A still from film Chengrang Lanu, which won second prize last Aizawl, Jul 2 : In the mid-2000s, young Mizo men heading home from girlfriends' houses after an evening's courtship would huddle around coffee-vending machines in Aizawl's numerous roadside shops and, in jest, address each other as "Anurag" or simply "AB", short for Anurag Basu, the lead character in Hindi serial Kasautii Zindagii Kay.
Kasautii was a household name across Mizoram then, as the state's cable TV networks beamed Mizo-dubbed versions of the family drama to tens of thousands of homes in villages and towns.
Shortly after came the Koreans, slowly overtaking Hindi serials with their countless melodramatic soaps dubbed in Mizo. It wasn't just the dominant Mizo community that was enamoured. As taken in were the smaller Mara, Paite, Hmar, Lai, Bru communities as well as ethnic Mizos in Myanmar's Chin State and others who had migrated to South-East Asian countries.
Now comes the counter-attack. Alarmed by households being flooded with serials which have little in common with Mizo culture — and by reports of some trying to emulate role models they saw on screen — the state government has started promoting Mizo films.
In partnership with the newly-formed Mizoram Film Development Society (MFDS), the state Information and Public Relations Department is providing basic training to aspiring filmmakers of the state. Two campuses now function as a film city, with traditional Mizo villages serving as permanent exhibits.
The goal is to encourage Mizo filmmakers to create films — mostly shorts — based on the state's history and Mizo folk tales. Recently, a competition was held of short films based on such folk tales.
"Mizo folk tales are our very own treasure, and these are something that not only us but those from other cultures can enjoy because these would be exotic for them. These have all kinds of plots — what better action can there be, for example, than head-hunting, which our ancestors practised," said Lalsawmliana Pachuau, founder-adviser of the MFDS and owner of the LPS cable network.
At the ceremony to distribute awards for the competition last week, Pachuau talked about the need to promote Mizo culture. "One night, I could not sleep because I kept thinking of how our children may be influenced to drink soju (Korean alcohol) or pray to gods of other religions when they have problems in life, just like they see in films that dominate our local television networks. It is not that these things are bad, but we have our own culture and practices," he said.
Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla Sailo, who gave away the awards, worried that "Mizo youths are being influenced by the less savoury aspects of films from other cultures". He said he was particularly concerned about "young girls using drugs to get Korean complexion".
For the past few years, local media have been reporting cases of young women taking dubious pills to get a fairer complexion. Doctors warn that some of these drugs have proved fatal.
As the film competition's theme dictated, the shorts submitted by 19 directors showed traditional Mizo village scenes, romantic plots common to Mizo folk-tales, tribal wars, daily lives of children in earlier Mizo society, and the dress and habits and the belief in demons and spirits that marked earlier Mizo society.
Most local channels aired the awards ceremony, along with half-an-hour telecast of footage extracted from the films in the competition. LPS will be screening all the films on its network. Pachuau said other networks are also being contacted, including Doordarshan.
But can these films, mostly made on shoe-string budgets with rented cameras and amateur actors, wean the populace away from their more glamourous counterparts?
C Lalmuansangkimi, one of the judges at the competition, who teaches at IIMC-Aizawl, gave the example of Khawnglung Run, a film about a young Mizo warrior of the state's pre-Christian years who rescued his fiancée after she was kidnapped in a tribal war and made a slave.
"By our standards, it was a well-made, well-publicised film, and many people were excited about watching it. We don't have many other examples of that kind of film sadly, but if these new shorts can be publicised, and subtitled in English, these could be well-liked not just in the state but outside as well," she said.
Meanwhile, dubbed Korean and Bollywood dramas continue their hold on the market. The Korean serial now dominating prime time is titled 'I love you, don't cry'. Hindi serial Amita ka Amit follows soon after.