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"There is a sense of alienation in the Northeast"

A new documentary that highlights the World War II battles fought in northeastern India will soon release on the city's festival circuit

Filmmaker and critic, Utpal Borpujari and producer Subimal Bhattacharjee have made a feature-length documentary, Memories of a Forgotten War, with stories from the battles of World War II fought in Northeastern India. The film includes the reminiscences of a number of war veterans from Japan, Britain and India as well as war witnesses from Manipur and Nagaland, where some of the most ferocious battles took place in 1944.

(First row from left) War veterans Isobe Kiichi and Roy Welland with (second row from right) companion Ruth Smith, Utpal Borpujari and Subimal Bhattacharjee
(First row from left) War veterans Isobe Kiichi and Roy Welland with (second row from right) companion Ruth Smith, Utpal Borpujari and Subimal Bhattacharjee

Q. Why did you choose this topic?
A. I wanted to show the extreme valour, sacrifice and sufferings of thousands of soldiers and local people in the Northeast Indian theatre of World War II.

World War II veteran Maurice Bell in a still from the documentary
World War II veteran Maurice Bell in a still from the documentary

Q. The trailer shows a Buddhist monk chanting the name of Subhas Chandra Bose. Tell us about that moment.
A. That shot is from the Renkoji Temple, Tokyo, where the purported ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose are kept. The priest of the temple is reciting a note in honour of Netaji, as they do in that temple on special occasions. Generally, the part where Netaji's 'ashes' are kept is opened to the public only on August 18 every year, and photography is not allowed. However, we were lucky to be allowed to shoot inside the temple on another day when they understood our intention behind making the film, which is to bring out the human aspects of the battles fought in the mountains of Nagaland and Manipur.

Q. Do you believe the sense of alienation in parts of the Northeast is because its history has been ignored?
A. That is one of the main reasons, and also the level of ignorance about the region in the rest of the country. In the nearly 70 years that India has existed as an Independent nation, no government has thought of making the region's history, culture, ethnography — for that matter anything — part of the school curriculum. If the region was made “known”, the ignorance and alienation would have reduced.

Q. The trailer uses a lot of music and a few identifiable sounds from the region; is that a conscious plan?
A. The music, as well as the trailer, has been composed by the talented young musician Anurag Saikia, who won a National Film Award a couple of years ago for his music in a short film. It's been a deliberate effort to bring in sounds from the region, because every place has its unique sounds, and music is a part of that sound.

Q. How long did it take to make the documentary? What challenges did you face?
A. Subimal and I first discussed the idea in 2013; we started shooting in March 2014. We have shot this film in Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, the UK and Japan over the last two years, and have gathered a humongous amount of footage. Therefore, editing the film has been a great challenge, especially because almost every war veteran or elderly people who had witnessed the battles happening in their backyards have had some very interesting memories to share.

To watch the trailer,
Log on to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw78ftewbmQ

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