Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What should Geetanjali Thapa’s achievement mean to Sikkim? BB SUBBA IJAM

While all of Sikkim was deeply engrossed in psephological analysis, speculations, discussions and gossip, nervously awaiting declaration of the results of the simultaneous elections, the local as well as the national media on 17 April broke a news which should have been as much important for the state as it sounded pleasant. Sikkim’s daughter, Geetanjali Thapa, had been adjudged Best Actress for the 61st National Film Awards for her role in “Liar’s Dice”, a Hindi film written and directed by Geetu Mohandas. Unfortunately, barring a few online websites and social networks - where it is very convenient to comment and register one’s likes/ dislikes, the news, in spite of making headlines in some local newspapers, could not draw the kind of attention it deserved from the politically engrossed general public of the state. Or was the people’s disregard for this significant development really due to their pre-occupation?
What could, rather, should, this achievement of Geetanjali really mean to Sikkim?
Honestly, I for one do not have very articulate answer, but since I first read this news which is almost a month ago, a few things played out in my mind which gave me certain yardstick to measure the tallness and significance of her achievement.
First of all, I vaguely recalled a discussion between my Sikkimese and North-Eastern friends many years ago during my college days in Odisha (Orissa at that time). We used to often deeply feel the near total absence of artistes or characters from the north-eastern states and communities in Indian cinema. Excepting, of course, Danny Denzongpa, of whom we Sikkimese felt so proud. However, during one such passionate discussion, one of my friends rued that despite being there for so long, Danny had not tried to introduce Sikkimese youngster to Bollywood. My friend thought that Danny could have groomed Sikkimese youngsters as career Bollywood stars had he so wished. On this, the other friend added that he had heard that in fact Danny used to discourage especially the girls from coming to Bollywood as he believed that they would simply fail to cope up with the nasty machinations of the glamour world and hence would only end up ruining their lives. I had nothing at that time nor do I have now to refute or confirm the truth in the above arguments of my friends, but what I have come to believe even to this day is that to make a career in acting in Bollywood, you need to have either parents who themselves are established Bollywood stars or some people having influential connections with Bollywood celebrities. For the rest, it is very difficult and for the people of Sikkim and North-East it is very, very difficult for even more reasons.
More than a decade since we had the above discussion, the scenario in mainstream Indian cinema in terms of presence of artistes from North-East region has not improved. Now suddenly, Sikkim is proud mother to a Bollywood actress, that too not a struggling but a fully established artiste who has been recognized in no small measure than to be adjudged as the best actress of the country for 2013!
And the fact that she is not only the first “full-fledged” female actor from this region to have made it to the mainstream cinema, but also the first actress from Sikkim to bag the highest national honour in this field makes her achievement even more significant.
Also played out in my mind was the frenzy that had caught us, our society and our state when Prashant Tamang was participating in the reality TV show Indian Idol. Mere selection of youngsters from our communities or state in such reality show still continues to move us passionately. People had organized programmes, formed fan clubs and set up numerous free mobile voting booths just to make Prashant win. After a certain stage of the show, it became immaterial for us how our idol actually performed in the show; we just wanted him to win with the sheer number of our votes. And win he did! We very were happy and proud. We organized numerous victory rallies and felicitation rallies. I do not mean to belittle the achievement of Prashant Tamang; he more than deserved it. But I still believe that by voting for him so passionately, we were unconsciously or sub-consciously voting (campaigning) for something more than his victory. We were fighting for identity and recognition as a community and state having felt frequently marginalized and wronged in a leviathan and diverse country of over billion people called India. For the people of Darjeeling, voting for Prashant Tamang was equivalent to an e-Gorkhaland movement. And here we have a young girl from Sikkim who has achieved what she has achieved without our “votes” or “supports.” Now isn’t that highly commendable? Won’t a victory/ felicitation rally in her honour lasting for just a couple of hours but participated in by people from all walks of life been a refreshing event after seeing so much of political rallies? In fact, all political parties for once could have come together for such rally to honour the achievement of a Sikkimese daughter which is above and beyond politics. Imagine a joint news conference addressed by spokespersons of all political parties of Sikkim for organizing such rally. And imagine the kind of message such a coming together of politicians for a noble common cause would have sent to the Sikkimese society.
It is also interesting to note that no social organizations, associations and NGOs of our state have so far issued a congratulatory message for Geetanjali in the print media. Not in the distant past when Sikkimese people got the IT exemption, Sikkim got subjected to a peculiar social embarrassment when such congratulatory messages for the chief minister started late from some organizations almost as an afterthought, thereafter the process snowballed into a rat race which continued for almost a month as if no individuals and organizations wanted to be seen as outdone in congratulating the chief minister. One hopes this is not repeated in case of Geetanjali too. It would also be a sad commentary on the conscience of Sikkimese civil society if such congratulations had to come first and only from the associations and organizations of her community which is but a frequently observed social phenomenon in Sikkim. If we have to honour her, we can do so collectively, properly and in a dignified manner.

PS: In the Wikipedia article titled “National Film Awards (India)”  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Film_Award_(India)] in the list of eligible category of films under “Best Feature Film in each of the languages specified in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India”, I think there should have been a category as “Best Feature Film in Nepali” but no such category is mentioned there although Nepali too is a language listed in the eight schedule of the Indian Constitution. Either this is an omission by the author(s) or the category has not been created by the Directorate of Film Festivals, Govt. of India. Intellectuals and personalities especially those connected to the field of cinema may like to confirm this directly from the directorate and edit the article if necessary to add the category for Nepali language film also.

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