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'I borrowed money from my family; told them they won't get it back'

August 28, 2014 16:49 IST

Anshu Jamsenpa and Phuntsu Khrime in Crossing Bridges

Image: Anshu Jamsenpa and Phuntsu Khrime in Crossing Bridges

'There are many stories that could be made in the North East.'

And here's one of them.

Priyanka Chopra is not the only one bringing the spotlight on North East India, with her latest film.

Sange Dorjee Thongdok, who hails from a small village called Jiagaon in Arunachal Paradesh, and belongs to the Sherdukpen tribe, has directed a film called Crossing Bridges, to throw some light on their culture. A National Award winning film, Crossing Bridges will release on August 29, in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai.

Thongdok talks to Patcy N over the phone from Guwahati, and tells us what it took to make this film.

Tell us something about yourself.

There are just 4,000 of us in the Sherdukpen tribe spread across two villages. We are mostly cultivators.

My father Tenzing Norbu Thongdok is deputy speaker of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly.

I was always bored with studies and did not want to do a 9 to 5 job.

I was interested in recording the history of my tribe. I would take my camera on my vacations to the village and sit with my people and record their stories and folk songs. That got me interested in filmmaking and media.

I have never lived in my village. My family live mostly in Guwahati, and I studied in boarding schools in different places around the country. 

What made you do this film?

Five years after I finished college in Delhi, I applied to the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata. I didn’t tell anyone until I had passed the entrance exam because my parents wanted me to do a regular job or sit for the UPSC exam.

After the course, I made Crossing.

I thought of making documentary films, but documentaries are not well supported in our country. Independent feature films are also not supported in our country.

I was okay with a small audience on the film festival circuit. At least people will see our way of life and know about our tribe.

We don’t have a film industry in Arunachal Pradesh; films are not made here. They are made in Assam and Manipur.

Sange Dorjee Thongdok director of Crossing Bridges

Image: Sange Dorjee Thongdok

What are the problems that you faced?

The biggest problem was convincing people that I was making a film. I called my friends from film school, some of whom were working in Mumbai.

The best thing was that we have a culture of dance and drama in our tribe which we showed in the film. We didn’t have to find actors -- I had to just train the villagers to face the camera.

The film is made in my mother tongue (Sherdukpen), so I have used my uncles and aunts and other relatives from the village. I gave them roles they are familiar with -- if someone is a farmer in real life I gave him the role of a farmer and so on.

I wrote the story. I thought why not make it about my own experience of living outside the village. So the film is about an outsider who comes to the village and showcases the village to everyone. People know about the village through him.

How did you arrange for finance?

I borrowed money from all my relatives, most of it from my dad. I told them they will not get their money back. They are okay with it because it is for a cause. We shot the film in Rs 30 lakh.

All my friends were my crew and stayed in my village house. We cooked our own food. I used my uncle’s home to shoot. I used some of my friends’ vehicles to get around.

Everybody chipped in with whatever they could. 

Have you acted in the film?

No. I am in the crowd scenes. We had a scene in a bus and there were not enough people to fill the bus as everyone was busy in the fields, so I am in that scene.

Tell us about your lead actor.

My friend Phuntsu Khrime has played the lead in the film. He has acted in small video films that are made in Guwahati.

He went abroad for his studies and stayed on, but his father forced him to come back to India. Now he runs a hotel in Guwahati, but looking at his background I knew he was the perfect choice to play the main protagonist because it is his story too.

How did the National Award happen?

The Director of Photography of the film, Pooja Gupte, and her husband have a marketing company. They are the ones who released Miss Lovely. They helped in creating a buzz about the film.

We got a lot of appreciation when we entered the film in the Work in Progress section at the Goa Film Festival. People told us where to send the film.

Pooja helped us to promote the film in Mumbai. They also spoke to people for entry in the National Award and once there we got selected.

What’s next? Are you planning to come to Mumbai and make Bollywood movies?

Mumbai doesn’t need any more filmmakers. The North East doesn’t have that many filmmakers and films and I think there are many stories that could be made over here.

I have taken it upon myself to tell the stories of the people from the North East and our way of life.

I am working on another script and on the finance.

Patcy N/ in Mumbai