Sanjib Dey’s ‘III Smoking Barrels’: A cinematic ode to the austere grandeur of Northeast India


By Murtaza Ali Khan


III Smoking Barrels, Directed by Sanjib Dey

The beauty of Northeast India still lies untapped. Perhaps, it has something to do with the remoteness of the place in context to mainland India which is connected to northeastern states by just a narrow stretch of land called Chicken’s Neck aka Siliguri Corridor. Northeast India, sometimes also referred to as Far East India, is a home of endless diversities whose grandeur lies in its austerity. When we talk of the northeastern states we are not only referring to the 8 states viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim but also to the 200 odd dialects and the people of various ethnicities that inhabit the place. Such is the beguiling beauty of Northeast India that it seems to ooze with endless possibilities of cinematic storytelling and yet we have few examples of filmmakers who have made an attempt to capture its austere grandeur on a motion picture camera. One filmmaker who seems to have succeeded in doing so is Sanjib Dey, with his debut film III Smoking Barrels—an anthology of three stories from Northeast India—which is an official selection at the 38th Durban International Film Festival 2017. These stories are inspired by true events and in order to keep the portrayal as realistic as possible the film's narrative is devised multilingually, in the vein of Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's groundbreaking masterpiece Babel, as a seamless blend of 6 languages viz. English, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Nagamese, and Manipuri. 


Filmed over a period of 2 years across various locations in Northeast India, III Smoking Barrel has an ensemble cast that features the likes of Indraneil Sengupta (KahaaniSatyagraha, 1920), Subrat Dutta (Talaash, Tevar, Bhoothnath Returns), Nalneesh Neel (Raees, Shuddh Desi Romance, Veerappan), Amrita Chattopadhyay (Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, Janla Diye Bou Palalo), Mandakini Goswami (Bandit Queen, The Warrior), Bijou Thaangjam (Mary Kom, Shivaay). As mentioned earlier, III Smoking Barrels is essentially an anthology of 3 stories but what makes it unique is that each tries to explore a different stage of human life—childhood, boyhood and manhood—while separately addressing an important socio-political issue. The first story revolves around a desperate girl child who hijacks a car following her escape from a rebel camp. The story endeavors to delve deep into the trauma of children involved in armed conflicts. The second story follows a boy’s journey into the abyss that’s the drug world. The final story explores the troubled life of an elephant poacher and the powerful nexus that controls the illegal business.

These evocative stories draw a lot from the life experiences of writer-director Sanjib Dey who himself hails from the northeastern state of Assam. After completing his graduation from Delhi University, Dey joined an advertising agency before getting associated with a television show as an apprentice. He subsequently moved to Mumbai wherein he was presented the opportunity to work under the veteran ad-filmmaker and FTII-Pune alumnus Sunil Ghosh. Over the last decade or so Sanjb has worked with prominent filmmakers like Govind Nihalani, Habib Faisal, R. Sarath, Sekhar Ghosh, and, more recently, Australian director Sean Lynch for an international TV show in Afghanistan called Eagle Four that won Seoul International Drama Award in 2011. Sanjib has also directed a few non-fiction shows for Indian Television. His short film A Reasonable Compromise was screened at various film festivals including Court Metrage – Short Film Corner, Cannes 2012. Another short film The 100 Watt Bulb, which he produced, won him the J. Abraham National Award and the Indian Documentary Producer’s Association (IDPA) Award for Best Short Fiction. He was also a speaker at the prestigious TEDxSaraighat 2014. Produced by Amit Malpani under the banner of Malpani Talkies, III Smoking Barrels is his début feature film as a director. The film will be screened at the 38th Durban International Film Festival on 16th and 21st July 2017.

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