The mystical beauty of Northeast India still lies untapped. Perhaps, it has something to do with the remoteness of the place from mainland India, which is connected to the northeastern states by just a narrow stretch of land called the Chicken's Neck or the Siliguri Corridor. The Northeast is not just home to the 8 states — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim — but also to 200 odd dialects and people of various ethnicities. The region's beguiling beauty is perfect for cinematic storytelling and yet we have only few instances of filmmakers attempting to capture it.
Sanjib Dey's debut film, 'III Smoking Barrels', is an anthology of three stories from Northeast India.
One filmmaker who seems to have succeeded in doing so is Sanjib Dey, with his debut film III Smoking Barrels — an anthology of three stories from Northeast India. The film is an official selection at the 38th Durban International Film Festival 2017. The stories have been inspired by true events and in order to keep the portrayal as realistic as possible, the film's narrative has been kept multi-lingual. Much like the Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's groundbreaking masterpiece Babel, III Smoking Barrels is a seamless blend of 6 languages — English, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Nagamese, and Manipuri.
Filmed over a period of two years across various locations in the Northeast, the film has an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Indraneil Sengupta (Kahaani, Satyagraha, 1920), Subrat Dutta (Talaash, Tevar, Bhoothnath Returns), Nalneesh Neel (Raees, Shuddh Desi Romance, Veerappan), Amrita Chattopadhyay (Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, Janla Diye Bou Palalo), Mandakini Goswami (Bandit Queen, The Warrior), and Bijou Thaangjam (Mary Kom, Shivaay).
The stories have been inspired by true events and in order to keep the portrayal as realistic as possible, the film's narrative has been kept multi-lingual.
While III Smoking Barrels is an anthology of three stories, what makes it unique is that each segment tries to explore a different stage in human life — childhood, boyhood and manhood — while separately addressing an important socio-political issue. The first story revolves around a desperate girl who hijacks a car following her escape from a rebel camp. The story tries to delve deep into the trauma of children involved in armed conflicts. The second story follows a boy's journey into the abyss that's the drug world. The final story explores the troubled life of an elephant poacher and the powerful nexus that controls the illegal business.
These evocative stories draw a lot from the life experiences of writer-director Dey who hails from Assam. After graduating from Delhi University, Dey joined an advertising agency before getting associated with a television show as an apprentice. He then moved to Mumbai where he had the opportunity to work under veteran ad-filmmaker and FTII-Pune alumnus, Sunil Ghosh. Over the last decade, Dey has worked with prominent filmmakers such as Govind Nihalani, Habib Faisal, R. Sarath, and Sekhar Ghosh. He has also worked with the Australian director, Sean Lynch, for an international TV show in Afghanistan called Eagle Four, that won the Seoul International Drama Award in 2011.
These evocative stories draw a lot from the life experiences of writer-director Sanjib Dey who hails from Assam.
Dey has also directed some non-fiction shows for Indian television. His short film, A Reasonable Compromise, was screened at various film festivals, including Court Metrage – Short Film Corner, at Cannes in 2012. Another short film, The 100 Watt Bulb, which he produced, won him the J. Abraham National Award and the Indian Documentary Producer's Association (IDPA) Award for Best Short Fiction. He was also a speaker at the prestigious TEDxSaraighat 2014. Produced by Amit Malpani under the banner of Malpani Talkies, III Smoking Barrels is his début feature film as a director. The film will be screened at the 38th Durban International Film Festival on 16 and 21 July 2017.
A version of this article was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.