The filmmaker from NE talks about challenges & breaking stereotypes in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the recently-concluded Nagaland Film Festival
Kohima: Amid huge fanfare around the trailer of Axone which also received a semi-standing ovation at its screening in Jio Mami 21st Mumbai Film Festival recently, Nicholas Lemtur Kharkongor, director of the movie, sat for an exclusive interview with EastMojo spilling the beans on the insights of the film and the “risk” of casting 80% of the movie’s actors from the Northeast.
"The very obvious starting point of looking at differences when you're living in the city is actually when you start cooking something,” Kharkongor said when asked about brainstorming for a movie like Axone.
"So that was the obvious starting point and I wanted to tell that story. For me, it was very clear that it was going to be a film about Axone and what it is like to be a Northeasterner cooking in Delhi or...any [other] places,” said Kharkongor, who was born and brought up in Mokokchung town of Nagaland, and now has over 25 years experience in filmmaking.
"I was very clear that I didn't want to make a very biased film where we only see Northeast being the victims,” he said as he talked about the movie. "There are prejudices everywhere. So with the film, I was clear that while I wanted to project racism against Northeasterners in Delhi and Bangalore and so on, I also wanted to show prejudices within the Northeast community, be it against each other or against the Nepalese, Bengalis etc", he added.
With a load of hurdles along the way, Kharkongor said that the filmmaking process was a "tough journey". Out of all the challenges, he said "casting was one big problem. The fact that I was looking at 80% cast from Northeast as there aren't many Northeastern actors. So, it took a long time just finding the actors". He revealed that for casting alone, six months were spent, which delayed the pre-production process.
He also recalled how the film was shot in Delhi's Humayunpur during June-July when summer was at peak and too without air-conditioners with some actors collapsing on set. The "very small budget" was another issue.
Kharkongor said that as "the idea of acceptance of faces is very fickle", he wishes to "break barriers" of type-casting Northeastern actors at just playing the role of a Northeastern or a South-East Asian character in movies. "That is the beauty of art,” he said as he urged the need for actors to be able to play multiple roles, irrespective of the physical appearances.
"This is the first step -- just introducing some of them to film and the whole purpose, in some senses of my existence is to be able to work with the Northeast people and tell Northeast stories. My desire now is to be able work with them more actively and create more stories,” he said.
Working "day in and day out" for three years, he said that the response received from the audience is "gratifying" and "very heartening".
"Coming from the Northeast initially for me I didn’t know much,” he said recounting his initial filmmaking days. He then revealed how hard-working and disciplined he had become. "You need that kind of dedication to be able to surmount the obstacles and deficiencies in you and groom yourself and hone yourself and make yourself a better filmmaker,” he added.
Pressing on the need to promote and tell stories from the region, he appraised all enthusiasts to work hard. Saying that the film industry is "growing and getting better" with even more actors coming into the scene, he added, "We just need more filmmakers working with these actors to tell stories.”
While ‘Axone' could hit the screens anytime soon, Kharkongor is already scripting a film on the life of a 40-year-old on the backdrop of the history of Nagaland and how it evolved.
"But it’s a big film. Therefore, it will cost a lot of money and I am looking forward [to it]. If anybody is interested, please reach out to me,” he wittily added. Other than that, he is also working on smaller films in Shillong. He also expressed his desire to work with Kalki Koechlin soon.
Earlier, while addressing a master class at the recently-concluded Nagaland Film Festival, Kharkongor shared about the difficulties of reaching out to producers and filmmakers with contents that emphasises on the Northeast region. He also shared that the limitation of theatres in the region becomes a huge challenge in terms of budget.