Reviews

From the heart of Meghalaya

Pradip Kurbah’s Ri — Homeland Of Uncertainty looks at insurgency and reconciliation in North-East India and is built around the clashes between insurgents and the government.

Set against the backdrop of ethnic conflicts in Meghalaya, it portrays how the young people of the state turn to militancy to show their anger against corruption and exploitation but, in turn, find themselves among a group of people fighting for an entirely different cause.

Over time, their fight becomes about fear-mongering and killing rather than the initial questions that troubled them. Though the script takes a strong stand against using violence as a medium to seek change, it ignores the state violence that the government has used in the North-East for many years now. The movie captures the tension and the trauma of the times well, but it looks at notions of nationalism and insurgency from a clichéd stance of good versus evil.

The movie starts off on a balanced note but falls apart when it tries to give definitive answers and solutions to questions solely through the lens of nationalism, offering the capitalist model of economic development as the only alternative. In the conversations between the insurgent Manbha (Merlvin Mukhim) and the lady (Elgiva Laloo) in whose house he hides after a police encounter, the lady explains how only trade, mining and large-scale business can bring development to the region.

Most of us might baulk at the insurgents’ separatist view, but a capitalist development model is surely not the only way out. While some of the conversations in that climax scene made sense, and both Mukhim and Laloo acted convincingly, the movie would have been more intriguing had the script left some of those questions unanswered.

Forcing a unidirectional solution to Manbha’s questions and using it as a pretext for Manbha’s surrender leads to an over-simplification of an otherwise complex narrative. It fails to convey the complex structure of other alternatives.

The portrayal of the police department and the character of SP D. Kyndiah is also somewhat utopian. The turning point of the movie is reached when Manbha surrenders, following a melodramatic scene where he is sitting in a church and SP Kyndiah is waiting outside with his girlfriend to arrest Manbha. The use of Kyndiah’s girlfriend in this scene or for that matter in the movie itself is unnecessary.

Having said that, the narrative flows well and the events unfold beautifully, backed by tight editing. From the choice of locations such as Sohra, Dawki and villages in Bangladesh, to the cinematography, cast and acting, Pradip Kurbah does a wonderful job of retelling the turbulent story that Meghalaya has endured over the years.

Ri deserves the National Award for cinematography and direction, but a balanced script would have made it more powerful.

Pradip Daimary, the cinematographer, has done a good job. A particular running shot where the actors go off the frame is interesting and reminiscent of Mrinal Sen’s experiments in the early 1970s. The depiction of loneliness is beautifully framed during a trek to Dawki from Bangladesh.

The use of baul singer Lalon’s song in the shot of the four Khasi men on a boat in Bangladesh is powerful, especially because the director is questioning the anti-Bengali/Bangladeshi sentiments that run deep in the region.

Ri’s success gives new hope and direction for Khasi cinema and can be an inspiration for the region’s artists.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 2:51:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/from-the-heart-of-meghalaya/article6429729.ece

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