“It is very difficult for us to get an opportunity to make films in other languages. At the same time, for the growth of the industry out here, it is important for us to continue to make films in the Khasi language because we’re still in the nascent stage. If some producer wants me to make a film in another language, I have no issue with that. But someone has to come,” says film-maker Pradip Kurbah, whose third film — Iewduh — premiered at the 24th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in Korea where he also won the prestigious Kim Ji-seok Award. When he was a young school-going boy, Kurbah’s father ran a video library in the Iewduh market, which is the oldest market in Shillong. Growing up, he had a keen interest in cinema, and often wondered why his state, Meghalaya, didn’t have a film industry.
“The market where I shot the film in is the oldest market in Shillong. Every time we go to the market, we don’t notice people. We buy stuff and come back. I started seeing stories in the market; every lane of the market has a story. It is very important for me to tell stories about the everyday lives of these people,” he says.
Iewduh Market (or Bara Bazaar, as it is commonly called) is not known for its aesthetic. It is old and decrepit and was also the site of clashes between the Khasis and the Mazhabi Sikh community. However, Kurbah’s film brings out the humanity present in the market, the criss-crossing stories, and the fact that every life is intertwined with another. “Nonetheless, these communities do hold age-old suspicions and grudges, but it’s not something I highlight in the film. These divisions and negative elements of the Shillong society, are nonetheless, presented in a subtle manner,” Kurbah said in an interview to The Better India. In all his interviews, the 42-year-old director has praised and thanked his producer, Shankar Lall Goenka, for entrusting him with the telling of the story of Iewduh and going all out to promote the film.
Like the stories in the market, the softspoken film-maker also has a very interesting story. He dropped out of school post his Class 10 exams and came to Mumbai in the early ‘90s with the desire to work with film-makers and learn the craft. He didn’t have a college degree, which hampered his chances of studying at institutions like FTII and SRFTI, but that didn’t deter him. Kurbah took up opportunities assisting directors from 1992 to 2002 and in fact, one of his last gigs was on the sets of Raju Chacha, a film starring Ajay Devgn.
In 2014, Kurbah released his first film called Ri: Homeland of Uncertainty, which documented the militancy present in the state of Meghalaya. For producers, this film was anathema because of the bold and controversial storyline. Then, in 2016, he released Onaatah: Of the Earth – based on the lives of sexual assault survivors – under his own production house and this film won him a National Award. Despite having won multiple National Awards and winning big at international film festivals, he still hasn’t decided on his next project yet. Why? “Finance. After this film too, the struggle is always the same for us. For any indie film-maker, the struggle is always the same. Making the film is fine, but releasing it is becoming very difficult these days. I am lucky that with this film, I got a producer that went all out. This is the first Khasi film that got a pan-India release. That’s a big thing for us but we don’t know what will happen next,” he says, with a heavy sigh.