What the ongoing IFFK 2019 offers this year for film buffs

'Axone': Of prejudice against north-easterners

Nicholas Kharkongor’s movie screened at IFFK makes a call for understanding and tolerance on both sides

More than any other community of people, those from north-eastern India have stories to share on the difficulties they face when living outside the region, especially in the metro cities. Yet, films from the north-east have mostly focused on life in their homeland, rarely venturing outside to see how they live their lives away from home.

Nicholas Kharkongor’s Axone, screened in the Indian Cinema Now category at the 24th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), sets this record straight by focusing on the lives of a bunch of north-eastern youth in Delhi.

Nothing kindles the memories of home like traditional food. In the film, Kharkongor uses axone, fermented soya bean paste, which is used as an ingredient in dishes mainly in Nagaland, as well as other north-east States, as a tool to tell his story.

Its smell, which might seem pungent to those who are not used to it, is at the centre of the conflict in the film.

Upasana (Sayani Gupta) and Chanbi (Lin Laishram) plan to surprise their friend Minam at her wedding by cooking a dish of smoked pork with axone. But preparing the dish is no small adventure, which includes smuggling the ingredients from a hidden shop to their apartment, and masking the smell from reaching the other residents of the flat complex, who have always created trouble whenever they have attempted to cook it. But, as expected, things go wrong.

Food for thought

Though the mood of the film is light, and humorous, for much of its running time, Kharkongor uses the subject of food to talk about weighty issues of identity, prejudice and bias.

In one hilarious sequence, a neighbour at their Delhi home tells them — “So many new people come here everyday. All of you look the same.” To which, one of them replies, “How do you know that new people are coming if all of us look the same?”

In another scene, a woman tells them somewhat innocently, “My child has this doubt. Can you see the entire wall with such small eyes?”

When one has to face such questions, which reveal the inherent bias, on a daily basis, it is bound to affect one negatively.

According to Akshay Rai, who is one of the producers of the film, much of the film is derived out of director Kharkongor’s life in Delhi, where he had to face many such instances.

A reference is also made to an incident similar to the murder of 20-year-old Nido Taniam, a student from Arunachal Pradesh. At the Lajpat Nagar neighbourhood in Delhi, he was attacked by a mob, who had initially begun by teasing him for his appearance. In the film, Bendang from Nagaland is shown to have become withdrawn and silent, after one such attack.

Reverse bias

But Kharkongor does show that the bias sometimes happen in the reverse too, with some from the north-east being unable to get along with people from other parts of the country.

The film, even while highlighting the issues that those from the north-east have to face in India’s big cities, is a call for understanding and tolerance on both sides.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 1:53:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/axone-of-prejudice-against-north-easterners/article30280749.ece

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