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Jaicheng Dohutia on his film Haanduk: Solutions start with you

The film, in the tribal Moran language of Assam, depicts the helplessness of a people who remain forgotten by the 'mainstream'

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Based on a true story, first-time director Jaicheng Jai Dohutia’s film Haanduk traces the effects of insurgency on a small community that lives in a corner of the world.

The film won the Grand Jury prize at the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2016, and the National award for Best Feature Film in Regional Languages (Moran). It was screened at the ongoing Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi.

Haanduk portrays the helplessness of Heramoni, the mother of Mukti, who has left home to join an extremist group. His mutilated, bullet-ridden body is brought home and the last rites are performed, only for Heramoni to be informed that the body may not be that of her son.

Jaicheng Dohutia
Producer-director Jaicheng Dohutia

The anguished mother now begins a long wait as she hopes for the return of her son. The film depicts the helplessness of the tribals who remain forgotten by the state (and the rest of the 'mainstream' population) even as frustrated youths take up arms.

The title of the film is a Moran word, meaning a remote interior place or dark corner of a house. Primarily residing in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam, the Moran tribe constitutes one of the oldest ethnic groups in the country. The traditional way of life of the Morans, their peaceful ease of life and activity have perhaps been depicted on film for the first time.

The film was shot with non-actors and at actual locations, which lends it authenticity as it captures the anguish of the people living in the wake of an insurgency that is ripping apart their land and their way of life.

Dohutia, who is also the producer of the film, was present at the festival for interactions with audience members. The filmmaker spoke about the ways in which the eagerness for development in our society is steadily eroding our humanity.

"We have seen so much development in terms of science and technology, but not so much in terms of humanism," he remarked. "We are yet to reach the point where humanity is a bigger concern. This needs to be emphasized in today’s society as it is more important than material pleasure."

Talking about the theme of and inspiration for the film, Dohutia said, "This topic of extremism and insurgency has been a part of my life since childhood. Violence has been a part of my life and I have learnt so much from it. The people who are affected cannot do anything except live with the situation. This film is really the journey that I have seen through my life."

Expressing his thoughts on the community portrayed, Dohutia said, "Life in a metro is very different. We live in obscure places where the pace of life is very slow. We cannot compare that with life in the city. I am always touched by the slow pace of life, which we cannot even imagine in a place like Delhi."

Emphasizing the need for the languid pace of the film, he explained, "The film is slow-paced as that is exactly how things happened. Things were static and unfolded slowly, never drastically or immediately. The film reflects that. It’s as if time stood still."

Asked about possible solutions for the conflict, the filmmaker replied that he was not a sorcerer and could not prophesy such things, but added that we should be hopeful.

"Conflict will always be present in society in one form or another, but the question is, can we sustain our basic humanity amidst so much violence?"

Dohutia also stressed the need for change in the mindset of people. "The solutions start from you," he said. "You have to broaden your mentality to realize that you are part of humanity and think about what you can do for society."

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Habitat Film Festival 2017