Rs 10-lakh budget has left the director with EMIs to pay
Aizawl, Nov 25 : When Mapuia Chawngthu finished his feature film Khawnglung Run in 2012, the first problem he faced was how and where to screen it. Even the three or four cinema halls that had at one time existed in the state, screening pirated Hollywood and some East Asian films, for Rs 2-Rs 5 a ticket, had shut down years earlier. So he spread the word that his film, based on a well-known but savage battle of pre-modern Mizo history, could be screened by neighbourhood units of mass-based voluntary organisations.
And therefore Khawnglung Run (The raid of Khawnglung) became something of a travelling show, beamed on the walls of community halls through laptops and projectors, the organisations paying him anywhere from a few thousand rupees in villages to a lakh or more in some of Aizawl's larger, more prosperous neighbourhoods.
On November 17, Khawnglung Run's successful run took it all the way to Goa, making it the first Mizo film to feature at the International Film Festival of India. It was featured at the IFFI opening session titled 'Focus North-East Cinema'.
"Frankly I never imagined my film would be screened at any film festival, forget IFFI. I think we have reached the impossible, and that's what makes me happy because I know there are extremely talented filmmakers back home in Mizoram who might say now, 'If Mapuia can do this, why can't I?'," says Chawngthu, who is currently in Goa.
What he can't get over is the compliments he is receiving there about the technical aspects of the film, such as editing and camera work. "That means that although the few existing Mizo filmmakers have practically no training and very little equipment, just like me, we are not bad in technical aspects," he chuckles.
Knawnglung Run was earlier screened at film festivals in Shillong and Guwahati. The fame, however, has so far meant little for Chanwngthu, who spent more than Rs 10 lakh from his pocket for the 122-minute film and is still paying EMIs on the bank loans he took.
"We recovered about Rs 6 lakh from the screenings. But then pirated versions of the film began to appear which, of course, could not be prevented because it was screened at community halls and the film was copied on laptops... As a result 18 organisations that had made bookings cancelled them," he says.
Chawngthu, who has had no formal training, started out by making music videos for local artistes, documentaries and educational videos for government departments. He later made two low-budget feature films.
Khawnglung Run was inspired by his own passion for indigenous stories. "Many of the amateur Mizo films we see today (the state has no film industry to speak of) are aspirational, with scenes set in nightclubs and pubs, depicting luxury cars and a high life that we don't even have. The settings and scenery for my film were something we have ample of here, and I had always been rivetted by the story of this battle," says the director.
The battle that the film is based on involves the residents of one village taking villagers of another as slaves. The film focuses on a warrior and hunter and his attempts to rescue a woman he loves amidst all the bloodshed.
With few resources, Chawngthu and a couple of friends set out to make the film spreading the word about it and appealing to neighbourhood leaders and a high school to help them get a crowd who could play extras.
Chawngthu managed to pay his protagonists about Rs 10,000 each, while his main supporting actors got paid around Rs 1,000 each. Scores of others just received words of appreciation, refreshments and some pocket money.
Chawngthu has already made some difference at home though. His work was the inspiration behind Mizo history or folk tales being made the theme of the short-film competition organised by the newly formed Mizoram Film Development Society (MFDS) and the state's Information Department.
However, while the MDFS and government have organised small training sessions for aspiring actors and directors since then, no noteworthy film has emerged so far. The lack of venues to screen films is a major impediment.
"I hope against hope that our leaders and politicians start rethinking the state's lack of policies for filmmakers and that some of our businessmen revive the closed cinema halls. That will go a long way in lifting Mizo films," Chawngthu says.
He himself has no concrete plans to make another film just yet, although he has been toying with some stories from the insurgency years. "Unless there is someone who can finance a film, it's difficult, what with the EMI and all the bills I ran up making Khawnglung Run," he says.
The amount he spent, after all, was no mean sum by Mizoram film standards, as even an apologetic Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla acknowledged earlier this year. A drop in the ocean for Chawngthu's counterparts in most parts of the country, Rs 10 lakh is the entire amount Mizoram provides for film development every year.