Young filmmaker from Manipur, Oinam Doren laments the dearth of creative documentaries coming out from northeast or even a hard hitting social issue film that leaves an impact worldwide
Please tell us about this journey from Manipur to Mumbai?
I keep on hoping to Mumbai off and on. And all though I have made some good friends there, I am not totally a Mumbaikar till now. My projects don’t let me to lay my ass in one place. Everyone in India looks upto Mumbai when it comes to filmmaking due to the big budget, stars and their huge marketing frenzy to garner more attention, more audience and the consequent profit which seems to be the ultimate goal of filmmaking there. But my main intention in life is to make meaningful cinema and travel the world interacting with audience from all races. Whether I make it in Mumbai, in a small town Imphal or in Dharamsala is not the issue. According to me, Mumbai is just another city. But I like the vibrancy of the people who have come to Mumbai thinking of Bollywood and big dreams. One percent of them made it and the rest of the 99 percent looks at them as reference point.
What are the things that make you unpack your camera and shoot?
As for me, colors, texture and music is very important. But I also do not believe in the auteuristic idea of making film for yourself. I would always think that I am shooting to communicate with an audience. If there is something I want to share with people or say, I either write a article, take a photograph or maybe make a film. And I have taken up filmmaking because I can say or share a lot of things to a larger audience. If I see something that forms a mosaic of what I want to say, I just shoot. But again I repeat they have to have colors, texture and music.
Please tell us about Little Lama?
I was living a life of a hermit for a longtime in the confines of a room. I was surviving only on my ideas and dreams as food. Some people even thought I had gone crazy or failed in life. It was during this reclusive passage that I struck on the story of little Lama about a little monk trapped between life in the monastery and the outside world. I even got development support for the script from a prestigious festival in Sweden and it was selected from among hundreds of applications worldwide. A few people in Europe had read the script, like it and ask me to send detailed budget. But till now I could never sit properly to take it forward for production. Maybe I am not yet ready for it or I am too busy with other assignments. But this is one project I would like to accomplish before I die.
Tell us something about your works and the accolades you have won?
There are so many projects I have done because of the money and there are other projects I have done beacuse I have an undying passion for it for so many years. the projects that I did for money have been forgotten and the work I did for passion, people still continue to talk about it. I had attended so many festivals, won award from the President of India. But the joy I cherish is the learning process. Filmmaking has never ben an easy medium and the more I know or equipped, the more empty or vacuum I feel. There are so many possibilities and no possibilty seems to be perfect.
Do you think documentary film making has come of age in the northeast?
I genuinely feel northeast filmmaker hasn’t move out of the Doordarshan commissioned documentaries or documentaries made for some government departments. People are just stuck in this cocoon. So far I haven’t seen any creative documentaries coming out from northeast or even a hard hitting social issue film that leaves an impact worldwide. I think our documentary filmmakers should also try to explore the other market outside India and which I have been trying to. Why should a filmmaker from Delhi or Mumbai or Europe come to northeast India and make films to show to an international audience. I am not against it. What I am trying to say is our own people are better equipped to tell their own stories. And it is the same for feature filmmakers. I think we should stop looking at the vocabularies of filmmaking employed in Bollywood. Bollywod culture and our culture is very different. Whenever I look at some new Manipuri or Assamese film, I feel very much alien to what is being shown in the film. It is difficult to connect.
Do you think films on Northeast India are set aside with an ‘exotic’ tag? Do you there are many myths and stereotypes about the region? Can good films help in dispelling such myths?
I think the ‘exotic” tag is just in the mind. Every culture is unique and different. Every community has its own myths and stereotyping. If a northeast girl gets raped in Delhi, everyone shouts that northeast people are being discriminated. But one should know that a number of north Indian girls are raped almost everyday or every week in Delhi or its surrounding areas. We should get out of the shadows of trying to live in the shadows of quotas/reservations or the northeastern region tag. We should just strive forward as a human being using all the talents/skills the higher power has endowed on us. I think people use all this tags and myths from time to time for their own advantage and the person who create such identities can be an insider or an outsider depending on what she is getting out of it. Even if only 10% of the films made in the northeast tell real stories of its own people, our films would travel worlwide and we would have become famous races.
Please tell us about your international collaborations. Do issues from Northeast India find a space in the global film arena?
As I keep on travelling worldwide, I keep networking and make friends. If opportunities comes up, we always give it to people we know or connect. For example, I have a very talented award winning filmmaker friend from Iran. When a producer in Tehran gave him the choice of doing a project in India or Thailand, he chose India because he has a friend here and he feels comfortable and secured. And international collaborations are not only about friendships. This are the days of co-productions whether in Hollywood, Bollywood, Euorpean cinema or documentaries in the television world. It minimises risk and also expand the market as co-producers would promote the films in their respective countries.
A lot of people tells me why should the westerners be interested in the northeast. They are too busy with their lives and problems. But they are also the same tourist who comes running here to experience new things. I think in filmmaking, it is not the issue that is important. How we present or package the issue is more important. There is another anecdote I want to share. A group of Christian converts from northeast who has discarded their culture as old and outdated went to America for a Christian congregation. The Americans asked them to present a song and they sang a hymnal. The Americans said, ” This is our song. We want to hear your song”. The northeasterners sang their tribal folk song and the Americans were entertained and appreciated it immensely.
What is it in “Songs of Mashangva” that took it all the way to Italy?
Somebody gossiped about my film “som” in Berlin festival and the director of Lessinia film festival in Italy wrote me a mail saying they heard about my film and ask me to send a DVD to show it to the selection jury of the festival. Thats how I got into it. They told me they had to screen hundreds of films from 44 countries worldwide and select a few films for the festivals. I couldn’t attend the festival as I had to attend a 10 days screen lab in Odisha. Now I can’t really say what took my film to Italy. The jury who selected my film among hundreds can only comment on that.
What are your future plans?
I have a lot of projects in production and in development. My experience has taught me that the story of “the hare and the tortoise” applies in filmmaking. My intention is to travel the whole world with my films.
How difficult is it to survive as an independent filmmaker?
It is a roller coaster joyride. I am beginning to feel if you don’t give up on something, some backdoors or windows always open up. I think an independent filmmaker has to be a blend of Mukesh Ambani, Laloo Prasad, MF Husain, a hermit in the himalayas and a call centre employee.
How do you see the future of documentary films?
On one hand it is becoming more accessible with digital/HD technology. On the other hand this new development has made sure documentary filmmakers are growing in population faster than the Indian population. Mobile phones would also make sure that documentary filmmakers are the most populated species on earth.
Soon the public will start hating documentary filmmakers next to the politicians as they would start exploiting every possible angle to launch their new project. And documentary films would grow on trees.