short films

‘It’s imperative to ask the right questions’, says director of film on targeting of Muslims

Bihari filmmaker Nitin Neera Chandra also explains what’s wrong with contemporary cinema in Bihar.

In Nitin Neera Chandra’s 30-min fictional film The Suspect, Abdul (Durgesh Kumar) gets branded as a terrorist within 24 hours of landing in Mumbai from Bihar. On his first day on the job as a trainee in one of Mumbai’s many film units, a terror attack rattles the city, and he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. His name, of course, does not help.

Chandra has previously made the critically acclaimed Bhojpuri crime drama Deswa (2011) and Mithila Makhaan (2015), which won the award for the Best Maithili Film at the 63rd National Film Awards. The Suspect was a crowd-funded endeavour that was premiered in Mumbai earlier this year and recently had its second Indian screening in Kolkata. Chandra spoke to Scroll.in about The Suspect, the state of Bihari cinema and the need to make films in local languages.

What inspired ‘The Suspect’?
I read about Nisar-ud-din Ahmad who was in jail for 23 years for a crime he did not commit. That devastated me. I felt responsible. My inspiration to make this film was to start a dialogue about wrongful convictions. I wanted to change a line of thinking according to which if there’s an explosion, there must be a Muslim behind it.

Recently, a man in Agra was caught wearing a burqa because he wanted to escape being lynched. This mirrors a crucial scene in ‘The Suspect’. Is your film more topical today than ever?
Today, the country is very polarised. A few people who saw the film told me that my topic is favouring Muslims, that people should not sympathise with them. People asked me that being a Hindu guy, why am I making a film that will benefit Muslims.

There is a process right now in place to divide Hindus and Muslims. So, it’s imperative to ask the right questions and show the truth to both sides.

I am from Bihar and since the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, when I was in class two, I did not see or hear about any riots in Bihar up till now. These days, tensions flare up quite often in Bihar. Earlier we had problems regarding caste or livelihood. But now we are having Hindu-Muslim issues.

Play
The Suspect.

Does fiction give you an advantage in exploring such issues as opposed to non-fiction, which can run the risk of turning into propaganda?
Unlike non-fiction, where you need access to certain people to make your film look objective, you can simply create your characters in fiction and make them say what you want. For instance, in my film, the Muslim hero escapes and runs into another Muslim who asks him if he is Shia or Sunni. When he says he is Sunni, he is asked, “Deobandi or Barelvi?” At this point, I don’t let him answer. But a Muslim guy, in reality, would have. I didn’t let my hero answer because I did not want any more division than there already was.

Did your National Award win for Mithila Makhaan change things for independent cinema in your state?
I got Bihar its first National Award for cinema in 65 years. Till date, the Bihar government has not sent me a single token of appreciation, not even a letter or a note. I told up to 30 Maithili associations in Kolkata that I would be coming to the city and hence, it would be a great moment to screen Mithila Makhaan. Nobody came forward to arrange it.

Play
Mithila Makhaan.

Why is it that raunchy and regressive Bhojpuri action musicals get nationwide traction as the major type of cinema produced by Bihar?
Bhojpuri and Maithili are Bihar’s native languages. During the struggle for independence, a chunk of the elite, as well as the revolutionaries, warmed up to Hindi after Mahatma Gandhi proposed that Hindi should be the national language as a unifying bond for all Indians to fight the British.

After independence, Hindi got imposed on schools, colleges, and universities all over Bihar and our native languages were pushed to the sidelines. Now, years later, neither can Biharis speak in Hindi properly nor do they have any sense of ownership or sensitivity towards their native languages. As Bhojpuri and Maithili language began to rot so did its literature, and if the language itself is dead, how can its cinema survive?

Bengali and Marathi cinema, for example, are respected because there is a strong sense of linguistic pride in Bengal and Maharashtra thanks to their literature.

Today, Lollypop Lagelu has become Bihar’s trademark song. It is a matter of shame for every Bihari. Once, Hindi became mandatory for jobs, why would anyone want to learn Bhojpuri or Maithili? Upper castes and urban Biharis don’t know their mother tongue. In that case, only the underprivileged stick to native languages and thus Bhojpuri cinema caters to them – quick-fix, cheap entertainment.

The real people responsible for bad Bhojpuri films are not its makers but the ones who can make it better but don’t. For me, Prakash Jha is one of the biggest culprits. He has the resources to improve Bhojpuri films but he won’t. Today, Bhojpuri cinema doesn’t have an audience. It has victims like opium has victims and not consumers.

Moreover, how will our indigenous cinema survive if our leaders treat Patna like a pitstop on the way to Delhi where they will try to be PM? Biharis have a terrible migrant-like mentality.

Play
Bring Back Bihar.

You say Biharis have a migrant-like mentality but you yourself work from Mumbai.
In Patna, I didn’t find investors. The city doesn’t have an environment where you can discuss cinema, and, as an artist, I couldn’t live in isolation. So, I moved to Mumbai out of compulsion. I travelled the world, from New York to Toronto to Singapore to UAE, to find Bihari investors. I didn’t find any so I have to convince Gujaratis and Sindhis in Mumbai to fund my films.

And yet, you continue to make films, from Mumbai and that too in Bhojpuri and Maithili. What keeps you going?
Hindi is neither my mother tongue nor is it our national language. I want to keep making films in Bhojpuri and Maithili because there has to be good cultural work done in Bihar’s indigenous languages for Bihar to progress. These languages have to be made compulsory in schools.

Cinema can create a good picture of the state, its language, and its people. It is a tool to bring pride. Today, a million Biharis hide their identities. They will say anything about their place of origin but they won’t say “Bihar”. You won’t find Bihari food in restaurants. It’s distressful.

So, my aim is to facilitate the growth of a strong cultural identity for Bihar which, in turn, can help bring economic growth in Bihar. I make the films I make because 50 years later, a Bihari can look back and say with pride that there were my films alongside Lollypop Lagelu.

Nitin Neera Chandra.
Nitin Neera Chandra.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward firstname.surname@___mail.com email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like coolgal1234@hotmail.com. You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that bitbybeatlemania@hotmail.com and hpfan@yahoo.com would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as depressingdystopian@gmail.com.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind scentofpetunia.blogspot.com could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.