National Film Awards winner speaks out on “displacement”

Our region does not deserve to witness such marauding of nature: screenplay writer

Joseph Pulinthanath
Director and writer of the screenplay of Yarwng (Roots), a Kokborok movie
Interviewed by Siba K Gogoi

Fr Joseph Pulinthanath SDB

Do you think litterateurs and writers have done justice to the issue of displacement in the Northeast?
I don’t think writers in the region have adequately addressed the issue.

Most cases of displacement are development-induced, but the government has long fought shy of viable resettlement policies.
The term ‘development-induced’ has a soothing ring to it, and is rapidly gaining currency, but ‘development’ ushered in at the cost of other people’s futures or aspirations needs to be questioned. Hundreds of families having to live without access to power even after giving up their land and property for an electricity-generating scheme are a telling example of the harsh ‘one-sidedness’ of some ‘development-induced’ initiatives.
When development, displacement and resettlement get mired in the murky world of party politics, formulation and implementation of resettlement policies, however viable, become difficult.

Is there any sense of rootlessness, or rather, the feeling of being uprooted, among tribal people of the Northeast? If so, how would you describe it?
To my mind, rootlessness is different from displacement, even from the nagging feeling of “being out of place”. And I also feel the tribal communities of the Northeast are not weighed down by any sense of ‘rootlessness’. Rather, the tribal people here do have a tremendous sense of being rooted. Whoever is able to get into the Weltanschauung of the tribal communities would be amazed at their sense of affinity with nature and their rootedness in an assigned space in the larger scheme of the universe. This is what makes ‘uprootedness’ an unimaginably dreadful experience for the tribal. Along with the physical space that he loses, he experiences the loss of that vital rootedness in the larger reality. While every case of displacement need not mean ‘uprootedness’, some cases do. And in such cases, an aid package or rehabilitation does not serve as adequate compensation. Restoring harmony calls for more ingenious steps that often don’t fall within the purview of the development squad.

Film-making itself is an art which is invariably an ingredient of literature.
It must be. I often forget if it was a film I saw or a book I read. I suppose it’s all about telling the story using tools, such as words and images. And the degree of sensitivity with which you choose and use them will define, to an extent, the power of your story.
Cinema, with its focus on ‘showing’, is more unforgiving, in a way. But it can, while sticking with images and stories about images, easily slip into the realm of imagery, symbols and metaphors without wordiness getting in the way. This broader canvas allows patterns to emerge and meanings to coalesce. When faced with the demands of a good script, I found Henry James’ thought on ‘character and incidents’ in literature to be applicable to cinema as well.
One thing is certain, whether it’s a book you are writing or a film you are making, your passion gets into the pages or onto the screen.

Why did you choose to make a film on a four-decades-old issue? What is your opinion on the ongoing movements against river dams in the Northeast – in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in particular?
Perhaps because it’s not a four-decades-old issue. To me, it’s a present-day issue in more ways than one. As I live in Tripura, it is clear to me the tremors that the Gumti hydel project had generated among its victims have not subsided yet. Our region does not deserve to witness such marauding of nature. Having seen what such a project has done in Tripura, I cannot but support the anti-dam movements in the Northeast.

Kokborok is comparatively new as a written language. The volume of Kokborok literature, particularly poetry and plays, has, however, grown in recent times.
The recent years have seen a spurt in literary output from writers in Kokborok. However, it is far too meagre – nothing to write home about. Had the language received sufficient attention from all quarters the Kokborok story would have been quite different. It is up to the community to set its house in order as far as the language is concerned and this is needed if it is to truly make its mark on the literary scene in the Northeast or the country.

The languages of many northeastern tribes have been found to be either ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’. Do you think movies can help preserve such languages?
A well-made movie is an asset to the community concerned; it becomes an addition to the existing cultural corpus of the community. The complex nature of cinema makes it an extremely valuable property whose worth will only keep increasing as time passes. In that sense, even a movie with no ‘spoken language’ is a valuable asset to a culture. And movies that have spoken languages in them also provide a window on the language scenario of a culture at a particular time and place.
Films can do endangered cultures and languages of the Northeast the world of good because they, amongst other things, help communities to clarify and strengthen their collective identities.

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Filed under displacement of tribals, Joseph Pulinthanath, kokborok film, Yarwng

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