National Film Awards 2018: On the winners and their stories

Film on Hakki Pikki tribals wins national award

Viman, the tribal chief in Nitin R.’s film Name/Place/Animal/Thing

Viman, the tribal chief in Nitin R.’s film Name/Place/Animal/Thing   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Nitin R. on his debut film, ‘Name/Place/Animal/Thing’ that won the National Award for Best Anthropological/Ethnographic film

What’s in a name? For young filmmaker Nitin R., a native of the capital city, it was this very question that led him into the heartlands of Karnataka, into the curious names, hearts and lives of the Hakki Pikki tribal community; a quest that has now won him national recognition. Nitin’s debut film Name/ Place/Animal/Thing won the National Award for Best Anthropological/Ethnographic Film, announced a few days ago. He shares the prize with director Aneez K.M. for the film Slave Genesis.

“While I was working in an IT company in Bengaluru many moons ago, long before I quit the job to chase my dreams in cinema, I came across a newspaper article about the unique naming traditions of the Hakki Pikki tribals. Among the names of the tribal folk are Congress, Compound, Viman, Deluxe, Japan, Service, Cycle, Cycle Rani, English, Mysore Pak, Military and so on. That caught my attention and I decided that someday I would make a film on them,” says Nitin.

Nitin R. who won the National Award for Best Anthropological/Ethnographic Film for his movie ‘Name/Place/Animal/Thing’

Nitin R. who won the National Award for Best Anthropological/Ethnographic Film for his movie ‘Name/Place/Animal/Thing’   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The Hakki Pikkis (literally meaning bird hunters in Kannada) are a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers that once roamed the forests of the country. In the 1970s, once stringent wildlife protection laws were passed, the government rehabilitated the tribe to urban areas in Karnataka.

“Some 50 odd km from Bengaluru, there are a few Hakki-Pikki villages. Whenever I had free time, I would travel to the villages and befriend the people and they told me the stories behind their names. Just like in the popular memory game Name, Place, Animal, Thing, where you write down the first thing that comes to your mind, the tribals of this community name their newborns after the first thought – a name, a place, an animal, or some random thing - that comes to their minds following the birth of a child.

For example, Division, the elderly tribal chief of Bhoothanahalli village, was named so because his mother gave birth to him in a sub-divisional office! Mysore Pak was named so because her parents loved sweets. Her brother’s name is Decommission. There’s a guy named High Court and his son is Doctor. There’s Wagon, Bulbul, Bioscope, Punjab, Rajesh Khanna, Shaktimaan…even an old timer named Jailer, each one with a fascinating story behind his/her name,” explains Nitin.

Adapting to survive

The 23-minute film begins with a hilarious sequence of names of people and their origins but that was not the only thing that intrigued the young filmmaker and villagers soon get talking, quite jovially, about their other customs and traditions that are still in practice, some of which are rather disturbing to modern sensibilities.

Nitin on the sets of the film ‘Name/Place/Animal/ Thing’

Nitin on the sets of the film ‘Name/Place/Animal/ Thing’   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

They tell Nitin about how they only needed to bathe a couple of times a year while living in the forest; of how the best groom was once chosen through bird hunting contests; of how the men still give dowry to the bride’s family; of how young women once had to undergo ‘purity tests if they stepped out of line’; of how child marriage was practised in the community; of how many of them were falling ill to ‘alien’ diseases due to mosquito bites…

“The more they opened up to me, the more I understood how they were still struggling to adapt to the urban environs, 40 years after they were forced to move from the forests. Their stories soon became a larger question of civilisation – for whom and why do we destroy traditions and age old ways of life?” questions the 31-year-old Nitin.

Going places

Name/ Place/Animal/ Thing was also selected for screening in the Indian Panorama (non-feature film section) at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa in 2017 and premiered at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala the year before.

“I was emboldened by the IFFI selection and decided to try my luck at the National Awards too. I never thought I would actually win the award,” says Nitin.

The graduate of SCT College of Engineering, Pappanamcode, now a second year student of sound design at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, himself wrote, directed, edited and produced the film.

His friends and up-and-coming cinematographers, Gautam Lenin and Rakesh Ramakrishnan, shot the film and recent state award winner Appu Bhattathiri was the editing consultant.

Learning on the job

“When I started work on it, sometime in 2013 or so, I had no idea how to make a film. I learnt everything on the job, from filmmaking to editing. I even attempted to location sound record when the sound recordist failed to turn up. In fact, the thrill of figuring out the sound for Name/Place… was what later led me to choose sound design as my specialisation at FTII. To finance the film, I even worked at a call centre for a few months, with weekends devoted to research,” says Nitin.

The youngster insists that the national award is “just an unexpected acknowledgement. It’s not going to change me. I am in filmdom because I like movies, plain and simple. Now that I’m living, breathing and learning cinema 24x7 at FTII, I hope to make more films that I like making,” says Nitin.

Short takes

* Nitin’s mother is veteran dubbing artiste K. Bhagyalakshmi.

* Nitin was one of the founding members and bass guitarist of popular local thrash metal band Chaos.

* While Name/ Place/Animal/Thing is predominately in Hindi, members of the Hakki Pakki community speak at least 14 dialects.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 1:32:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/nitin-r-on-his-national-award-winning-debut-film-nameplaceanimalthing/article23584385.ece

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