This filmmaker from Assam is awakening India’s conscience to the palate of the Northeast

In conversation with a filmmaker who is on the hunt for untold tales, and seems to have an eye for the best frame possible, in absolutely any situation
Hemant Chakma | Pic: Sourced
Hemant Chakma | Pic: Sourced

In 2014, Hemant Chakma watched the American non-verbal documentary Samsara by Ron Fricke. The movie brings to life cultures from around the world, uttering nary a word. “You can pause at any second and that frame could be a wallpaper,” says Hemant. The film urged him down the rabbit hole of fine arts and he ended up graduating in the stream from College of Art, New Delhi, in 2016. A native of Guwahati, Assam, Hemant then worked as an art teacher in Goa and when he moved back home, he took to graffiti and street art, lighting up the streets of Guwahati.

In 2018, however, an opportunity to join as a fellow in an organisation called Greenhouse came calling and Hemant was intrigued. The organisation trains 20 filmmakers to create short films on the environment, the threat it faces and the need to preserve it. “We went to different locations, met with different communities and learnt how they each connect with their forests in a unique way,” Hemant shares.

The movie covers loss of habitat in the Karbi Anglong forest in Assam, and was selected for the Woodpecker International Film Festival in 2019

That tryst led him to create two insightful documentaries on the lives of the people in the Northeast. As part of a project for the Tata trust and the ONGC, Hemant travelled to Nagaland’s Mon’s district which was ravaged by an opium crisis — 90 per cent of the population in Pessao village was addicted to the drug, he claims. The movie, titled Combating Opium, is a 9-minute-long commentary on how the drug had infested the lives of the people there. “I was looking for their attire and their emotions, and trying to capture the infrastructure in their village. The portrait of the people and of the place they live in was the lens through which we brought forth the troubles they were facing,” Hemant shares. To overcome the communication gap, they took into confidence one of the members of the community and explained to him that the film will help them get support from the government. And it worked. Alongside a movement from student unions demanding action from the authorities, the film managed to shed light on the issue and today, Hemant says that a majority of the population is free from addiction.

Hemant is currently working as a Cinematographer for plucktv, an organisation that creates short films to throw light on various issues. He has created films for rural women in Uttar Pradesh who sell handmade products, but are unable to reach a large audience

The 30-year-old cinematographer’s next mission was the Karbi Anglong district, which happens to be the largest in Assam. Blessed with thick forests, also known as ‘haabit’ in the local language, the forests are under threat due to human settlements and the inclination towards shifting agriculture. The movie is titled Haabit For Life: Along The Amlong River and it was selected for the Woodpecker International Film Festival in 2019. Hemant says that the recognition was unexpected and he made it with an idea of creating awareness about biodiversity among the people. “I want to talk about different types of tribes in Kerala and Chhattisgarh too. Some of them are not even recognised by the government and I believe that they are the treasures of the country,” he says.

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