Filmmaking se badiya bimari aur koi nahi ho sakti – with those wise words, filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj kicked off the 5th edition of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati. The festival is the only time in the year that young film aspirants in the city can watch some of the best movies that have come out of the region for absolutely free. There's also a 3-day workshop on film appreciation that is conducted by the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).
Through day one, youngsters in school uniforms filled up the auditorium at the Pragjyoti ITA Centre in Machkhowa, to take notes on how filmmakers from the Northeast have "made it big in Bollywood". In a session titled 'Daring to Dream Big', producer Ronnie Lahiri, who hails from Shillong, spoke about how he and filmmaker Shoojit Sircar set up their company Rising Sun Films. At the time, Ronnie was jobless after quitting a corporate career and Shoojit was only one ad film old.
Speaking about how far removed the Northeast is from Bollywood, he said it was hard to find an actor to play Andrea Tariang's character in Pink. "Finally I just called up my friend in Shillong and said, 'Don't you have two daughters? Please send them to me. They'll be safe'." In another session, Ronnie was asked why a film on Mary Kom was shot in Himachal Pradesh.
Actor Adil Hussain, also from Assam and closely associated with the festival, said he'd have never been discovered if director Abhishek Chaubey hadn't flown to New Delhi and offered him a part in his debut film Ishqiya. Thanking Abhishek, who was also present at the festival, he said, "I owe you 10% of my earnings. I also owe you this complex life I'm living right now."
As one heard and watched local filmmakers talk about their craft, it turned out to be a masterclass on how to tell stories with the barest of means. Recently Rima Das, whose Assamese film Village Rockstars made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, told Film Companion that she made the entire film with a crew comprising just two people – she and her cousin. Naturally Rima, who's never been to film school, had to juggle multiple roles – that of writer, director, editor, costume designer and many more. Another documentary filmmaker Meena Longjam, who won a National Award last year for her Manipuri film Auto Driver, told young students, "Filmmaking is not rocket science any more. It's actually quite easy. I recently bought a new camera and I feel I can do anything in this world."
Haobam Paban Kumar, who was screening his Manipuri film Loktak Lairembee (Lady of the Lake), echoed the sentiment. His film about the plight of displaced local fisherman near Manipur's Loktak Lake, won top honours at the Mumbai Film Festival last year and has travelled to festivals in Busan and Berlin. "I just want to tell our stories to the world," he said. The film was made with his college friends who didn't take a fee, untrained actors, and money lent by family. Haobam who's now working on his second feature, says drumming up money is still a struggle but this time around he had mentors at international film festivals fine-tuning his story at script labs.
While none of the filmmakers could answer a common question all budding filmmakers had – When do we start making money? – they all agreed that a good place to start is to have a crazy passion for filmmaking. Udta Punjab filmmaker Abhishek Chaubey put it best when a curious student asked him for tips on becoming a good filmmaker. He said – If you're not a masochist, then if there's any pill available in the market, just take it!