When in Mizoram, even Amitabh Bachchan speaks Mizo

Bereft of even a single movie theatre, how Mizoram produces and consumes its films: loud speaker announcements, door-to-door ticket sales, dubbing and gradually, film festivals

In Mizo, the word tlangau means local announcement. And every evening, in the neighbourhoods of hilly Aizawl, a tlangau blares out from loud speakers, informing residents about daily happenings: it could be about a polio vaccination drive, a reminder to collect a ration card, or even a death in the neighbourhood. On some days, rare as they are, it could also be about a film screening at a local community hall. For a state that does not have a single movie theatre, a tlangau becomes a crucial device in encouraging the public to watch films, made by an “industry” so small that filmmakers can be counted on fingertips, and where acting is never a full-time profession, but a side-job, or a hobby at best. 

“I like acting but there is no money in it. That’s why I would never pursue it as a full-time profession,” says a 24-year-old Mizo actress, who preferred to remain anonymous. On Thursday night, the actress was attending the opening of the Mizoram International Short Film Festival at the Aijal Club in Aizawl, organised by pan-India brand management and marketing company Innovations India in collaboration with the Government of Mizoram. 

The three-day festival, which screened short films from around the world had a special “Mizo” category, and witnessed a well-attended inauguration ceremony, graced by the CM Lal Thanhawla himself. However, the actual screenings — organised over two days via a projector in one of the halls of Aijal Club — had only a smattering of attendees, many of who were the filmmakers themselves. 

“We got around 80 submissions. Out of which there were 25 films from Mizoram itself,” says Rahul Bali, Managing Director and founder, Innovations India, “There is talent — but no platform. Challenging as it may be, we are trying to break that jinx.” Earlier in the year, Bali had curated another “national” film festival in Mizoram.

Bali’s optimism, regardless of the low-attendance rate, is not unfounded. To even hold a film festival in a place like Mizoram is a feat in itself. The first Mizo film was made in 1983 — a love story called Phuba made by Biakthan Sanga. From then till now, only a handful of feature films have been made.

“It’s not that the public won’t watch. It’s just that very few local films are made. Filmmaking in Mizoram is not a profit-making venture. If you are business-minded person, this is certainly not a career for you,” says Mapuia Chonghtu — many call him Mizoram’s most “famous” filmmaker. He considers his 2010 drama Khawnglung Run, set in the backdrop of a historical event, one of his “biggest hits.” How much profit did he make? “Oh, I lost around three lakhs,” he says.

“Who wants to invest in a small isolated corner of India?”

In Mizoram, like in the rest of the country, a hit film is measured by the number of shows it runs. However, in Mizoram, unlike the rest of the country, films don’t run in movie halls. There are no film distributors. The filmmaker then becomes a one-man-army: a director, a producer, a distributor and sometimes even an actor.  Lalawmpuia Khiangte, who has made 27 feature films till date, often acts in the movies he makes. “At least, nowadays, we find some actors. In the 1990s, when I started my career, it was hard to find not just actors, but equipment too,” says Khiangte, who is the president of the Mizoram Film Forum — a government-recognised body that has been trying to promote local cinema since 2003.

After a film is made, the director usually ties up with a local NGO — more often than not, it is the Young Mizo Association (YMA). “Each neighbourhood has a local YMA community hall, which is where the film is screened,” says Khiangte. Before the screening, the YMA makes a tlangau on a loudspeaker, puts up posters and visits families door-to-door to sell tickets for the movie. They then move on to the next neighbourhood. “It’s like an understanding between us and the NGO. We usually split the proceeds from the sales,” says Khiangte, whose two films —Beiseinain (70 shows) in 2015 and Phuba (82 shows) in 2017 are considered hits. 

Khiangte’s feature films are usually based on “true incidents.” “In Phuba (Revenge), I played the role of  a rich businessman who tries to take revenge on his ex-lover by killing her daughter. Later the mother tells me that the child is mine!” He laughs and adds: “This has been dramatised a little, of course.” 

In 2015, Zuala Chhangte’s Kima’s Lode Beyond the Class became the first Mizo film (funded by the Children’s Film Society of India) to win the National Award. Chhangte, who is based in Mumbai, says, “Challenges were many: all equipment had to be hired from Mumbai or Guwahati. I also had a very small pool of artistes to choose from.” 

In 2007, Chhangte shifted base to Mumbai for these reasons — it was not economically viable to pursue full-time filmmaking in Mizoram. “Parents also encourage children to pursue more secure fields. No one is interested in investing in films made in a small isolated corner of India,” he says.

“Things happen differently in Mizoram”

While in the 1980s, there were a couple of movie halls in Mizoram, all of them have shut down today.  A mini-theatre opened earlier this year, but not many people are even aware that it exists. “Moreover, it is pretty far,” says filmmaker Napolean RZ Thanga, who is also a part of the Mizoram Film Forum. “In Mizoram, 6 – 9 pm is when everyone is busy with church activities. In the afternoon, people are busy with jobs/school. So no one ended up going to watch movies in theatres.” 

He says that while film festivals — the very few which have happened — do not attract large crowds, they are still a small step in promoting regional cinema. “Actors too get inspired. It is not really their fault that they do not want to pursue full-time acting. Where is the money?” he asks.

Recently, the Mizoram Film Forum, with the help of the government, acquired land to build a film city and even a film theatre. “But it is important to have a sociological understanding of Mizo society to run a theatre here,” he says, “The screen we set up will definitely not run like a PVR. Things happen differently in Mizoram.”

“Even Amitabh Bachchan we make Mizo”

Despite an annual 20 lakh budget for film development since 2013 and an effort by the government’s Information & Public Relations Department to promote films through training, assistance, exposure trips and competition, films in Mizoram haven’t witnessed a boost. A reason why they never took off  could be Mizoram’s cable TV network boom. In 1991, LPS, Mizoram’s first cable TV network was launched. Today, it has 13-odd channels showcasing music, news, films and infotainment. In 2006, Zonet, another cable TV network, came into the picture, and revolutionised the way Mizoram watches sport. In 2012, the network signed a multi-crore deal with the Mizoram Football Association that introduced the Mizoram Premier League — and ever since, live telecast of the football league’s matches dominate primetime television for the football-crazy state.

Both Zonet and LPS, however, have channels that air local Mizo films, too. Channel 8 of LPS, for long tried to focus just on Mizo films, but now they include other content too. “Mizo films are popular, yes, but there is simply not enough to content to air,” says Lalsawmliana Pachuau of LPS cable network. 

Zonet, too, has 13 channels. “The problem is that we do not get rights to air the local Mizo films immediately. We get it after a year,” says LV Lalthantluanga of Zonet. “For now we run a lot of dubbed content: Korean, Turkish, Hindi and English TV shows and movies.” Switch on the TV and it is normal to find Farhan Akhtar spouting Mizo dialogues in his 2013 blockbuster Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Or an episode of hit Filipino romantic drama series, Forevermore, dubbed in Mizo.

Another show that dominates the popular imagination of Mizos for a few months every year is the singing reality show, Mizo Idol, which has its final round coming up at the end of the month.

In the mid-2000s, the Ekta Kapoor’s series Kasautii Zindagii Kay became a major hit in Mizoram. “It was the first Hindi soap (in Mizo) which everyone would talk about.” says Ma, a cab driver from Aizawl, who claims to watch a lot of Bollywood, but in Mizo. “You see, Mizos love Mizo. We make everything Mizo. Even Amitabh Bachchan we make Mizo.”

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