Towards the end of Crossing Bridges, Tashi, the protagonist of the film, is seen standing with his feet submerged in the village river, at peace with his surroundings. It’s a crucial moment in the film; it marks the internal change in the lead character who finally feels a connection with his roots — a remote village in the West Kament district of Arunachal Pradesh (AP) —accentuated by the shot of his feet feeling the clear, cool mountain stream. That pair of feet belongs to the film’s director, Sange Dorji Thongdok, who stepped in when the actor wasn’t able to deliver a specific movement of the feet he wanted.
“I wanted him to feel the water in the same way that he was feeling the place,” says Sange. The protagonist from Crossing Bridges — set in his village and is the first film from the state — is modelled on Sange, who rediscovered his roots after he found himself jobless. The son of a bureaucrat in Itanagar, Sange didn’t know what career to pursue after graduation. He ran a garment business for a while but lost interest, and refused to give in to his well-connected parents’ wishes of taking up a government job.”
“In those five years, all I knew was I didn’t want to do a nine-to-five job,” says Sange, who was in Mumbai for the release of his film last Friday through PVR Director’s Rare. His long stays in his native village, which he would otherwise only visit during his school summer vacations, changed his life. “I always felt I don’t know my culture and people well enough,” he recounts. During these stays, Sange mingled with the Sherdukpen folk — the tribe he belongs to. He felt a connect with them that he had never experienced before. Armed with a VHS camera owned by his father, he started recording songs and stories of the village, editing them on his computer at home.
“I started liking it and decided to make small documentaries and videos about the culture, mostly for archiving,” he says. It set the ball rolling for Sange’s filmmaking ambitions, who later applied to the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) without informing his parents. Having grown up on “normal Hindi commercial films”, he hadn’t heard of Satyajit Ray and had no exposure to world cinema, but the film institute broadend his horizons.
Crossing Bridges, which won at this year’s National Film Awards, is a product of a passionate collaboration between Sange and his batchmates from SRFTI, who were not only involved with the technical departments of the film but also doubled as actors. Sange’s choice of subject was perfect because it also gave him the chance to make the film he wanted to within budget constraints. “You always want your first film to be deeply personal,” says the 35-year-old director, “I wanted Tashi’s journey continued…