Guided by Eagles

An animated short film on Nagaland’s Ao tribe has a hauntingly poetic narrative of finding one’s roots

Written by Nikita Puri | Published: April 8, 2014 11:34:07 pm

Haunted  by the ghost of her mother in a red shawl who frequents her Mumbai apartment, a young girl travels to Nagaland, a place she has never seen. Aditi Chitre’s Journey to Nagaland, which was screened at India Habitat Centre yesterday, is an animated short film on three Ao Naga tribes, and a discovery of the girl’s roots.

“The film is an honest and deliberate effort of placing myself as an outsider, a person who doesn’t understand the ways of the people in Nagaland. The people there were gracious hosts and the canvas of the mountains, combined with the music and colours traditional to the villages, made for such a beautiful canvas that what started out as a documentary took on a fictional form,” says the Delhi-based artist. The film brings out the otherwordly side of Nagaland and its cultural beliefs. For instance, when the protagonist reaches Nagaland, an eagle constantly hovers around her. Later on, she’s told of how the tribe believes that souls of the departed take on forms of eagles, and how her mother has guided her home.

Journey to Nagaland has a charcoal-acrylic and watercolour feel to it. The music in the 26-minute mostly-English film makes you feel like you have travelled alongside the protagonist from the big city to the hills, where the soaring eagles take you home. “One of the songs is from one of the many harvest festivals, while another one was sung by the couple I was staying with. It was dark and as the lights were being lit over the green hills to the sound of the chirping crickets; my hostess sang while her husband played the guitar,” says Chitre.

Her first encounter with Nagaland was in 2008 when she travelled with a friend who wanted to discover their local weaves. Mumbai-born and bred Chitre was so enamoured that she went back several times to conduct art workshops for the local people and learn their histories.

After travelling through Kohima, Dimapur and Tuensang, 34-year-old Chitre finally settled on Mokokchung — home to the Ao Naga community. There’s also another side to Nagaland shown in this production, that of “youngsters who watch Korean movies, have Korean hairstyles, and present contemporary art forms across the globe,” she says.

This is Chitre’s second Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT)-funded project, the first being The Mall on Top of my House – film on land encroachment and the fisher folk community in Mumbai. Winner of multiple laurels, this 2010-film’s DVD is available through PSBT’s website.

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