“I DO NOT KNOW how you perceive the fog,” says Karma Takapa, “but a lot of people find it depressing.” For the 32-year-old filmmaker from Sikkim, this mysterious, dreamlike weather condition is a character in itself and envelopes every shade and contour of his debut feature film, Ralang Road. Set in south Sikkim, the film trundles an obscure stretch of road called Ralang that connects Takapa’s paternal village Borong with a town called Rabong. He channels the vagueness of the fog to dramatise the undefined, open-ended encounters of the everyday. The film unravels over the course of a day and follows four different story lines that intersect treacherously in the end, on that very road that leads to nowhere, flanked by dark, grey forests oozing strange animal cries.
Last year, Ralang Road was selected in the competition category of one of the oldest film festivals in the world, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, and was the first Indian film to be selected there after 13 years. In India, the Hindi-Nepali language film has been screened at the 9th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2017 (India Gold Competition) and the 6th Dharamshala International Film Festival 2017 to rave reviews.
Takapa’s film refuses to portray the eighth sister state as a tranquil paradise with sweeping views of the Kanchenjunga or the Teesta, and peopled with simple, peace-loving folks. Audiences in Gangtok, used to the standard Bollywood fare or global blockbusters, were taken aback by the extremely personal and localised content of Ralang Road, when it was first screened in one of the two cinema halls in the state. It made them visibly uncomfortable; it was much too close.
Takapa belongs to a generation in the northeast that is opening up to the mainland like never before. Having lived in multiple cities, they are well exposed to the wider culture and accepted as part of the diversity that India represents. But, they are also acutely conscious of an “otherness”, which at its most simplistic level boils down to the physical appearance. Ralang Road reverses this cultural dynamic by placing a lost migrant math teacher from Uttar Pradesh as one of the principal characters in its foggy veil. In fact, if you try to demystify the opacity of the film, you will find traces of rampant alcohol abuse, underemployment, depression, a flawed development model, a fragile ecology overrun with tourists, murder, deceit and other social realities. But Takapa does not believe in statement-making or preachy cinema. “People here get what I am talking about,” he says.