Express news service
When Nithin Lukose wanted to make his first feature film, he didn’t have to look far for a perfect project. For the graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India, who had grown up listening to his grandmother’s stories about their settler community in Kerala’s Wayanad district, the same stories provided the storyline. The location came from his village. At the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Paka (English title River of Blood), Lukose’s first director, was an instant hit with the large South Asian community. Her grandmother, who starred in the movie Malayalam, captured the hearts of audiences for her role as the domineering matriarch.
Many recent films made in languages ââas diverse as Assamese to Malalayam and Khasi to Kannada reveal a growing trend for the emergence of a family film industry – films shot in the towns and villages where the filmmakers were born. Triggered by the needs of an industry constrained by the pandemic, directors are adapting to new production processes adapted to a local context. The changes, which are cost-effective and benefit locals, could mark a new way of telling stories in Indian cinema.
âPaka is the story of our village,â says Lukose, whose grandparents were among the first settlers in Wayanad in the 1950s. In Paka, almost all of the actors were selected in Mananthavady, a small village in Wayanad. âI can be honest about this because of my dedication to my roots. I know the actors personally, âadds the filmmaker whose sound design work includes Ram Reddy Thithi’s Kannada (2015) and Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (2019).
Then there’s Assamese filmmaker Kulanandini Mahanta, a cinematography graduate from Colorado Film School, Denver, USA, who is putting the finishing touches on her first feature film, Emuthi Puthi, shot entirely on iPhone. Mahanta was living in Mumbai, after returning from the United States five years ago, when she was hired as a camera assistant in Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis (2019). Emuthi Puthi is written by Hazarika.
âThis is a road trip from Bongaigaon to Majlis in Assam by three members of a dysfunctional family,â says Mahanta. âIt was an adventurous journey for all of us in the production. I had never traveled such a long distance in my state before, âadds the Guwahati-born director-director of photography. Production of Emuthi Puthi, which has a predominantly female cast and crew, began in February of last year.
In the neighboring Garo hills of Meghalaya, filmmaker Dominic Sanga has restarted production of his second feature, Rimdogittanga (Rapture) in the Khasi language, which was halted when the pandemic struck last year. âYou have to adapt to the situation,â says Sanga, who studied directing at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, of the pandemic pushing the boundaries of production. âYou have to evolve and find ways to shoot beyond limits,â adds the director of Ma.Ama (2018). “We cannot depend on the people of Mumbai or Kolkata, we have to start working with our own people.” Rimdogittanga, about a boy missing as villagers busy collecting cicadas in the forest, has actors – all non-professionals – from director Nongthymmai Garo’s village, adjacent Umdem and Selbagre.
Filmmaker Kannada Natesh Hegde shot his first feature film, Pedro, entirely in Kothali in the Belgaum district of Karnataka, located in the Western Ghats. âThe starting point of the film is my village,â Hegde says. âThe village is not the setting, it is history. The place comes first, then the characters, âhe adds of the film, which is about a middle-aged electrician (played by his father Gopal Hegde) who is declared an outcast after accidentally killing the cow from an owner. The film premiered at the Busan International Film Festival and has only two professional actors, one of them being actor-director Kannada Raj B Shetty.
Dehradun-based filmmaker Ajay Govind returned to his home state of Kerala for his second feature, Madappally United, on a children’s cricket team. Govind shot the film in Madappally, a small town 50 km from Kozhikode. âFilmmakers like me will benefit if we look for local stories and resources,â says Govind, whose first film, After the Third Bell, a Murder Mystery in Hindi and English, was shot seven years ago. In Assam, Hazarika has already recruited a group of young people to train them in cinema. âThe idea is to build capacity locally in the next two years. And the camera is heard for the locals!