For a long time, the Northeast was in the limelight for all the wrong reasons and even today, people outside the region know very little about the region which is home to different cultures and identities. Over the last few years, aspiring filmmakers have been using striking visual mediums to share lesser-known or unheard stories from the region and its people with the world. Very recently, Johnson Rajkumar released his very first documentary ‘Fireflies’ which focuses on an underrated women’s social movement active in Manipur. Appreciated both by movie buffs and critics, the 6-minute documentary explores the role of women in the conflict-ridden, male-dominated society of Manipur.
Originally from Manipur but based in Bangalore, Johnson is a media activist and the Head of Department in Communication at St Joseph’s College.
What motivated you to start making documentaries?
I have been documenting social movements and social issues in Bangalore with an organisation called Pedestrian Pictures. I have also worked as a cameraperson for several documentaries. Since I have been involved in documentaries for quite some time, I thought it’s time to tell stories of my community.
You are a media activist, how does that influence the stories you want to tell through films?
As a media activist, we constantly try to tell, re-tell and share stories that challenge dominant perspectives and try to bring voices that are either misrepresented or have no representation in the mainstream narratives of our society. My film represents this idea. It is utmost important to win the war of narratives against the dominant voices.
What motivated you to make a documentary on Meira Paibis? What challenges did you face during the making of the film?
Since 1970s, Meira Paibis have been active in Manipur. The work and sacrifices which they have done over the years is incredible. The fact that a community driven group of women can be so vocal in a patriarchal society like Manipur drew my interest. I wanted to explore the gender roles in a conflict-ridden place like Manipur. Luckily, SPS Community Media and Film Division India supported the project. Big thanks to them.
The challenge of the project, and in every documentary project, is to represent the communities’ voice accurately into the narratives of the film.
What is the sort of feedback you have received about Fireflies?
The feedback has been overwhelming. The film has been screened in several spaces and the discussion that I have with the audience has kept the dialogues going, even after the film has ended. I feel that’s a healthy sign.
Where has the documentary been screened so far? Which film festivals has it been selected for?
The documentary has been screened publicly five times so far in different parts of the country like Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata and also in Athens, Greece. The film has been selected for Balkan Can Kino, Athens, Frames Film Festivals, Arthouse Asia Film Festival, and National Documentary and Short Film Festival, Thrissur. It has won Best Documentary Shorts at Arthouse Asia Film Festival.
You are the Head of Department in Communication in St Joseph’s College, how do you take out the time to work on films?
It’s been a challenge to manage the time but the whole team working together really helped in finishing the film. Cinematographer, Andy Tourangbam, editor, Akash Basumatari and music composer, Jimbo Ningombam, all contributed to the project with such dedication, that taking time out from college work was not a big issue.
I have been working on the story of Manipuri transgender migration from Manipur to different cities of this country for the past four years. I hope to finish the project soon. It is taking time because I am only spending the money I have in my pocket but that’s independent filmmaking! The project should be able to see the light of the day in about 8 months.
As told to Meeta Borah
This interview was first published on Eclectic Northeast Feb 2018 issue