubaneswar.

Strength in Diversity is about an indigenous variety of millet in Nagaland, a stress resistant crop that can withstand extreme drought as well as heavy rains. Shot Awake is on the making of a traditional drum carved out of the bark of a huge tree and used in many community rituals. Niyamgiri-The Mountain of Law focuses on the fight of the Dongria Kondh community to save the environment and their sacred lands from being taken over by bauxite mining companies. The film has previously been screened at venues such as the Bali Indigenous Film Festival, Ubud; the Kalimantan Indigenous Film Festival, Palangka Raya, Indonesia; and the Maoriland Film Festival in Otaki, New Zealand.

No dialogues

Mr. Kujur’s film, which premiered earlier this year at the Dhaka International Film Festival, uses non-professional actors from within the community, and the lead is played by Poirani Baskey. There are no dialogues in the film, only vocals and the musical instrument kartaal . In fact, the film is knit around and contextualised in a folk song about the conflict between the Aryans and the Santhals. Played during the Sohrai festival of the Santhals, a harvest and cattle worship festival celebrated shortly after Diwali, the song is about two girls (Debi and Durga), abducted by the Aryans, and two more girls (Ainom and Kajol), who go in search of them.“It’s in the memory of the missing girls, expecting them to return any time soon. It gave context to my film — how women get stuck in the circle of work,” says Mr. Kujur.

Bhubaneswar to Kuching

All the four films were screened at the 1st International Indigenous Film Festival of Bhubaneswar in February earlier this year, which is where they were picked up by the Kuching festival. Mr. Dash hopes that the Bhubaneswar festival will now become the one stop shop for global indigenous film festivals to source Indian films for their programming.

The filmmakers are not just presenting their films at Kuching but also taking part in panel discussions and video workshops for indigenous youth. The Kuching festival is being hosted as part of the popular Rainforest Festival of Sarawak.

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