New Delhi: With less than 70 cinema halls in the northeastern region serving a population of 40 million - a little more than that of Poland - shoestring budgets and a handful of productions in most states, the film industry in the region is struggling for survival. Filmmakers are looking to the central government to bail them out and help them enter the mainstream.
Of the eight states, only Assam and Manipur churn out movies on a regular basis, but only Assamese filmmakers can afford to make a film worth Rs.70 lakh to Rs.80 lakh, sometimes the budget of a costume of a Bollywood actress.
"It's only in Assam and Manipur where there is a regular filmmaking culture," Assam-born capital-based filmmaker Utpal Borpujari told reporters.
"The big budget Assamese feature films are about Rs.70 to Rs.80 lakh. They make approximately 15 to 20 films in a year. In Manipur, around 60 to 70 films are made in a year, but the budget varies between Rs.7 lakh and Rs.8 lakh," he added.
Another problem is less screening facilities in the region. Due to lack of infrastructure, temporary screenings are organised in community halls.
"Some of the halls are in a bad shape and some are not operational. There are approximately 70 functional halls in the northeast and most of them are in Assam.
"There are community halls where movies are shown. Some filmmakers also go to different villages to screen their films," said Borpujari.
The central government is taking the initiative for uplifting the filmmaking culture in the region and Meghalaya-based director Pradip Kurbah, who directed the National Award winning Khasi film "Ri - Homeland of Uncertainty" has welcomed this.
"The government is suggesting film schools in the northeast and that will be good. But there should also be more theatres," Kurbah told reporters.
"We should also start a system that allows us to screen movies in different parts of the region. For instance, films from Mizoram or Manipur should be shown in Meghalaya and vice-versa.
"This will open the market for everyone. We can't depend on other parts of the country only. If this happens, there will be chances of positive growth," he added.
Recently, the directorate of film festivals, ministry of information and broadcasting, in coordination with the northeast division of the home ministry and the ministry of culture, organised a film festival titled "Fragrances from the North East".
While the filmmakers from the region made up of eight states - Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Sikkim - are happy about the maiden film festival dedicated to movies from there, they expect more from the government.
"We get to interact with people and rectify our mistakes. By just making films in Meghalaya, we don't get to know whether we are on the right track or not," said Kurbah.
In terms of business, Kurbah is unsure but is hopeful that "something might come" post screening at the festival.
Meanwhile, to reach out to the wider audience, he will resort to the conventional screening method and travel to remote areas of Meghalaya to show "Ri".
"From September onwards, we will go on a village tour. We also go where there is no electricity and we carry our own generators. If every district has a hall, it will be good," he said.
Borpujari says that a lot of northeast students go to the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute in Kolkata, but if the government can set up its branch or a new film school in the northeast, it will help youngsters.
Also, government aid can augment film production in the region.
However, the challenges notwithstanding, filmmakers like Meghalaya's Steven Ao, who graduated from the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, wants to pursue his dream and make movies.
"My short film 'Bamboo Shoots' has been shown at various festivals like the International Film Festival of India, Goa; the Kolkata Film Festival and the Lago Film Fest, Italy. The exposure was good, but I need to do a lot more to get funds for my projects.
"I have a passion for the medium. But to earn my bread and butter, I don't want to change my profession. I am putting all my energy into it and I hope it works," said Ao.
If people like him continue to show passion towards the craft and get a little help from the government, the world will be their oyster.