ENAKSHI SHARMA reviews Crossing Bridges film and says that it successfully bridges the gap between a practically unknown community in Arunachal Pradesh with the rest of the world.
Any mention of films from the North East generally draws a blank not only from the audience elsewhere but also from the film lovers of the region itself. The output has been so infrequent that one can hardly blame them for not being aware of the same. In the 80s and 90s, Assam and to some extent Manipur used to churn out award winning parallel cinema regularly although even that stream gradually dried up. Assamese cinema nowadays churns out tacky Bollywood imitations and other languages do not have markets big enough to sustain an industry.
So, when the trailer of the film Crossing Bridges hit the internet, it created a minor buzz among cinephiles due to its sheer origins. A film from Arunachal? When was the last time you saw a film from that place? And the language being spoken was Sherdukpen, a Tibetan Buddhist community so small that it is not even very well known within Arunachal. However, exoticness was not the only thing going for the trailer. It looked very professional, a rarity among the films from the region. There was good use of silence coupled with a pensive voiceover which is a generally accepted best practice in world cinema.
I found out that the director Sange Dorjee Thongdok is an alumnus of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and I noticed that the makers went about promoting the film in a sophisticated manner. It was being discussed in popular film blogs and the buzz was good enough to get a release through PVR Director’s Rare, which itself was an achievement for a film with practically no native market. I finally got the opportunity to catch it in Delhi during the North East Film Festival, a rare attempt at bridging the gap between the region and the heart of mainstream India.
The film begins with a rickety bus passing through the narrow, desolated roads. Our protagonist Tashi drops off the bus and the only person at the bus stand is his cousin waiting to receive him. Tashi has been working in Mumbai for several years and the city life has made him unsuitable for his native land. He walks gingerly, almost torn between the two distant worlds. He fumbles when he has to cross a small stream by walking over a piece of log although he must have done so as a child. When he reaches home, he realizes that he has lost his taste for bland butter tea and longs for the mainstream chai. He finds solace watching movies in his laptop but that also keeps getting interrupted by power cuts.
We soon learn that his homecoming was more due to compulsion rather than homesickness. He lost his job and his live in partner dumped him. He still keeps calling his contact in the city in search of new opportunities. But even calling is not easy in his village. Network is very weak and he has to climb up a little hillock to connect to Mumbai.
However, this detachment does not last forever as he gradually reconnects with his severed roots. He starts teaching at a local school to deal with his boredom. He also meets a girl called Anila who teaches at the same school. She is well educated, commutes from a nearby town, and sympathetic to his plight. A mutual attraction develops but it is not all that easy in that deeply traditional society and he cannot even dream of the freedom he once enjoyed in Mumbai. So, how does he cope with it?
Crossing Bridges does not say something entirely new but it says it with poignancy and through the prism of a community that has probably never been filmed before. The success of the film lies in competent execution of a simple idea. The director does touch some larger issues. For instance we see some school children who read Hindi textbooks and learn about Diwali but wonders why their own festivals are not mentioned. But the director never meanders too much and only hints at such issues with subtlety.
In fact, subtlety is what sets the film apart. The actors, though untrained, are just apt for their roles due to the naturalistic performance required in such a setting. Phuntsu Khrime, has no prior acting experience but is just perfect as a mild mannered and emotionally restrained Tashi. Anila is played by Anshu Jamsenpa who is more famous as an Everest winning mountaineer. Pooja Gupte’s cinematography is also worth a mention here as she manages to capture the landscape as naturally as possible with minimal use of artificial light.
Crossing Bridges aptly displays a society stuck in a time warp due to its geographic isolation. When Tashi brings home a TV, his father gets glued to it abandoning all other work. But there are winds of change too. His cousin has grown rich with government contracts and hopes to get involved in the construction of a bigger road that will connect their village to the plains. In a way, this seems like a meta-reference to the film itself, which has successfully bridges the gap between a practically unknown community with the rest of the world.