With only days to go for the Global Cinema Festival, being organised by Film Federation of India along with Government of Sikkim and Sikkim Film Cooperative Society Limited, there is a certain buzz in the atmosphere, with people in Gangtok gearing up to watch their state’s talent on the screen, alongside filmmakers from other parts of India and abroad.
From Sikkim, there are five films that are being screened at the festival – As It Is, directed by Tribeny Rai; Buwa, directed by Angel Tshering; Pema, directed by Ajay Kumar Pradhan; Altered, directed by Deepankar Ratna Shakya and This Side of Town by Abhishek Chhetri. Each one of these films is as unique as any of these filmmakers but they all unite as one to pave a path for those who will now be inspired to tell a story using the medium of film.
‘Pema’, directed by Ajay Kumar Pradhan, tells the story of how two lives fall apart due to a misunderstanding, an issue so common yet personal at the same time, there are bound to be many who reflect inwards after the movie has been screened. It is the nuances of ordinary life that all four directors are trying to capture in the best possible way, as a documentation of their imagination.
Pradhan compares Sikkim’s film industry to Nepal, which on the outside seems like a disproportionate comparison but if we dive into Kollywood, he explains that the government takes the burden off the shoulders of many filmmakers by financial help, which is something that Sikkim has yet to do wholeheartedly – participation and support from the government means a lot to those who are invested in films because it encourages others to take pursue it.
A career in producing, directing, acting or writing for film isn’t seen as stable and many parents mark it as frivolous, refusing to see the many ways in which it helps academia and intelligentsia of society. It is time to not only look at the glamour that is presented to us by the existence of film festivals but realize that Sikkimese and Nepali filmmakers are paving a path to alternative careers that our youth desperately want to pursue but are restricted to.
Our society sees careers in the film industry as frivolous or something that won’t last forever, unlike government jobs or commonly sought after professions like medicine and engineering. Despite this push, we have high unemployment after students graduate from college.
Tribeny Rai, whose film Yathawat (English title – As It Is) “concerns three daughters who, bereft of their father, try to win back his government job for their youngest sibling, on grounds of compensation” discusses if having a good film industry set up in the state help to solve the deep-rooted problem of pandering to overdone societal pressure instead of pursuing what people really want to?
Rai says, “The notion of government job being synonymous to security is deeply rooted in our society, since time immemorial. So obviously the number of younger people waiting in line for the same is but obvious. A film industry also doesn’t guarantee job opportunities, it is solely proportionate to the revenue generated. But definitely it will encourage the youngsters to pursue their passion and perhaps create opportunities for themselves.”
She also believes that in terms of interest, there is a slow growth amongst young people when watching short films and filmmaking, in general, are concerned.
“In the past few months, I have seen a positive surge in this field. Young groups of people are actively participating. Social media could possibly be the principal reason because it provides everyone with a convenient platform to showcase their talent and our people are consuming almost everything available on these platforms.
But here, Abhishek Chhetri, director of This Side of Town, disagrees. “There is definitely a slow almost non-existent interest in short films and films from Sikkim, that is because only a handful have been able to produce good quality work. People identify with films if put in realistic and sensible manner. Any less than that will detrimental to the boom of films. Better quality work is the key to people hearts in all fields and the filmmakers from here must put in their best possible interpretation of their expression at the table.”
Still, Chettri believes that the Global Cinema Festival, first of all, provides curiosity to the locals to see the possibilities in expressing ourselves. “The films that are screened will, in my perspective, allow more people to overcome the fear of saying what you feel. Only when people are expressive will we know our worth. Therefore festivals like this allow us to see the mind of the Sikkimese society and their common conscience towards films. Which in turn will boost the regions ability to show to the world what we are. I am sure that the unseen talent here will be exposed and films from here will be more in number and quality. I see an industry about to break out and this is a fruitful platform.”
He adds, “A good or rather a great film industry has no limits to achieve. It’s about excelling beyond our capabilities unfortunately in Sikkim there is a snail’s pace approach to the arts. A Film industries role in the economy has a vast scope – as wealth can be channelled here from the world over if done in the right manner. Unemployment for artists will obviously be less with the rise in films.”
His film, ‘This Side of Town’ is described as “a guy meets girl story, with film noir elements; a conversation and finally riding into the night story”.
Then there is Deepankar Ratna Shakya, screening his film at GCF, who is optimistic about the opportunities that could arise from having a stable film industry in Sikkim. “When we talk about films, I believe it is entirely a new world. It’s not just the actors and directors but the combined effort of a variety of crew members ranging from the most creative to the most economic. There is a huge scope for every skill and respect for all talents which should help create entrepreneurship and employment opportunities in Sikkim”.
Shakya’s ‘Altered’ is a social narrative short film based on substance abuse. Through the eyes of the narrator, the film takes you around different segments of Sikkimese society and ends in a plea to fight the issue of substance abuse together.
There is another film by a female director, Angel Tshering, titled ‘Buwa’ is a tale of a single father, Baley (Buwa), who struggles hard to get justice for his daughter who has been raped by a distant cousin, Gokul. However, he sets out to punish the criminal by taking the law into his hands.
“Buwa was extensively shot in the hamlet of Sikkim with not so sophisticated and high-end equipment. The film focuses on the relationship shared by the father and his teen daughter,” says Angel.
Yet, for those who love film, it goes beyond just making films for the sake of commercialism. They want to explore the art of moving images and show the society what they can’t tell. We often forget the impact of cinema on society and culture, finding that an hours worth of footage was only meant for that specific time. The amount of thought and work that goes into making films is belittled by the word “entertainment”.
Filmmakers often portray different social systems or class divisions through various genres – for example, Parasite, the first foreign-language film that won Best Picture Award mixed humour with grim realities, making for a thought-provoking movie that took aback its viewers. Or take Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray, with critics regarding it as one of the best films India has ever made, which the joy found in the lives of those who live in poverty.
In tandem with that thought, Chettri says that it is unfair to put films to be the flag bearers in terms of economy and unemployment. “They can address a large chunk of the population’s unemployment and economical adversities but films preserve a much more important aspect of the individual and collective identity of the people. The myth of our culture becomes real through the film’s a society produces, by myth I don’t mean the superstition but the truth of our being. The future generations will obviously study films along with history to understand us better.”