Why I found the Mizo movie Ambush ‘painfully captivating’

The price of freedom may be expensive, but the price of losing freedom costs a lot more. This is the opening line of the film, courtesy of the Mizo National Front (MNF) leader Captain Zohmangaiha (played by Gilbert Colney), who says this to his unmoved and unconvinced brother Lalnunthara (played by Sangtea Chhangte) when he leaves home to join the independence movement. That is the crux and essence of the story of the recently released Mizo film Ambush.

Directed by Mapuia Chongthu, the 2-hour 52-minute film is inspired by true events that transpired during the Mizoram independence movement. The bilingual film (Hindi and Mizo) is produced by Leitlang Pictures. 

AMBUSH narrates the story of common men, and women in simple and innocent residents. It portrays particularly the role, importance, influence, and helplessness of the VCP (village council president), commonly known as the village head, who is sandwiched between the rebels and the Vai Sipai (Indian Security Forces) during the tumultuous, bloody years of armed rebel movement led by the Mizo National Front (MNF). The movement began in the late 60s and continued well into the mid-80s. A Peace Accord was signed between the Government and the MNF in 1986 June, and since then Mizoram has been rated as one of the most peaceful states in India. The peace accord became the most successful accord across south-Asia. 

Chongthu’s Ambush is a bold and courageous film. In terms of reviving old memories of the tragedies that many had longed to forgive and forget. It is courageous for Chongthu to portray what the Indian Security Forces have done to the general Mizo people and, most of all, the assault on women. Moreover, it is noteworthy in the film that it boldly tells the story of how armed rebels had to kill even their own brethren in their pursuit of their goal and vision.

The common people’s stories were never told. What is most popularly talked about or written about is the “armed rebellion,” state repression, and the politics of Mizoram. 

It is here that AMBUSH brings into the picture what is either avoided, overlooked, or just ignored, or that perhaps the general public just wants to let it go, leave it behind, and move ahead.

Set against the backdrop of the armed MNF rebellion, in portraying a typical Mizo society, Chongthu did not miss out on the beautiful aesthetical way of life of the Mizo people along with the sad realities of life. There is romance, and there is humour in the midst of life-threatening events and situations. Chongthu portrays a mother’s cry for her son, a widow’s anxiety, families torn apart, poverty, and isolation.

Though the MNF movement draws massive public appeal and generates huge mass-based support, AMBUSH reveals the other side of society, wherein many common men and women are “doubtful and question the MNF”. A large section of the common populace yearns for a normal life. And they are quite non-political or non-revolutionary. Many of them were, in fact, informants for the security forces.

Nevertheless, the excess of the Indian Security Forces on the general populace instils a sense of “revolution” in many. It angered them and provoked them. Though they do not necessarily participate physically or take up arms, the general public, who are otherwise non-participants in the rebellion, provides support in various ways to the MNF movement.

The film captures, subtly, the making of the common man and women revolutionaries, such as the brother of a disabled woman who was sexually assaulted by the forces, who turned to MNF and promised his loyalty purely to take revenge. The film succinctly portrays how even the most non-political youths were angered and provoked by the acts of the Indian forces—the bloodshot eyes of Laldinthara when he risked his life to save the women of the village from the clutch of the forces is classic. Or those women, including widows and the elderly, who took the pledge to send their sons as “forced labour” for the Indian security forces even as they knew very well that an ambush by the MNF was to take place and the youths were used as human shields.

One that is visibly notable but often overlooked in any conflict or humanitarian disaster is the mental and psychological impact, which was captured poignantly in the film. The Mizo society at large lives in fear, and that has largely affected their mental well-being.

Conflict dominates the conversations between the lovebirds Lalnunthara (Sangtea Chhangte) and Zualtei (played by Marilyn Chhanchanni). Even though many Mizos have nothing to do with the freedom movement or the MNF, the conflict is so ingrained that their daily lives revolve around it. Daily conversations, even romantic dating between the couple, centre around the Vai Sipai, the MNF, or the daily harassment and information about what happens to whom, etc.

The costumes and make-up are praiseworthy and reflect the period of the era. The actors are brilliant, especially the main lead characters—the MNF leaders, the village head, the romantic couple, and the villagers. They all portray their roles very convincingly.

Though the film is claimed to be an entertainment or commercial venture, it is largely socio-political. Overall, the film AMBUSH successfully managed to capture and portray the story of the common people who are sandwiched between two powerful opposing sides. 

In the 60s or the 70s even into the 90s, there was no big media, the electronic media in particular, in north-east India. Only a rare and very few reports and analyses of the Mizo independent movement are available, unlike other armed rebel movements in the region. Therefore, this film AMBUSH is an important story not only for the Mizo society in north-east India but across the country. It gives an insight into the core of armed conflict—its impact and the situation of the general public.

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Chongthu’s Ambush is painfully captivating. It is visceral and thought-provoking as well. But the film is not for the weak-hearted. Especially if one has lived experience with such bloody rebellion and armed conflict. Yet it is worth watching a film that gives you a peek into Mizo society—not only in terms of conflict perspective but also in terms of looking at human disasters, their impact, and how society copes with such crises.

The film can be quoted as a “blockbuster”. By the first week of November, it had earned more than Rs 10 lakh. It is not small for a Mizo film. 

Also Read | Mizoram records 80.43% voter turnout in state elections

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