How does a shawl draped around your shoulders reflect the oral traditions of people? How does a deft hand moving smoothly across a fabric hold up a window into the colonial history of the hill? Every time you tell a story, you echo the mastery of time and no one knows this better than Bengaluru born Ruchika Negi, who with Amit Mahanti has directed an ode to time itself. Come July 1, the India Foundation for the Arts will host the screening of Every Time you Tell a Story — a 52 minute long look into the life and story of the Tsungkotepsu – a shawl worn by the men of the Ao-Naga tribe of Nagaland. An IFA grantee, Ruchika has lived and grown in a number of cities before making Delhi her home.
A lover of the jaded beauty in Russian prose – especially that of Dostoevsky’s, Ruchika admits to making films for no more an exalted reason other than the fact that it excited her as a medium. “I went on to study philosophy and read voraciously through my journey into adulthood. Amit, my co-director, is from Odisha and has lived all his life in Shillong before studying English literature and film making at Delhi. It was only when we were talking to our friend Jimmy Chishi, who is a Naga painter and puppeteer, that we realised that there were untold stories in the very fact that every Naga tribe has a distinct shawl of its own,” says Ruchika.
After receiving an IFA grant for their ambitious film project, Ruchika’s work was cut out for her. “We spent about two years – beginning with research which gave way to reconnaissance trips and then a 22 days’ tight schedule of shooting – making the film. There is nothing extraordinarily challenging in making a film in the hills, except perhaps the risk of a lot being lost in translation. These are old folklorists who have been using their monochromatic shawl paintings to tell these distinct and abstract stories about who they are. Most of the elders speak in Old Ao – a language even the local youngsters have difficulty understanding. Luckily, we had Jinny with us, who would be using the creole and relatively universal Nagamese to communicate and interpret on our behalf,” recounts the 36-year-old.
With Amit, Ruchika had directed two films – both with topics as varied and intriguing as this one. While ML056055 is about a bazaar bus in Shillong, Malegaon Times is about a textile town in Maharashtra and its fascination with cinema. “I remember a screening in Kohima where a lot of academics and activists were truly moved by the film. All screenings are an important platform to us as film makers and in a city such as Bengaluru – with which I have such a primal connection – it is a great way of interacting with the audience. Even though I get asked whether it is especially challenging to be a woman director a lot, I myself have discovered that it is not a huge struggle, in my experiences,” says the woman whose inspirations vary from the austere madness of Luis Bunuel to the mighty melodrama of Ritwick Ghatak.