Stills from Chani’s documentary series, The North East Verve.
For nearly eight months, GS Chani and his team travelled across the length and breadth of Northeast India to document the many unknown aspects of the region. Theatre director and filmmaker Chani, who has earlier made the series, Forts of India (2011) and Music of the Himalayas (2019), is calling this one, The North East Verve. His focus for this series was the ethnic diversity of the people and the lives of the many communities here. The four documentaries, each 26-minute long, which are being edited by Sukhmani Kohli, zoom in on the spirit and vigour of the people and its ethnic diversity of cultures and sub-cultures.
For Chani, it has been a life-changing experience, to travel to some of the remote parts, where they could spend time with people, observing their lives and rituals, replete with music, dance, and storytelling. “The people live wholesome lives, celebrating their cultural heritage and their belief systems. We had the opportunity to document various tribes, monuments, traditional performing arts, monasteries, lakes, hills, ecosystems, music, dances and festivals,” says Chani. The North East Verve will be first telecast on Doordarshan.
Chani observed that even if the culture, traditions, and beliefs of the different communities were diametrically opposite from each other, yet the mutual respect, love for the environment and ecosystem was visible for all to see. The shooting of the documentary, he says, gave them a chance to understand how many from the Northeast are migrants from Bhutan, China, and Burma, and how the tribal culture was diluted with the coming of Christianity. “The people have assimilated so many cultures and traditions, of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. We have tried to capture their diversity in the film,” says Chani.
A respect for other people’s culture, he believes, leads to a dialogue. It helps us to reach out to each other and coexist in peace and harmony, says Chani. In this regard, documentation of the multifaceted traditions of the Northeast will be of great significance for posterity. Kohli, the editor of the film, says that the documentation will help in a deeper understanding of ethnic cultures of Northeast India, and affirming the identity of its people, especially the small and marginalised ones. “We wanted to record and present the lesser-known practices of these people ranging from their material culture, to the history, ethnicity, religion, culture, music, performing traditions and indigenous knowledge systems,” says Kohli. She acknowledges that as an editor, it’s very tough to sacrifice a lot of things and present such a wealth in less than 30 minutes. But people, their stories and lives is the primary intent of the work. Placing culture within the context of the natural and human environment, reveals Chani, makes it a living experience.
The documentaries include those on Mizoram, which shares its borders with Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Assam and Manipur, Assam, known for its great ethnic and religious diversity and a rich tapestry of culture and nature; Arunachal Pradesh, known as India’s land of the rising sun; and Manipur, the ‘Jewel of India’ a land of gentle people, rich valleys, surrounded by beautiful hills and lakes. Each of these states have been approached differently. Done in a multi-format framework including cultural archiving, travelogue, ethnographic documentation, and incidents, the information is laced with a variety of cultural and artistic expressions of its inhabitants.
Kohli remarks that the natural beauty of the region, shots of clouds, landscapes, and water bodies, come alive through the films and she hopes the audience will be able to soak in the spirit as they did while filming it. “Be it the haunting music of tribal people, celebrated music bands, dances or the festivities — all form the film mosaic. We have also attempted to record various ethnographers, experts, environmentalists, cultural activists, performers, weavers, musicians, musicologists, singers, dancers and experts in this work. We visualise a healthy and deeper understanding of ethnic cultures of Northeast India and it is paramount that as artists, filmmakers, and authors, we archive our rich legacy for future generations,” says Chani.