Semkhor, a National Award-winning film from Assam, has run into controversy, with members of the Dimasa community alleging that their culture has been wrongfully depicted, and aimed at causing “emotional injury”.
A leader of the tribe has lodged a complaint at Haflong Police Station against filmmaker Aimee Baruah, while several local organisations have issued statements condemning the movie.
Baruah, who also plays the lead role, maintained that she had categorically stated that it was a work of fiction.
Semkhor, set in the locales of a village that also goes by the same name, is the first Dimasa-language movie.
The 2021 film, which chronicles the life and times of a woman from the tribe, was awarded Rajat Kamal at the 68th National Film Awards, besides Baruah bagging a Special Jury Mention. After garnering praises and accolades at various different national and international film festivals, the film was commercially released last week.
Former president of All Dimasa Students’ Union Mahendra Kemprai, in the complaint filed recently, said while the community welcomes its representation on the big screen, the “wrongful depiction” was a concern. Kemprai alleged that the director did not study in-depth about the community and used the little information she gathered for commercial gain. He claimed that female infanticide as portrayed in the movie was not practiced by the community, and that Dimasas were shown in “poor light”. The former student leader demanded that “objectionable scenes be removed” from the movie, after consultation with community experts.
The Dimasa Mothers’ Association, in a press statement, too, condemned the “wrong projection of female infanticide”, claiming that it was “factually incorrect” and “unjust” to show the community practising such evil. It claimed that there was no gender discrimination within the community. All Dimasa Students’ Union, in a separate statement, termed the purported wrong portrayal as “an attack on our identity, aimed to cause emotional injury to our community”. The president of the union, Uttam Langthasa, claimed that a social evil like female infanticide had never been practised by the Dimasas.
Speaking to PTI, Baruah said, “The disclaimer at the start of the movie clearly mentions it as a work of fiction set in landscape of Dima Hasao. Our intention was to promote the region for its development.” “I am ready to face any criticism, but it should be based on facts. Most of those seeking to create this controversy have not even visited Semkhor,” she maintained.
The actor-turned-director underlined that the film was about a woman’s struggle, which was universal in nature, and the portrayal would remain the same even if it was set in a different village or town. “I had set my story in Semkhor because I wanted to promote the area so that development can reach them sooner. It is a village of 422 people. Two years ago, when I had last visited, there was no electricity or internet connection.
“For a movie to draw attention, it requires some form of entertainment, and that is why I weaved a story and set it in Semkhor. If I wanted to present the life and people of Semkhor as it is, I would have made a documentary, but how many people would have noticed it then,” she said.
Baruah asserted that she had no intention to hurt anybody with her work. “I have become emotionally attached to Semkhor now. My intention was never to hurt anyone. I want people to watch the film and then sit for a debate,” she added.