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Interview Argentinian

Picked this subject to preserve the culture and folk elements: Filmmaker Bobby Sarma Baruah on Mishing

Baruah, whose latest film Mishing was screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival, talks about the reasons she was drawn to the unusual story of a small community in Arunachal Pradesh.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

An exploration of myths and legends of a small community in Arunachal Pradesh, independent filmmaker Bobby Sarma Baruah’s latest film is a suspense thriller that intermingles the spiritual and the supernatural. Amongst the picturesque locales of the state, Baruah brings alive an unusual story in Mishing (The Apparition), an adaptation of the eponymous novel by Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, complete with local folk songs and a compelling music track.  

Barua’s debut feature film was Adomya (Indomitable) and her second film, Sonar Baran Pakhi (The Golden Wing), based on life of the Assamese folk singer Pratima Barua Pandey, won several awards in India as well as at International film festivals.

Mishing had its world premiere at the Kolkata International Film Festival 2018. In a conversation with us, the filmmaker talks about the urgent need to preserve languages, songs and local customs through the medium of film. Excerpts.

A still from Mishing

The story of the film has been adapted from a novel. What appealed to you about the story when you read the book?

Actually, it’s the folk beliefs that people still believe in. Certain communities are still practising the folk traditions and rituals. That’s what I found so interesting and when I read it, I felt that I should make a film on this. Another reason why the story appealed to me is that the language, Sherdukpen, is a very rare dialect in Arunachal and according to the 2011 census, there are only 4,200 people speaking this dialect, so it’s a very small community.

That’s why I thought that as a filmmaker, I should preserve this language. My earlier film was also in a rare language, Rajbongshi, and I feel that these languages may die in a few years, so I picked up this subject to preserve the culture and preserve the folk elements. Whatever you see in the film — the house, the costumes — maybe these won’t exist in a few years, especially their language. 

The folk songs have been used beautifully in the film, which comment on the beauty of nature and are juxtaposed with the cutting of the tree, so you are mapping the changing landscape in your film. Was the slow ruin of the ecosystem one of the things that you wanted to highlight?

Arunachal is a very beautiful place and whatever shot, I put in the film. It has it’s own identity and speaks much more about the movie, the dialogue, their body language. That’s how I prepared the film. It’s a spiritual film but also a suspense thriller based on Arunachal, that’s why I intentionally used this kind of landscape.

The use of music punctuates the narrative of your film, highlighting much of the atmosphere of suspense that you create. How important is music for you as a filmmaker?

It’s very important. I wanted to put all the folk songs in the movie, that was very important for me. All the music used is in keeping with their own culture and traditions, so we put the Buddhist chants that they are practising. Other than that we have put their folk songs according to the situation. So when Maya falls in love, we have put the folk song that they sing about love and to express their own feelings.

Because I have made this film to preserve this culture, I felt that music and their folk songs should also be preserved. And it’s the villagers, the local people who have sung these songs as well. They are used to singing songs, when they are working, so it’s part of their lives and there are very good singers in Arunachal as well. So, I thought we should use all this. My intention as a filmmaker is to also preserve these folk songs through the movie. 

Mishing had its world premiere at KIFF. Where do you intend to screen the film after this? 

After this festival, it will be screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala [to be held from 7-14 December 2018]. After that, I will send it to other festivals, so let’s see. As an independent filmmaker it’s very difficult, because you have to do everything on your own. I feel every movie has its own path, which they will make. So let’s see. 

Related topics

Kolkata International Film Festival