Saving languages, one film at a time
She notes that such languages are getting wiped out, not by violent invasions, but the influence of Hindi and English.
One of the films at the 23rd International Film Festival of Kerala is in Sherdukpen, a language which its Assamese filmmaker doesn’t understand. Still Bobby Sarma Baruah decided to make Mishing (The Apparition) as it is an endangered language spoken by some 4,000 people.
As one listens to her, mouth agape, describing how 99 percent of the actors didn’t speak her language, she says, “I can ma-ke a movie in Malayalam as well. These are human stories after all.” The director used the same argument to convince the auth-or Yeshe Dorjee Thongche, on whose novel Mishing is based on.
Last year, she made the biopic Sonar Boran Pakhi in Raj Boanshi, another endangered dialect. Bobby Sarma Baruah has a special fondness for languages and cultures that are dying. She is researching on ‘reflection of folk culture and tradition in Assamese cinema’ with the Gauhati University. “I want to focus on dialects that are becoming rare, because these endangered communities need attention. The people of these communities are neglected by everyone, be it society or the government, just because there are very few people in it. ”
The neglect of these communities is poignantly expressed by the filmmakers, when they descri-be why the film was shot in Rupa village in the interiors of Arunachal Pradesh. “The story is set in the eighties or nineties, and we needed a location that looked it,” said the film’s producer Sulakhyana Baruah (pronounced as Sulakshana). Travelling to the interiors would take one to places that are so under-developed that these look from another decade.
She notes that such languages are getting wiped out, not by violent invasions, but the influence of Hindi and English. “The erasure of roots is happening not just to this community, but everywhere. I am sure it is happening in Kerala too,” she says. The Sherdukpen tribe may be 4,000-strong, but among them the younger generation do not speak their mother tongue. The actual number of people who speak the language could be as low as 2,000, according to the film’s producer Sulakhyana Baruah.
The producer also happens to be the director’s daughter. Sulakhyana Baruah had taken a loan to produce the film, but later managed to repay it.
“This film had to be made, as it was about the Sherdukpen language,” she says. She knows just one other film in Sherdukpen language.