It is a truth universally acknowledged that an actor in possession of great talent must be in want of a quirky role. A lot of what Adil Hussain touches turns to gold. The international award-winning actor is not unfamiliar with the Northeast, and, thus, was the apt choice for Wanphrang K Diengdoh’s debut Khasi indie noir feature Lorni – the Faneur. Set in Shillong, the film is the story of Shem, an out-of-work self-styled detective, who is assigned the task of investigating the disappearance of objects “of great cultural value for the Khasis” from a household.
This is the first time that Hussain, who grew up in Assam’s Goalpara, is doing a film from the Northeast which is not in Assamese. “Shillong is not very far from where I grew up, though I haven’t been there too many times. I just had to pick up some phrases in Khasi,” says Hussain, 55, for the film which, with dialogues in English, Khasi, Hindi and Bihari, is reflective of Shillong’s cultural melting pot.
According to 34-year-old Diengdoh, the film’s writer, director and editor, it is “imperative for me to document the reality I live in and see in Shillong,” he says. “Meghalaya doesn’t have a thriving film industry, not as large as, perhaps, the other Northeastern states,” he adds. For his cast’s acting workshops, he reached out to Hussain, who after reading the script wanted to play the lead.
“I was pretty intrigued,” says the Life of Pi actor from the US, where he is shooting for his next film. “Especially with the metaphor of vanishing,” he says.
It’s a fascinating story “examining dreams, reality, folk tales and legends, and issues that young people growing up in indigenous spaces face. It tries to question the transition between indigenous identity (how much to cling to) and modernity (how much to accommodate) and where do people like us fit,” says Diengdoh.
In a scene, we see Shem riding a Vespa through the dark narrow alleys of the town. The search of the valuable objects “serves as a kind of personal analogy, of losing something valuable to you. I like that anonymity and ambiguity of what those objects could mean for different people,” says Diengdoh.
Shem stands out from the rest. He’s a dkhar – “half Khasi and half from somewhere else”. “We have accepted people born and brought up in different climatic conditions. Though natives have a problem with people/settlers not from that place,” says Hussain, who laughs knowingly at the mention of the NRC in Assam. “It is the base instinct of humans that I call ‘dog instinct’, it’s territorial, though humans are capable of compassion,” he adds.
In the original soundtrack video, Dreams, from the film, do we see Hussain rap? “Ranveer Singh can rap. I can’t rap to save my life. It’s the singer-songwriter-director’s doing,” says Hussain.
Music doesn’t fill in the gaps but is a plot device carrying the narrative forward. Diengdoh, a force behind the politico-punk band Tarik and music project Ñion, brings his sonic sensibilities to the105-minute director’s cut, which is part of what he calls the #khasinewwave movement. “The new era of filmmaking and art is born out of a certain kind of self-questioning that the Northeast is going through,” he says.
“A film is 24 frames truth per second, but sound is truth every millisecond. I’ve always written my films as musical pieces, with a certain leitmotif,” says Diengdoh, who spent time making drafts of the sound design with sound man Amrit Pritam, “carefully handpicking music to convey a certain kind of emotion”. He got on board Gareth Bonello, a Welsh musician studying Khasi music, who “plays a kind of an insider-outsider” style of the genre. He also got on board Stefan Kaye of reggae band The Ska Vengers, and his “sonic architect” band mate and Nion co-founder, Hammarsing Kharhmar, who like him, has grown up with folk lore and forms of music that inform their craft.
Hussain, who will also be seen in the Arjun Dutta-directed Bengali film Abyakto (Unsaid), says, “It’s refreshing to see the kind of cinema coming out of the Northeast, There’s Rima’s (Das’s) films and Jahnu (Barua) da’s films among others.” Diengdoh agrees, adding that the film festivals help independent filmmakers – “the real chroniclers of the reality of our time”.
Lorni – The Flaneur will be screened at 8.30 pm, May 20, at the Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre