Lack of resources and advanced technology in northeast India notwithstanding, National Award-winning filmmaker Manju Borah has been able to survive in the film industry for almost two decades. She credits it to her choice of themes, which are deeply rooted in the region.
"Northeast is diverse and has a rich culture. I know that movies don't have geographical boundaries, but if I don't make films from this part of the country, I don't think I will get attention.
"I am surviving in the industry because I make northeastern films. I pick up stories from our society and that is why people find them interesting," Borah told IANS from Guwahati.
Her first feature film "Baibhab - A scam in verse" (1999) was honoured with Special Jury Award at the 47th National Films Festival 2000.
Citing the example of her last film "Ko: Yad - A Silent Way" (a Mising language film), she said: "So many people appreciated it as I presented the Brahmaputra river well in the film... that is eye-catching. I don't think that my film was a great piece of work, but because of the theme and location, I got noticed."
This time, she has managed to draw the attention of people of Montreal with "Dau Huduni Methai" (Song of The Horned Owl). It will be screened at the prestigious Montreal World Film Festival, which will begin from August.
"In the film, I have exposed the Bodo land...their lifestyle and tradition. That's why I am getting the attention. Otherwise, technically we are not that advanced and there are budget issues. So, these (stories and location) are our assets," said Borah.
"The film will be screened in the Focus on World Cinema section. It won't be competing, but I thought getting this opportunity itself is a prestigious thing," added the filmmaker.
But filming it wasn't a cakewalk for her.
"We shot in the Meghalaya-Assam border for about 22 days. Unfortunately, the region is affected with insurgency. One of the Army officers warned me not to work there. I told him that I am a cultural activist too and that the boys are our own boys; so I don't think they will create a problem in my work.
"I refused to take security with me...In the last two days of shooting, things got very bad. There were encounters. I had to quickly finish my work. The location is very beautiful. It was the harvesting time.
"So, it was golden in colour and the hills looked beautiful. People were so nice and friendly. But it's the socio-political situations that are causing problems there," said the filmmaker, who likes to work with fresh talent.
As much as she loves presenting stories of her homeland, she wants a change in the way films are distributed in the region.
"Hindi films get priority here...Maybe, that is the taste of the new generation or maybe it's the whole design of distributors. Maybe, they prefer Hindi films so that they can earn more money because regional films' viewership is very less.
"In the northeast, viewers are not purely Assamese or Manipuri...it is a complex pattern of inhabitants and we speak many languages. So ultimately for a regional film, it is difficult to get a good number of viewers.
"The screening timings are also very odd. So, there is no scope to recover the cost. Since my last film, I have decided not to release my films in theatres here (in Assam)," said Borah, who is content with sending her films to fests or for private screening or television.
What about Bollywood?
"I am afraid of the big artists who throw tantrums. If a good production company approaches me, I will work in Mumbai too," she said.
(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted at email@example.com)