“You Cannot Lie On The Screen” – Sange Dorjee Thongdok

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By Aditi Desai & Kinjal Sethia

Among IFFI 2015’s highlights is the first movie ever made in Arunachal Pradesh’s Shertukpen language. ‘Crossing Bridges’ (2013) is the story of Tashi, who returns to his village after many years outside his homeland, and steadily rediscovers himself and his roots.
Discussing his experience making the movie – which won a National Award earlier this year – the director Sange Dorjee Thondok says “it was like a friends’ get-together. I asked my friends and family to be just who they are, to behave as they would normally in their daily lives. This work with non-professionals has a lot of advantages, as I got to capture their true character. Sometimes professional actors become mechanical. And you cannot lie on the screen.” In fact the narrative of his protagonist in the movie is quite close to Thongdok’s own life, as he admits to being similarly disconnected from his culture and language, having stayed away from home for a long time.
It was sheer passion for films that compelled the native of Shergao village in western Arunachal Pradesh towards the outside world. Thongdok applied to Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, and only told his family about his intentions to attend after he got in. But after years spent outside the state, his attention has returned. He says “there are so many stories to tell.”
Thongduk’s documentary film, ‘The Nest’ (2015) depicts the lives of two cousins who run an eatery for travellers that is perched on one of India’s highest mountain passes, Sela in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district. Their isolation fascinated the director, even though the subjects had already left the place by the time he was ready to start his project.  So he tracked them down, and weaved their recollections though recreations of their past. The film is a meditation and exploration of the conditions of isolation. He says, “It is necessary for each person to spend time alone. It helps to get in touch with your inner self, and that makes you a better person. When you are alone, you are your true bare self.”
Thongduk says the lack of infrastructure in the rugged North East landscape means, ‘it is easier to make a movie than to distribute it. To overcome this physical barrier, I travelled with a projector and showed ‘Crossing Bridges’ in villages.” He likes this intimate setting of film-viewing and its resulting interactions and exchanges, which provides more stories for more movies. It is these simple techniques of distribution that could inspire younger film makers to make movies, the soft-spoken young director says.
Visibly relaxed in the soft sunlight of the Old GMC heritage precinct, Thongduk told The Peacock he finds a similarity between the leisurely approach to life in the North East and Goa. “This is because small places have happier people. They do not need a huge salary to maintain a certain lifestyle.”

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