Pradip Kurbah: The filmmaker taking Khasi cinema to the world
The director’s latest feature, Lewduh, about life in a marketplace, had it’s international premiere at the Busan film festival.Updated: Nov 16, 2019 19:24 IST
Pradip Kurbah likes to describe himself as a high school dropout with two National Awards. He’s also a pioneering filmmaker in the budding Meghalaya storytelling industry. He tells tales only in Khasi. After a film on militancy and another on sexual assault, his third, Lewduh, about life in a marketplace, premiered and won at South Korea’s prestigious Busan film festival. It recently had its India premiere at the MAMI festival in Mumbai, where we sat down to chat with him about Meghalaya, music videos and his mobile theatre.
Growing up in Shillong, we only watched Hollywood and Bollywood films, and films from our neighbouring state of Assam. I always wanted our state to have a film industry and to start making films I needed to learn the tricks of the trade. Since I didn’t have a degree, I couldn’t apply to film schools. So I decided to come to Mumbai and started assisting filmmakers here and later in Hyderabad. Seven or eight years in, I was a self-taught filmmaker. I was lucky enough to assist on Raju Chacha (2000) produced by Ajay Devgn. I owe a lot of my learning to him.
Why return to Shillong?
I wanted make films in my own language. It’s a huge struggle because people here don’t take us very seriously. We had much difficulty getting producers, financiers. So in between, I made small-budget music videos. It was the 2000s, so music videos were big everywhere and we had some return on investment.
How did your first film happen?
I started writing Ri – Homeland of Uncertainty in 2003. Militancy was high in the north-east then. It took me ten years to find a producer. The script kept changing with the political situation. But we got a National Award (Best Khasi Film) for it.
Your second film, Onaatah – Daughter of the Earth was on a sexual-assault survivor but your latest, is on a market in Shillong. How did that happen?
Both deal with human emotions. It’s always bothered me that we talk about incidents of assault but never know what happens to the survivor after on. I started looking for survivors who were willing to talk to me. It took me a year. We talked about the questions that haunt them — Will I fall in love? Will I have a family? I told their stories in Onaatah. It also got a National Award.
The inspiration for Lewduh (Khasi for Bara Bazaar) came from my parents as both of them had shops in a market — dad, a video library and mom, a general store. We used to spend a lot of time there as kids. The movie looks at life from the perspective of one person who has spent all his life working in one such market.
Where does Meghalaya’s film industry stand today?
It’s very nascent. There are filmmakers working in other regional languages — Dominic Sangma, whose Garo language film Ma.Ama came to MAMI last year.
The biggest challenge is securing a release for our films. Generally I travel from village to village with my work. The audience response is very encouraging — these are people very forthcoming with their likes and dislikes. Travelling talkies are the only way we can recover our money.
What’s the theme of your next movie?
I’m writing a film on loneliness and depression, which has become an epidemic.
Watch the trailer here: