Khasi hills a trouble hub

Shillong, Dec. 27: Meghalaya's filmmaking has indeed come a long way from Ri Ki Laiphew Syiem to Manik Raitong, and from Mon Ba Jwat to Meshua and Melody, and countless others.

But when the local milieu of the numerous romantic tragedies and comedies were devoid of the "high seas", there are places in the Khasi hills region which are home to largely anonymous "pirates" ruining the fortunes and dampening the fortitude of filmmakers.

If the absence of government support is not enough to dampen the spirit of filmmakers, anonymous pirates are always on the prowl to make hay from the hard work and investment put in by those in the filmmaking business in this part of the world.

"The entertainment industry is immense. However, here we have to face various problems ranging from the lack of proper theatres to absence of government support and to top it all, piracy," Pradip Kurbah, film director, whose romantic comedy Meshua and Melody was released recently, told The Telegraph.

Stating that piracy, which is dominant, was "killing" filmmakers and producers, Kurbah attributed the rise of piracy to people's lack of understanding.

"Earlier, we had tried to work together with pressure groups to stop piracy. But somehow it did not click. However, in Assam, bodies like the All Assam Students' Union play a big role in helping curb piracy," Sweety Jane Pala, film producer-cum-actress, said. Pala has produced at least three films so far, but like many of her peers, she has to constantly face problems from theatre owners.

Both Kurbah and Pala agreed that the enforcement of the Copyright Act should be made more effective and bring to book those who are practising piracy. But according to Kurbah, in the Jaintia hills region, the situation is magnificently poles apart.

In the land of the "black diamond", the inhabitants refrain from indulging in any kind of piracy and they also provide immense support to those who are into filmmaking, acting and producing.

Khasi filmmakers are also "envious" of their counterparts in Assam as Meghalaya's immediate neighbouring state has loads to offer locals who are in the filmmaking business.

"In Assam, it is compulsory for theatres to screen locally-produced films. Here, we have to pay at least Rs 52,000 per week to the theatre. We also need to pay five per cent entertainment tax on each ticket," Kurbah, who has also worked in the production of around 150 music videos in Khasi, Bengali, Nepali, Telegu, Jaintia and others, said.

He said, in Assam, the situation is different as the government refunds the previous entertainment tax paid along with interest. "The Assam government also funds at least 60 per cent on the films," he said.

However, the situation in Meghalaya is entirely different. "Here, we need to pay taxes when we go and shoot in any of the government-operated destinations. It is discouraging, though, as in each of our films, we try to promote tourism by going to places which can attract a whole bunch of tourists," Kurbah said.

The filmmaker also rued the fact that while the talent here is immense, film infrastructure is zero. "We do not even have an academy for films, theatre school or even a film studio," Kurbah said.

Merlvin Mukhim, who featured with Pala in Meshua and Melody, said while Khasi and Jaintia films have been coming up at regular intervals for the past five years, the need to provide more quality to filmmaking was required.

"Realistically speaking, we still lack professional filmmakers. Except for Kurbah, who also has an experience in Bollywood, those locals who are experts in the subject have all moved out because of the lack of support. But look at Assam. The locals have come back to make films, as the support is available. Manipur is also another classic example of a progressive film industry," Mukhim said.

While several films are being produced with the local talent that is available, local filmmakers like Kurbah, film producers like Pala and protagonists like Mukhim, will have to indefatigably tread on an arduous journey as they counter government apathy and people's indulgence in piracy.

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