Wanphrang Diengdoh

Arts Practice

Grant Period: One year

Wanphrang K Diengdoh is a filmmaker, musician and media practitioner based in Shillong, Meghalaya. He is the founder of Reddur Productions, making films and music. Over his 10 years of media practice, his films and media installations have won recognition both in India and abroad. My name is Eeooow, a film he co-wrote and edited won the Best Film award at the Royal Anthropological Film Fest and the Festival Della Lessinia. His installation Kali Kamai supported by the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art was a semi-finalist at the International award for Public Arts in the Middle Eastern and South East Asian region. His first fiction film 19/87 won Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography awards at the Globe International Silent Film Festival 2011 and was in the official selection for International Documentary and Short Film Festival 2011. His other films like Where the Clouds End and Because We Did not Choose has been shown widely in India and abroad in festivals as well as general screenings. He toured 15 cities in India and Nepal with his music album Folktales from the parking lot and Foreign Monoliths released in 2015. This grant supports him to make a feature length fiction film titled Lorni- The Flaneur

Significantly influenced by his upbringing in Shillong, Wanphrang has always sought to re-examine pre-conceived notions of identity. Inclined to problematise indigenous historical narratives and question their authenticity, his works have critically examined the so called gatekeepers of culture. In his first feature length fiction film, Lorni- The Flaneur, he aims to examine the Khasi identity and its linkage to history. Set in contemporary Shillong the film revolves around an aspiring detective. The protagonist is a Shipiah – derogatory colloquialism for a person with a Khasi mother and a non-tribal father. In a town where there are no secrets, objects worthy of great cultural value for the Khasis start to disappear, and the protagonist is hired to investigate the matter. The film attempts to deconstruct the notion that the ‘past’ is the only repository of perfection. In the film where the past is evoked, Wanphrang portrays the past as “an attempt to document the ‘barbarism’ that every civilization goes through”. Rather than an assessment of facts and figures projected by mainstream history, the ‘past’ in his film is examined as a philosophy about Khasi identity. The languages of the film are English, Khasi and Bazaar Hindi, all spoken across Shillong. Made with mainly first time actors, the film also casts established actor Adil Hussain, who is an icon to the local film afficionados.

The North Eastern states of India and the identity of the people there are in a peculiar historical tussle today. They were never part of the discourse of the ‘mainland’ before the British colonised and included them in the empire. During the British rule they were mainly seen as resource in terms of ecology, industrialisation and labour. After the British left, these areas became parts of the Indian state, although the mainland never really tried to understand their cultures or respect their identities. The area has always been ruled by various tribes and conflict is not rare. While asserting their own identity, these tribal pasts often give rise to local systems of oppression and conflict. This tendency is also witnessed in the history of Khasi cinema. What began as an assertion of their identity has now been reduced to morality tales where the pastoral utopia holds a key to purifying the ‘moral degradations’ of the city. Wanphrang calls this the ‘Agantuk Syndrome’, referring to Satyajit Ray’s film by the same name. Through his film he also wants to assert a new film making sensibility and aesthetic in the region challenging cinema here which continuously apes commercial Hindi films.

The revenue model in Khasi cinema is nothing different from other regional cinemas in India. Cinema halls operating through the satellite-based digital cinema distribution network follows the profit share model where the success of a film means the hall gets a lion’s share while the makers hardly make any money. Single screen theatres follow a down payment method where the makers stand to lose a huge sum if the film fails to achieve commercial success, while the hall is insured from all such eventualities. There is no proper system for calculating trade figures and the halls are controlled by a certain community of economically dominant, privileged, upper caste Hindus. Obviously these situations do not favour any indigenous films that are experimental or focused on quality rather than profit. This film is a unique attempt to break this hegemony. Wanphrang wants to screen his film in independent art spaces in the city as well as showcase the film in rural areas with the help of portable equipment.

When complete, the film promises to be a good case study in image making and its complex relation with society and market forces in the region, that determine the creation and success of films. The outcome of the project will be a feature length (approx. 120 min) film titled Lorni- The Flaneur. The film, a music video, final script, scanned soft copies of story boards, rush footage, productions stills and publicity material will be deposited as deliverables.