CHENNAI: The North-Eastern part of the country is, no doubt, one of the most picturesque parts with a treasure trove of stories. Capturing these stories is Bengaluru-based filmmaker Abhishek Udayakumar in his documentary Garo Hills Ni A’chik Songrang/Villages of Garo Hills.
The two-and-a-half-hour documentary, which was made in association with the NGO Bakdil, is all about the farmers in Garo Hills, Meghalaya. “The documentary follows the lives of three farmers across different regions of the Hills. It explores their unique forms of livelihood, domestic lives and relationships through a narrative of candid conversations, immersive takes, memoirs and journeys across the landscape."
"The film’s collection of stories serve as a document about the villagers’ lives for the time to come, and portrays them as people and not as tribals or an indigenous population,” explains Udayakumar, adding that the film begins in the monsoon season and ends in winter during the harvest season.
The 26-year-old, who stayed in Meghalaya for six months for the shoot, emphasises that he has tried to follow a neorealist and novelistic format, where he avoided any sort of formal interviews, but instead captured candid conversations.
“The film opens by a river where the nearby villagers are busy at work. When the river dries up in winter, the villagers grow winter crops which they consume and sell through spring and summer. The film follows the life of a lady whose livelihood shifts significantly with the seasons. There are two other stories in the film,” says Udayakumar, adding that a large portion of the movie is set in the Bangladesh border.
Since Garo Hills is a matrilineal society, the film focuses on the voices of women and their conversations. Villages of Garo Hills, which is Udayakumar’s eighth film, throws light on some of the intricate details about farmers in the hills too. “The economy of Garo Hills is largely dependent on betelnut plantations. In addition to this, farmers follow a pattern of sustenance agriculture where they grow crops for self-consumption to sell in local markets,” says the Royal Holloway University of London graduate.