By Asmita Sarkar for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2015 in Delhi (15th-22nd Sept), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring interviews with the directors who are screening their films at the festival, along with a candid chat later with the organisers who make this excellent festival possible each year. With this year’s theme being ‘DIVERSE PEOPLE, DIVERSE STORIES’, the documentaries being screened include “those that document, narrate, follow, investigate, represent, challenge, advocate, affirm, empower, unsettle and sometimes disturb.” Scroll down for schedule details.
In the early 2000s there used to be fanfiction.net for fans who wanted to explore different theories set within the universe of their favorite fiction. While fanfiction still exits, the fan experience, since events like ComicCon and AnimeCon which are big get-togethers of fans in costumes, discussing their favorite comic books and fictional characters, has increased tenfold.
There’s big money that goes into these events, needing sponsors, shops, merchandise, participants who would buy the tickets, artists for Masterclasses and most importantly the costume play or Cosplay. In Delhi, the cosplay, at the large ComiCon or the smaller AnimeCon, is brutal. Participants start working on their costumes months before the actual event, hoping to don the persona of their favorite character. When in character these everyday people swinging their huge Katanas (a traditional Japanese sword), laser guns or any other prop, escape into the fantastical universe, albeit temporarily, feeling larger than life.
Aiming to capture the event, Hemant Gaba, director of Super Girl and Shuttlecock boys, travelled to Nagaland before the preparations for the Cosfest began and got talking to the young people who were involved in making this event a success since 2014. His film is a look at the self-discovery and identity crisis of the Naga youth through the various South East Asian subcultures that have captured the imagination.
On being asked why he chose Nagaland to film the event, when there are so many other cities that host some version or the other of the AnimeCon, he said, “Most similar events in the country happen with the backing of an industry or cultural sponsor but Cosfest in Nagaland is the result of sheer enthusiasm and hard work of the members of Nagaland Anime Junkies Group. The prime reason to choose Nagaland was because Japanese Sub-Culture is not the only subculture prevalent, there has also been the Korean subculture, which has been present for almost a decade. Why is it that the youth in Nagaland gets attracted to other East Asian cultures over Western Culture, and if it has anything to do with identity crisis, were my prime questions, that I intended to explore via this documentary.”
As one watches his film that traverses through the lives of many young anime fans in the documentary, one wonders if the adoption of this culture is perhaps a reflection of the identity crisis the youth might be facing, Gaba helps us understand this better, “It’s very complex. Most Nagas got converted to Christianity after the missionary movement that happened few decades back. And slowly generation after generation, especially in the cities, the youth stopped identifying with their Naga roots. Maybe because there is no written or recorded Naga history.” He further adds how then popular Korean culture made a place for itself in Nagaland, “During the insurgency, Hindi channels or movies were not broadcast here. There was nothing one could do barring sitting at home, especially when the whole state still shuts down by the evening. In the pre internet era, some youngsters discovered Korean TV series and Korean pop music, which became hugely popular. Right now, everything from Bollywood to Hollywood to Korean exists in tandem with the Japanese. It’s just that, different people pick up different cultural forms, according to what appeals to them. But I think, most of the youth don’t relate to their indigenous roots anymore.” Their popularity according to him is justified because “Stories and characters (in my little exposure) in Japanese Anime are very creative and surreal. As an art form, I found it much superior than other visual art forms around.”
The documentary also elucidates how parallel narratives about the origin of the Nagas remain, like the one about Nagas being descendants of Chinese workers. But Gaba maintains that the question of nationality is not really in conflict among the youth there, “They are well aware that they are citizens of India. Most of these guys also work/ study in different parts of India like Delhi, Jaipur, Maharashtra, Bangalore etc but they continue to follow Japanese Anime with passion.”
Gaba’s film is a must watch in the way it showcases how marginalised populations form communities with the aid of a common interest. The participants of the CosFest come from all over the North East and the NAJ Facebook page boasts of its enormous popularity with almost 11 thousand likes.
The youth in Nagaland and the rest of North East, in adapting to the South East Asian popular culture, do so only because they can identify with them. What the documentary manages to record is a poignant and sharp nostalgia that these young people feel, for a culture that they can call their own instead of the “melting pot” that they inhabit at the moment. The fact that they long for a culture, seen through the smokescreen of art in its most grandiose form, makes the longing that much ironic and tragic.
Catch Gaba’s film at 11.40 am, 18th September, at the India International Centre, on Max Müller Marg, New Delhi.