Drawing creative inspiration from life and culture of the picturesque Indian state of Meghalaya, Dominic Sangma’s cinematic style has found many takers across the world. As one of the seven Indians selected for Berlinale Talents, he hopes to take his next project a step closer to fruition. Interview with Dominic Sangma
Meghalaya filmmaker Dominic Sangma has put Garo cinema on the world map with his debut film, Ma’Ama (Moan). The director’s uncompromising vision lends the film a meditative quality. He explores loss, mourning and reconciliation through the eyes of his father, who lost his wife 30 years ago and continues to live in the hope of being reunited with her one day.
Sangma is now prepping for his second feature, Rapture, which will see him move from the deeply personal space of Ma’Ama to a story capturing the wider social and contemporary context of the remote village that he grew up in.
The life and culture of his part of the world are an essential part of Sangma’s creative credo, but it is the cinema that he watched as a student of Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) that shaped his approach to the medium. He passed out of the institute in 2014.
Sangma’s SRFTI diploma film, Rong’kuchak, was in a competition at the Beijing Film Academy. It was there that he first met Ma’Ama coproducer Xu Jiangshang. She is on board for Sangma’s second film, too.
Sangma and Xu travelled to the Cannes Film Festival last year with Rapture to participate in La Fabrique Cinema organized by Institute Francais. The Indo-Chinese coproduction was among the 10 works that were selected for the programme that had Mira Nair as a mentor.
Less than a year on, Sangma is in another major European film festival. He is one of seven Indians selected for Berlinale Talents. In Berlin, he hopes to take Rapture a step closer to fruition. “I will follow up on the meetings done in Rotterdam and elsewhere,” says Sangma, who is now in the process of casting.
Like Ma’Ama, Rapture is likely to have a cast of non-actors. “The village will be the main character of the film,” he says. “I will explore the place through one family.”
Sangma plans to begin filming Rapture in September this year. “I have Dutch and French co-producers in place and will apply for CNC (Centre National du Cinema) funds.”
Troubled by the political developments that have unsettled the Northeast, Sangma has just shot a 20-minute short fiction film to express his consternation. It is a film titled Aberration. “The shoot is over. I have just returned from a forest after recording location sound,” he reveals.
The inspiration for the short film came from an incident that occurred just before Christmas a couple of years ago. An aunt of Sangma’s went into the forest to collect bananas and bamboo. Mysteriously, she lost her speech. She has been sick since then. Nobody is sure what exactly happened to her. Some people believe that a forest spirit has done this to her. Such beliefs are common in the Garo Hills.
In the film, a traditional healer is sent into the jungle to look for medicinal herbs. He sees a fleeing Muslim family and a body floating in a lake.
The filmmaker says that Aberration is his attempt to convey his reaction to the fear and foreboding that hang over the region following the eruption of protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
“In the Garo Hills, Christmas festivities are big. Preparations begin in the first week of December itself. This year, people could not go out and join the protests. Nobody came out and there was no beating of drums and music. This is because the sounds go all the way down to the bungalows in Assam. The people who are disturbed raise objections,” says Sangma.
Sangma’s cinematic voice is, of course, unique. It is travelling – and finding takers – across the world for good reason. Saibal Chatterjee