Everything about Wanphrang K Diengdoh’s latest film, from the locales (the rain-washed Northeastern hill station of Shillong) to the music (“street”) to the protagonist (an out-of-work-detective trying to track down ‘stolen objects’) to the language (a blend of English, Hindi but also, Khasi), screams exotic. Add Adil Hussain into the fray, and the enigma is undeniable. However, for 33-year-old Diengdoh, Lorni — The Flaneur, set to be released at the end of the year, strictly stays away from “romanticising, exoticising and creating a spectacle out of the area/people.” And there are multiple ways how.
For one, the filmmaker, insists that this isn’t a ‘Khasi film’ but a film in a “language you can hear on the roads of Shillong” — a mix of Khasi, English and sometimes, even Hindi. “My films usually deal with the depiction of a certain kind of reality. It does not depict the place as ‘a rich repository of culture’ where man and nature live in harmony. You won’t find a pastoral landscape with a sparking river in the foreground and hills in the background,” he says, adding “I am not saying that that reality does not exist, it does — but it’s become a problematic representation of the region, and that has led to stereotyping this part of the country.”
In the approximately one-and-a-half-hour long film — also Diengdoh’s first feature — Hussain plays Shem, the protagonist, a shipiah (child of a mixed marriage in Khasi) detective who is investigating the disappearance of stolen objects that are of great cultural value to the Khasi heritage. In his quest, he discovers many things about himself and about the culture of ‘lost objects’ in Shillong.
The cast, apart from Hussain, is made up of a creative team fresh out of college from Shillong — another way Diengdoh makes his film more ‘real’. “You’re looking at artistic sensibility that is intrinsic to the community. That’s why it’s crucial to have Shillong people act in it. It’s a proper Shillong film.”
The film has been shot over 24 days across the hilly capital, on a “micro-budget”. “Micro-budget films are always interesting. You become more creative. You ask yourself — ‘how do I go about this without burning a hole in my pocket’?” says Diengdoh, who had first gotten in touch with Hussain to hold an acting workshop for his “first-time” crew. “Hussain liked the script so much that he ended up playing the protagonist!”
Ten years ago when he had graduated from college, Diengdoh — born and raised in Shillong — had ‘no option but to move out.’ He went on to make films which won awards and had international screenings (19/87, Because We Did Not Choose, Where The Clouds End, among others) — all in documentary format before he started making Lorni this year, pegged to be the indie film that could change things up for the still-nascent Khasi film industry. “Most films that emerge from the region are like Bollywood films, but in Khasi language — which is absolutely fine. You need mainstream. But the region has potential to do experiment as well, and I hope that after Lorni, the government will notice that there is a possibility for a proper filmmaking industry.”
In 2011, Diengdoh’s first fiction short film 19/87 — which follows the friendship between a Khasi youth and a Muslim tailor set in the context of the 1987 ethnic riots — marks the beginning of what Diengdoh calls the ‘Khasi New Wave’: a concept that documents reality and tries to highlight the transition of Khasi society through music, film and arts. “I am also trying to explore how people living in urban spaces identify themselves as indigenous communities. How much does popular culture affect them? How much of it is syncretic?” he asks.
Diengdoh is also part of three-membered Tarik, a “politico-punk band — an eccentric blend of punk and radical themes with a Khasi twist.” And naturally, music plays a huge role in all his films. For Lorni, he has written most of the music himself and describes soundtrack as “cheeky”, “punk-influenced” and “from the streets.” In 2015, when BJP President Amit Shah visited Shillong, Diengdoh’s Tarik collaborated another Shillong-based act, Cryptographik Street Poets to make a protest video — New Green Things — criticising the party’s policies and ideologies. “Through my work, I force people to take a step back and question the reality around them,” Diengdoh says. Many times, in his films and music, you might find the answers too.