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Being Bihari: How This National-Award Winning Filmmaker Is Using Cinema to Challenge Stereotypes

Nitin wants to disassociate culturally rich Bihari languages like Bhojpuri and Maithili from “sleazy and almost pornographic” films from the state.

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The Bihari identity is a precarious one. As one of the most underdeveloped states in India, the people of the state carry a baggage of stereotypes wherever they go. Hence, we repeatedly see Biharis trying to dispel the myths and trying to reconcile the truth about what it means to be a Bihari.

At one end, we have artist like Subodh Gupta whose Bihar and Bihari identity reflects on his installations made from steel and cowdung, at other end, we have Bhojpuri films, which can often be described as regressive. Only a very elite class of Indians identify Bihar with Subodh Gupta. For the majority, Bihar is often associated with a string of unfortunate stereotypes. 

Filmmaker Nitin Chandra is aiming to change all that.

Bihar
Nitin Chandra’s Mithila Makhaan(2015) won Best Maithili Film in the 63rd National Film Awards

Hailing from the state, Nitin Chandra, along with his actor-producer sister, Neetu Chandra, is known for making films that address social issues under the banner of Champaran Talkies. His Maithili film Mithila Makhan, shows the protagonist’s homecoming journey from Canada to Bihar and fulfilling the half-realized dream of his grandfather despite all odds. While the plot may sound Swades-ish, the trailer shows the quintessential Bihar through its visual architecture. Last year, the film won the best Maithili Language Film in 63rd National Film Awards, becoming the first and only film from Bihar and Jharkhand to win the award. It was also selected for the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) in Toronto.

His previous film Deswa in Bhojpuri language is a social drama and a crime thriller that dealt with contemporary issues facing the youth of state, including the rampant corruption. Till date, it remains the only film to be selected for the International Film Festival of India at Goa in 2012.

When asked about how he decided to become a filmmaker, he says the natural inclination was to pursue engineering. As true to the famous maxim that in India, people become engineers first and then decide what they want to do, Nitin enrolled into the University of Pune’s Media Production Programme.

“In the second year, I was drawn towards making films, when Shiv Sena people thrashed students from Bihar and UP in 2003. That triggered me into doing something and making something, so in the second year I was in Film production department and made my first short film called The Outsider.”


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Since then he has used the medium of cinema to shed light on social issues that concern his state and his people.

“Cinema is literature of the masses[…] I have grown up in Bihar and have seen a lot of social problems. Hence my orientation during my formative years have made me sensitive toward a lot of societal issues. Hence when cinema chose me, I was automatically drawn towards voicing social causes.”

Also, like most Biharis, he is concerned with the films coming from the state and how it impacts them adversely. In an article in Patna Daily Nitin laments the “Prostitutionalization of Bhojpuri by Bhojpuri Film-makers”:

“A language is just not a spoken tool, used script or facility of communication but it represents the people who converse in it. It represents the whole culture, upbringing, socio-economic class of those people. It represents the history and civilization of those people.”

Hence, Nitin wants to disassociate culturally rich Bihari languages like Bhojpuri and Maithili from “sleazy and almost pornographic” films from the state.

He already runs a YouTube channel called NeoBihar to introduce people to the heritage of the languages, divorced from the contemporary misrepresentations.

Nitin Chandra
Facebook

His next project is a Bhojpuri film called Bailoon, which deals with issues concerning children and parenting, for which he is struggling to find investors. Even the award-winning Mithila Makhaan was never released in theatres owing to the lack of financial resources. He hopes he will be able to complete the film when people who share his concern for the cause will step up and donate.  

One of the most striking things about Nitin is his conviction in what kind of heroes a state like Bihar needs. And his films reflect this idea.

“Some Bihari doing great in IT sector in Bangalore or a millionaire in Canada or a Member of Parliament in London is not my pride, unless he brings jobs to Bihar.”

By shooting on-location in Bihar, Nitin and Neetu’s production company Champaran Talkies is creating jobs and livelihood for the state and instilling pride in their Bihari identity as well. Indeed, Bihari is not a term of reproach, but rather a repository of thousands of years of history and culture, captured in a three-syllable word.

To know more about Nitin, visit: https://www.facebook.com/NeoBihar/

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Written by Amulya B

Always caught between multiple worlds of her own creation, Amulya believes in the transformative power of literary & performative arts. If not caught worrying over what her next read is going to be, she can be found amid Bengaluru Traffic shouting at fellow commuters.