Sunday Monitor

There’s nothing that a woman can’t do: Elvachisa Sangma

State's first woman cinematographer is confident to remain steadfast despite challenges

There is nothing that a woman cannot do, be it at home or on the sets of a film. This motivated Elvachisa Sangma to become a cinematographer, a career choice not many women would make.

Sangma is the first woman cinematographer from Meghalaya. She recently made headlines after winning the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA) Award for Best Student Film at MIFF 2024.

Elvachisa on the set of Chanchisoa. Photo sourced
Elvachisa on the set of Chanchisoa. Photo sourced

A student of Dr Bhupen Hazarika Regional Govt Film & TV Institute, Sangma, who is from Tura, specialises in cinematography but also wants to pursue direction in the long run. Her interest in photography paved the way for her career choice. “Also, seeing things through a movie camera gives a different perspective,” said the 24-year-old cinematographer.

The movie for which Sangma and co-director Dipankar Das received the award was Chanchisoa (Expectation). This Garo film explores the intrinsic relationship between man and nature in the backdrop of matrilineal society. The diploma film was produced by Dr Bhupen Hazarika Regional Govt Film & TV Institute.

“Besides directing the film, I wrote the story and the screenplay. One of my batchmates from Jowai helped me pen down the story. Then we pitched it and got selected. We do not have a ‘direction’ department in the institute. So, we had to wear multiple hats. I especially was involved in direction as I was the only one who knew the Garo language,” Sangma told Meghalaya Monitor.

The story, said Sangma, also stemmed from her life experiences. “It is about the struggles that most of the households witness. It is about how a woman has to strive from dawn to dusk to keep the family going and how this creates a distance between the husband and the wife,” she added.

Sangma said she never expected to win the competition because “there were so many films to compete with on that national platform”.

Talking about her journey so far as a cinematographer and director, Sangma said her joining the institute opened a new window to the world of cinema and she was exposed to many great films by directors like Yasujirō Ozu, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Abbas Kiarostami, Satyajit Ray and Wong Kar-wai.

“Each of these directors has played a role in shaping who I am today and has influenced my filmmaking. However, I would highlight two distinct directors: (Andrei) Tarkovsky and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. They inspired me with their visual style and thematic approach to their craft,” said Sangma.

Chanchisoa has a dream sequence inspired by Tarkovsky’s method of portraying the boundary between reality and dreams.

“His artistic use of magic realism, in my opinion, remains unmatched. This particular scene was from a real dream I experienced, showcasing how dreams and real-life situations can be effectively depicted on screen,” she said, adding, “After watching Apichatpong’s films, I noticed striking similarities in the way characters speak and behave, as well as in the tone and folkloric elements. These similarities convinced me that our narrative could be effectively told similarly. The blend of these influences allowed for a unique yet familiar storytelling approach, merging the poetic and the real, the dreamlike and the tangible.”

Meghalaya has produced critically acclaimed filmmakers, such as Dominic Sangma and Pradip Kurbah, who have taken local language films to the national and international arenas in the past few years. However, it is yet to see a woman filmmaker achieve such a feat. As a cinematographer, Sangma feels it is challenging for a woman to remain steadfast in the industry.

“But having said that, I strongly believe that there is nothing that a woman cannot do. Our national film industry has many women cinematographers today. Things are changing,” she said.

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