From blog to reel: Shooting the story of an Oxfordian who almost joined ULFA

Prathamesh Krisang talks about making a movie inspired by a blog on militancy in the North East and what he discovered in the process.

“Yes, I just imagined how great it would be to have a different currency, different flag, and different anthem. Prabin Da and Saikia khura also sacrificed their lives for that, didn’t they?” The fashionable style of describing freedom and the death of dear ones affect the teenage mindset the most. – Manjit Nath, in his blog, ‘From Agia to Oxford‘.

The land of the rising sun in India has also seen the rise of many separatist movements in the last three decades. States like Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and Tripura have seen the longest violent inter-tribal conflicts and movements for a separate state in the region or from the center. Given their proximity to neighbours like China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, many secessionist outfits like National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) have emerged stronger over the years, with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) as the most notable and enduring of them all.

Caught in the crossfire between the political aims of these terrorist outfits, the corruption and agenda of the central government are the ordinary tax payers of Assam, in particular, the youth. Frustrated with the dreary state of unemployment and opportunities in the region, the youth have been encouraged to drop out of education or abandon any pursuits of government jobs in exchange for power, authority and a voice. While power has only been wielded on the innocent and weak, what has most successfully emerged is the voice of this generation from the 90s, who were most affected by the movement.

In ‘The fiction of Assamese Augusts‘, Aruni Kashyap, one of the celebrated authors from the North East, writes about a major literary intervention that happened in 2010 where a translation of Meghan Kachari’s (former Central Publicity Secretary of ULFA) poems “created ripples in Assamese life, suddenly renewing a wave of understanding and sympathy for the ‘lost boys’ who had taken up the path of the gun almost three decades back”. Three years later, Manjit Nath penned down his journey from a small village in Assam, Agia, to the cushy corporate world and ultimately, at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government in a personal blog. But it is not Manjit’s success into the mainstream world that piqued self made Director, Screenplay and Cinematographer Prathamesh Krisang‘s curiosity when the two met on a Jagriti Yatra. On reading Manjit’s blog, Krisang wanted to know what happened to his friends – Podum, Senga And Shamim – the boys who got lost in ULFA’s armed struggle.

Inspired by Manjit Nath’s story, Krisang and his crew started shooting ‘One Last Question’ even before they caste the central protagonists, Tutul (Nath) and his father. “The blog in its spirit gives a very universal message. It is a story of friendship, humility, hope, and vision. It is not a political situation or any incident that triggered the reason for this film to happen. It was the connection with the characters and their mental conflict that takes us through one of the most historic times in Assam,” said Krisang.

While the subject is not rare given the usual news media focus on insurgency in the North East, the treatment in this film is seen more from a human lens with softer tones of identity, ambition and conflict. But without much validation, a question swiftly follows if the film is more suited to audience audiences in the North East, considering the pitiful awareness levels in the mainstream on the socio-political context of the region, let alone a discerning mind for a debatable subject. Krisang looks at the audience in the North East as a part of the mainstream for a region with a vast and intermingled socio-political history. He said, “Violence has always crippled growth and development everywhere. It just happens in different forms. In the North East, it happens through militancy, somewhere else it might be through media, other places through domestic violence and even others, it might be through wars. It is a state of mass psyche and every person has a taste of it. The story, as I said, is about hope; and militancy is one such issue that gives a reason for the story to happen. There is more than one takeaway for the audience, but the one that I learnt in the process is, we need more visionary fathers & mothers for our future generations.”

While the film does not touch upon the controversial Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) nor goes into any detail with respect to the role of the Government (both state and central) in the political insurgency, the filmmaker chooses to focus on the importance of protecting the integrity and immense diversity of the region through the impact that militancy has had on the common people.

On his insight into an alternate understanding of secessionist movements, Krisang says, “As a filmmaker I look at it from many perspectives. And every time, there is a new revelation. Every point of view has its own justification. The question is, who decides what is right for the ‘greater good’? And who decides what that ‘greater good’ means? It depends if I am thinking from a point of view of a politician, a citizen, a militant, a patriot or an outsider. But I have not come to a conclusion where I could take sides.”

Made on a strapped budget put together mostly from their savings, Krisang’s dream team of young filmmakers were mentored by famed theatre director, Sukracharya Rabha, and blessed with Adil Hussain (Life of Pi, English Vinglish, The Reluctant Fundementalist) as their lead actor. Sukracharya Rabha, a well known theatre artist from Assam, runs a one of its kind theatre group and training centre for tribals in Badungduppa Kala Kendra in Rampur, a village close to Agia (where the story happened) and also, a good friend of Manjit Nath (from whose life the story was inspired).

“We narrated the story to him which he loved. He then recommended that we think about Adil Hussain as the father of the protagonist who has the most pivotal role in the film. Sukra Sir talked with Adil Sir about the project. To our pleasant surprise, Adil Sir liked the story and the idea it conveyed and agreed to play the role of Tultul’s father,” he said.

Like most Indians who’ve heard little to nothing substantial about the North East, One Last Question served as the first real opportunity to explore the North East for this filmmaker from a remote village in Maharashtra called Uruli Kanchan (near Pune).  And as it always happens, he was in for an awakening. Krisang shares, “After being there, the experience certainly changed me as a person, it made me more humble. The rest of India should learn the true meaning of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava‘ from North East India. Besides, one peculiar thing I found and I am very proud of was that the women are very strong, independent and respected as compared to everywhere else. I pray we get influenced by such qualities of theirs instead of the other way round. Also, the sun rises way too early than expected and sets even earlier.”

With a commercial face like Adil Hussain in the project, can we expect to catch this in the nearby theatre or will this take the route of festivals around the country and internationally?

Krisang is quick to confirm the reality for most regional films of this kind. “We intend to get this film to reach out to as many people as possible. That is when it will serve its purpose. Making a film and not showing it to the world does not make any sense. We will certainly try for all the major national and international festivals. Apart from that, we will also try to screen the film to targeted audience where it matters. We haven’t yet explored any commercial feasibility for the project and that is the last thing to think about right now.”

The filmmakers are currently crowdsourcing the funds to complete the remaining 30% of the film on Wishberry.

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