A few weeks ago I was in Edinburgh for my brother’s Graduation, which he had very thoughtfully timed to coincide with the Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films and Documentaries. I was able to catch the closing night film, Nana – A Tale of Us, an excellent Nagamese film from director Tiakumzuk Aier, who deservedly won the Best Director Award at the festival. Despite having just got married a few weeks earlier, Tia was in Edinburgh and took part in a Q and A session which revealed just how difficult it is to make a film in Nagaland. It made the film even more impressive when he described filming conditions (only 2 cameras!) and revealed that for many of the actors and crew it was their first time working in the industry. Nana is also the first ever film from Nagaland to make it to an International Film Festival and hopefully its success in Edinburgh will ensure it travels to more Film Festivals and gets a larger audience. Do see it if you get the chance, it really is well worth watching for a completely different view of India and glimpses of a region that few ever get to visit.
The film is set in a village located in the mountainous area of Mokokchung in Nagaland where work is scarce and resources are limited. Malay (Zhokhoi Chuzho) struggles to find work to support his wife Ano (Mengu Suokhrie) and their young daughter Nana (Watipongla Kichu) since their small farm doesn’t provide enough food to keep them going. For Malay, as for many of the men in the area, the only option seems to be to work for the local Minister as a thug-for-hire during election time, where wide-spread corruption means there is plenty of opportunity for those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Malay works with his friend Thiru (Ariensa Longchar) as an enforcer for the Minister and threatens everyone with violence unless they vote for the party he works for.
Malay’s home life provides a stark contrast to the violence of the corrupt political process. The film opens with a violent confrontation at night that’s immediately followed by a domestic scene as Ano grinds spices in the kitchen where two cats sit close to her cooking fire. At home there is peace and quiet, light and laughter, and above all an abiding sense of love and happiness despite the family struggling to make ends meet. Nana is the light of Ano and Malay’s life and a source of both joy and hope as they struggle with the harsh realities of life in their small village. But away from the family, Malay is a very different man indeed and he represents of the conflict within Nagamese society. On one hand there is the old political structure, corrupt, violent and desperate to hold on to power, while on the other there is the new drive for equitable, clean and fair elections which appears to be gathering pace, even in the rural areas where Malay and his family live.
Although the film tells the story of Nana and her family, it is set against the backdrop of the political elections and shows a different perspective to the thugs and rowdies who usually get short shrift in Indian cinema. However, the corruption and abuse of power is just one facet of the film. The domestic scenes are also very well written and evolve slowly, contrasting perfectly with the more intense and fast action sequences when Malay is acting as an enforcer. Nana is a real charmer too, and she makes a wonderful centre to the film as well as stealing the limelight every time she is on screen. Watipongla Kichu is a real find, and she is incredibly natural and honest in her portrayal of Nana. The other actors are all very good too, and it’s hard to believe that many of them are novices to the screen, but the beauty of the film lies in how well Tia brings the different threads together and makes such a complete whole that is completely satisfying. It’s a stunning film visually too. The scenery is spectacular, and many of the aerial shots are beautifully done to showcase the mountainous terrain and precarious farmland of Nagaland. MT Akum Aier’s cinematography is excellent thoughout while the music from Akok Imsong, Atsa Lang Roths and Along Longchar also complements the action well.
Nana is a message film, but it doesn’t feel preachy, and the point that everyone deserves to have their voice heard as part of the political process is well made without overpowering the rest of the film. I found this a fascinating look at the Indian political process and also appreciated the chance to see day-to-day life in a tribal village in rural Nagaland. With such a winning combination, Nana- A Tale of Us is a very impressive film and has definitely whetted my appetite for watching more from this fairly unknown region of Northern India. I highly recommend watching this film if you do see it playing at a festival near you and hopefully this is the start of a wider exposure for Nagamese films outside of India. 5 stars.