Habitat 2019: Why filmmaker Dominic Sangma did not share his script with his cameraman

At a masterclass at the recent Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi, first-time filmmaker Dominic Sangma spoke about the need for preparation and to yet be receptive to change.

Dominic Megam Sangma at the Habitat Film Festival. Photo: Habitat Film Club

Yatharth Vohra

Ma.Ama can loosely be translated as a longing for one's mother, and that is the premise of Dominic Megam Sangma's debut feature film which explores the inevitability of death and reconciliation with that loss.

The Meghalayan director, who recently returned from the Cannes film festival, conducted a filmmaking masterclass at the 14th Habitat Film Festival, which took place in the capital's India Habitat Centre last month.

Speaking about the conception of the film's idea, Sangma revealed that the theme, being a personal one, always lingered around in his head, but one night it struck him and he immediately got up to jot it all down. Within a month, after he was done with the screenplay, he communicated with his friends, who, to his surprise, jumped on board with the idea. Xu Jianshang, who was once amazed by Sangma's film at the Beijing Film Academy, agreed to co-produce the film. 

Dominic M Sangma

The filmmaker then decided to display his talent by playing the opening shot of the film — eerie placements of old women across a vast, barren landscape, like scarecrows, but defenceless and with nothing to defend, and one old man, eagerly looking for his wife.

The old man was played by Sangma's father, who, even as a first-time actor, was a natural. One of the shots involved him video-chatting for the very first time, and Sangma confessed he deliberately captured the surprised smile which would not have happened with many retakes.

The whole film contained several aesthetically pleasing long shots, which were described by a member of the audience as "having a meditative quality".

Divulging the difficulties he faced in getting his family to open up about the tragedy, he brought up the dismay of his brother on discovering the script and everyone's reluctance to bring back the terrifying memories. And even though he believes in healing by getting closer to family, while making a film, he is totally professional. He also stated that he would never share the script with a cameraman because he would not want him to come with preconceived notions.

For aspiring filmmakers, Dominic Sangma had many suggestions from his personal experiences. Preparation is important, he said, but he still waits for life to dictate to him, and so he is receptive to changes during the shooting. As a first-timer, he did not get bogged down by monetary concerns and focused instead on things that were available. Finally, he said that one should be sincere and honest while exploring a place.

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Habitat Film Festival