For short film director Manna Sangma, it is important to tell the other side of the story. In his latest film, Phi ruh (You too), Sangma looks at the problem of child sexual abuse from another perspective and reflects on the collective wisdom of people.
The short film tells the story of a girl in a village and a shopkeeper. The girl goes to the shop to buy essentials and before leaving, slips a juice box into her bag. Realising that one juice box is missing, the shopkeeper runs after the girl who tries to escape and falls in a ditch. The man comes to her rescue and cleans the dirt off her legs. Meanwhile, a few villagers spot them and misinterprets the event. They hit the man with a heavy object leading to his death.
Initially, the audience may think that the shopkeeper is a molester. But the child deposes in front of the magistrate saying, “Uncle (the shopkeeper) asked me never to steal and told me to go home safely.”
Phi ruh won an award at the Indian Filmmakers’ Film Festival, Pune, last year. “There are so many cases of sexual abuse of children, but I feel that one case among those might have a different truth. Sometimes people do not think or try to apply logic and ask questions about how and why incidents happen,” the director told Sunday Monitor on phone.
Meghalaya has seen a surge in child sexual abuse in the past few years. The rising trend of crime has made the public apprehensive about their surroundings and the individuals they meet. Sangma said at this juncture, it is difficult to demarcate good and bad and misjudgement often leads to fatality. “But the truth has to prevail,” he added.
The film is in Khasi language and has already got an invitation for screening in Berlin. “However, the pandemic has delayed the process,” informed the 36-year-old short filmmaker, who was born and brought up in Shillong.
Sangma started as a filmmaker in 2015 but “I believe I got into filmmaking when, as a child, I would ardently watch moves”. The cinephile had long decided to make filmmaking his career,
Besides screenplay writing and directing, the young filmmaker acts as a cinematographer, editor and sound designer. “I have two persons to help me but most of the pre- and post-production works are done by me,” said Sangma, who has no formal training in filmmaking. He is greatly inspired by award-winning Assamese filmmaker Rima Das.
The pandemic last year created a hiatus for filmmakers, including Sangma. But the events during the Covid-19 pandemic prompted Sangma to make the short film ‘Don’t Stigmatise’ focusing on the difficulties faced by a health worker. “There was a lot of stigmatisation in the society. The film is the story of a health worker who is stigmatised by her neighbours. But people fail to understand that for a health worker, the attitude of a few people does not matter as many others depend on her. I thought of making the short film to make people aware of the problem,” he explained.
Sangma has made 15 films so far, most of them with a social message. He wants to focus on art-house movies and does not wish to delve into commercial films. Currently, he is working on his first art-house feature film, the shooting for which is still on. “It will be a psychological film. One can experience the four seasons in 24 hours through our changing moods,” he said.
Sangma’s goal is to reach the Oscars one day. “We are working hard to achieve the goal. What more can I hope for in the next 10 years of my career in films,” he said.
Photos sourced from the director