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Save the last song

Don't miss a screening of the National Award-winning documentary, Songs of Mashangva, which narrates a musician's struggle to keep Tangkhul Naga folk music alive

Around a decade ago, when Oinam Doren was studying in college at Shillong, he heard a tune that remained with him for a long time. "I came across Rewben Mashangva's first album, Tantivy, thanks to an Angami Naga girl. The music lacked maturity but the lyrics and the tune, rooted to Tangkhul folk music, really touched me.


Rewben Mashangva is attempting to keep Tangkhul Naga folk traditions
alive


Eight years later, I met Rewben; he had grown in terms of music and I had become a filmmaker. I felt destined to do the project," reminisces Oinam. Their meeting led to an 82 minute musical documentary, Songs of Mashangva, which won the 2011 National Award (Best Ethnographic Film) and has recently been selected for screening at the International Film Festival of India at Goa.

Old vs New
The film is based on the 1,000-year-old tribal music traditions of the Tangkhul Nagas, who are under threat of extinction due to the advent of Christianity. Based in the hilly Ukhrul district of Manipur, a majority of the Tangkhul Nagas are Christians, including Rewben Mashangva. He is poorly educated but passionate about reminding the Tangkhul Nagas of their past and evoking pride about their unique 'haokuirat' traditional hairstyle and costumes. Rewben travels to villages, speaks to locals and collects their songs and instruments to create contemporary Naga Folk Blues sounds.

A fine balance
While the topic is controversial, Oinam feels that he has balanced all the viewpoints and added a dash of humour. "The jury at the national awards wrote in their citation that my story is bold and poetic. The visual treatment and the melodious music might have nullified any strong comments. Everyone knows the truth; all my characters are simple people who spoke straight from the heart," he observes. He admits that he hasn't got any feedback yet from the church. In the documentary, the topic is broached through discussions between old men from the community who have experienced both pre- and post-Christianity eras.

Open ending
Rather than offer a simplistic solution to the problem, the documentary ends metaphorically. "It is a choice the minority communities have to make. We cannot hang on to the past nor can we completely ignore it. But it is sad that minority cultures around the world are losing their identity. For the tribals in North-East India, Christianity with its promise of a new life is killing their old culture," observes Oinam.

Songs of Mashangva was shot in Rajasthan, Kolkata, Shillong, Nagaland, Imphal and a number of villages. It took Oinam a year and a half to complete the project and due to lack of sponsorship he often spent from his own pocket.

During the shoot there were disagreements between Rewben and Oinam. "We had become a sort of family. We stopped fighting because we got tired of fighting and had begun to respect each other's views. I am very fond of the junior Mashangva (Saka) who is just eight. I plan to make a feature film with the father and son before he becomes a lousy teenager," laughs Oinam.

While Songs of Mashangva will soon be available on DVD, Oinam has also finished working on the second part of the film titled The Next Song, which is gearing for a world premiere. Next up, he will commence work on a feature film titled Popstars, about two Indian girls who want to imitate an eccentric American popstar.

Songs of Mashangva will be screened by The Root Reel which showcases thought-provoking films from around the world. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the director.

From the making of the film
> During the shoot, the team visited a remote village -- Longpi -- that had bad roads and no electricity. They had a hard time persuading the old men to shave their hair in the traditional 'haokuirat' style. They managed to bribe them with alcohol and money. After the haircut, an artist named Ngazek (90), was chased away from home by his wife as she wanted him to sport a modern haircut.

> There is one scene in the film where a little boy passes by a mountain riding a buffalo. For this they had to shave his hair in the traditional hairstyle. His mom refused outright but agreed to co-operate if the crew paid a hefty sum of money. Ironically, on the day of the shoot, it was the buffalo who refused to co-operate during
the shoot.

On: October 22, 6 pm onwards
At: Bombay Hub, Candelar Building, 26, St John Baptist Road, near Mount Mary steps, Bandra (W).
Call: 32163287

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