Capturing the essence of the Northeast

III Smoking Barrels brings the culture of the people into the narrative

Published - December 11, 2017 09:05 pm IST - S.R. Praveen

Six languages in a single film — Assamese, Nagamese, Manipuri, Bengali, Hindi and English, and yet the filmmaker feels that he has not succeeded, for there are around 200 dialects in the Northeast, all of which he would have wished to represent in his film. Sanjib Deb, whose film III Smoking Barrels is being screened in the Indian Cinema Now section at the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala, set out with a wish to “serve a platter in which you could see the entire Northeast India”.

The film is structured as an anthology of three stories, with each exploring a different stage in life. While the first story tells the story of a child caught amid armed conflicts, the second is about a boy lost in the drug peddling world. The final story is about a man, an elephant poacher.

“As a filmmaker, my role is to observe a situation and convey it as it is, without passing any judgement. Even the elephant poacher is a victim of the situation. I also don’t want to make ‘preachy’ films, although these are relevant issues of the time,” says Mr. Deb.

Bollywood Cinema, even when it has travelled to the Northeast, did so only to use its natural beauty as a backdrop, rarely ever bringing the culture or people of the place into the narrative. Even to represent real-life personalities from the region, the industry has tended to use mainstream Bollywood stars, than actors from these places. Mr. Deb, who has worked in the Mumbai advertising and television industry, as well as with Bollywood directors, travelled to his native land with an intent to set right some of these wrongs.

“If you see the history of Northeast cinema, we have had major films in Assamese and Manipuri, just like other parts of India. Joymoti was made only a few years after Raja Harishchandra . A film culture has existed here. But during the 1980s, the rise of insurgency affected the state of cinema, with people staying away from theatres. The quality of cinema eventually started dropping. Now, things are slowly changing,” he says.

He says that it cannot be branded as an Assamese or Bengali or Hindi films, for it seeks to represent the entire region.

“We shot in all these States for two years. We got technicians from Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland, and from across the country. The aim was to get talented people from the Northeast to work with those from the rest of India. It was difficult to shoot, considering the rough terrain and inclement weather. But we pulled through,” he says.

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