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Two North East films have world premieres at Toronto International Film Festival

Rima Das’ Village Rockstars is shot in Assam, while Paakhi Tyrewala’s Pahuna: The Little Visitors — her debut feature — is entirely set in Sikkim.

world Updated: Sep 10, 2017 16:00 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Toronto International Film Festival,Assam,Sikkim
A still from Assamese film Village Rockstars, that had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.(Courtesy TIFF)

On Friday — the day films are traditionally released in cinemas — a young director walked on stage in a Toronto theatre to applause from the audience. What set this movie apart was that the film was in Assamese, set in a rural quarter of the North East state, and had just had its world premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Village Rockstars is director Rima Das’ sophomore project. But hers was not the only film on the North East that premiered at the festival — Mumbai-based Paakhi Tyrewala’s Pahuna: The Little Visitors, her debut feature, is entirely set in Sikkim.

With these films, both Assam and Sikkim made their maiden entry into TIFF, and the festival offered a glimpse into the life in a region that is often overlooked in India and is barely a blip on the radar for the rest of the world.

Das was pleased at the distinction of making a bit of history for her state and the presence of the region at the festival. “That’s great. I’m very happy, but more than everything I’m happy that we’re here,” she said.

Her film was a journey back to her roots. Das grew up in Chhaygaon village, 58 km from Guwahati. After her debut feature — The Man with the Binoculars — and moving to Mumbai, she returned to Chhaygaon to make a film that’s a “tribute” to the village’s inhabitants, and a “very personal story” about the aspirations of a young girl.

Among its early fans was TIFF”s artistic director Cameron Bailey, who selected it for the festival.

“I just really fell in love with the film. It’s such a lovely portrait of a young girl who is determined to achieve her goals and finds a way to do it in a very remote Assamese village. The filmmaking is just beautiful,” he said.

A still from Pahuna: The Little Visitors. (Courtesy TIFF)

Tyrewala’s movie was made by Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures, and she made it clear that the production house plans on showcasing India’s regional diversity. “The entire cast and many of the technicians are from Sikkim, making Pahuna a truly Sikkimese film. What makes this even more significant is that this is the first Sikkimese film ever. So, this bodes well, not only for us, but also towards the growth of the Sikkimese film industry. The fact that Pahuna is premiering at TIFF is also groundbreaking given how nascent the film industry is in Sikkim,” she said.

The film is about three Nepalese children, displaced by violence caused by the Maoist agitation and escaping to Sikkim. Tyrewala said: “We’ve dealt with big issues from a child’s perspective.”

She did not seek to create a didactic film: “I made a conscious decision not to make an intense film,” she said, adding that she aimed for a message couched in a “gentle, positive, fairytale” frame.

A still from Assamese film Village Rockstars, that had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Courtesy TIFF)

In bringing the film to TIFF, Das, a self-taught filmmaker, brought a distant corner of India to the world. That was an objective she shared with Tyrewala: “I wanted to take Sikkim not only to Bollywood, I wanted to take it to the world stage. More than excited, I’m actually grateful that this has happened; (it’s) long overdue.”

First Published: Sep 10, 2017 16:00 IST