“An artist speaks” is a new section in Cinemawallah where independent filmmakers across India will be provided with a platform to express their journey from childhood to their realm of filmmaking. In this edition we begin this section with Nasira Khan, who is born and brought up in Dimapur, Nagaland, is an independent producer, specializing in film distribution. She has distributed numerous short films across international markets and has produced the critically acclaimed short film ‘AMMA MERI’ (2017). The film revolves around Balram, a villager in Haryana who has recently lost his father. He is now the sole bread winner of his family of four – which includes his fragile mother, wife and a daughter. So far the film has travelled in the following film festivals-International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, International Film Festival of India, Mumbai International Film Festival. The film will make its European premiere at the Oscar qualifying Tampere Film Festival, Finland, 2018. Here is a short account of her journey in her own words.
I was born and raised in Dimapur, in the state of Nagaland. My grand father Lt. Hazi Muligul Khan was the first settler of the town, a social reformer and one of the early chairman of the Municipal Corporation. During his chairmanship, he donated our private park to prevent the locals from losing their houses as there was no provision of water in the town and fire was too common a thing. After my schooling, I left for Delhi to pursue my graduation and later my post-graduation and joined an advertising agency. While working in the agency, I was exposed to the creative side of ad film making and how creativity can be so attractive and the magic of one liners. However, cinema was still a bit too far and the only interaction I had with it was at the theatres and watching films at home. It never for once struck me that I would be pursuing cinema as a full time career some day. As a child, I was quite fond of old hindi films unlike most of my friends. I would watch something and think about it for days about how the story must have come to the writer or the director.
After working for a year with the ad agency, I left for home to look after my father’s work since he was unwell. Real estate was something my father was involved in for many years and I began to look after it. I expanded the business and moved to Guwahati to explore new markets. The venture did work for me in terms of finance, but it was plain business at the end of the day. The only people I met during this course of time were land brokers, bankers, contractors, architects, lawyers etc and the places I visited were their offices and my site. There was no sign of creativity and after a while I began to think if this was something I wanted to do in the long run. Gladly, at this very moment, ‘Aakhir’ came my way as Tarun Jain the director and a dear friend who was in the same college pursuing a course in Audio Visual and I was into advertising during the post-graduation period thought I could be part of this project. He had already made a film called ‘Aakhir’, a road thriller and was looking for someone who can help him distribute it. Luckily, it came my way and I grabbed it with both my hands. It was exciting when I came to know that short films have a huge potential and there are festivals all over the world where one can screen films and distribute it too. I began to look for opportunities and started building networks and made a huge list of agencies, people whom I wanted to contact for my film. And in few months, I did distribute it for television channels in the US first and due to its popularity the channel asked me again for other territories which included Europe, Middle East & Africa. In over a year, Aakhir made it to 45 festivals all over the globe. It won 6 awards and about 7 nominations too. Over the time, I also began to work towards building strategy for selling films, building networks with sales agents, publicist, buyers, and curators and explore markets for short films. It was also exciting because short films still are quite new to the Indian market and there are very few platforms where shorts films are treated as films. And as someone based in Delhi, it can sometimes be a pain to make people understand what short films are all about. However, it also gives us an opportunity to create a niche space for filmmakers who do not know much about what short films are capable of doing. In the process of collaborating with more filmmakers, I began travelling and attending festivals and was approached by other filmmakers who wanted me to look after the distribution of their films. This was also the time I met Jaicheng Dohutia, the National Award winning Assamese filmmaker who was representing his film at one of the festivals in Delhi and we later decided to collaborate on his film ‘Haanduk’.
Amma Meri is my second film as a producer and distributor. This film was shot couple of years back and took a while to complete. In the beginning, Amma Meri was rejected by many festivals and it made us wonder what would happen to this film. The road began to look quite tough and we didn’t knew how tougher it would get. Spending two years was already a lot of time and endless rejections made us impatient also because Aakhir was quite a success film at festival circuits with over 45 international festivals to its kitty. With Amma Meri, we expected a lot more. Considering the sensitive topic of Agrarian Crises the film dealt with and how the crises have began to paralyze health and minds of people in the state of Haryana and forced one to question the sacred relationship of a mother and a son. After a long wait, Amma Meri paid its due and began its festival round in no time, it made to almost all the prestigious festivals in India. It was screened at International Film Festival of India under Indian Panorama, Mumbai International Film Festival under PRISM, International Documentary and Short Film Festival in (IN COMPETITION) and quite recently at Tampere Film Festival in INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION, which is also an Oscar qualifying film festival and amongst top three most important festivals in the world. As I began to travel with the film, it was so exciting to meet people who recognized our work and understood the background of the story and why it holds great significance in narrating it. As Amma Meri continues to make its festival rounds, we have also successfully shot our next short film called Black. This film is based on the racist attacks on the African Community in parts of Delhi & its NCR who took place quite frequently in 2016 & 2017. During the research, I & Tarun met a lot of students & professionals who shared their experiences and incidences, of which some of them were never reported. How people were murdered, burned, raped, brutally beaten to death on the basis of colour. This film represents the narrow mind-sets and how some of us refuse to look beyond colour, despite Indian being labeled as brown.