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Exclusive: Director Nitin Chandra leaves Maithili Cine-lovers shocked and awed with ‘Mithila Makhaan’

The film was one among the three films that had a world premiere at the recently concluded International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) in Toronto

Filmmaker Nitin Neera Chandra receiving the National Award for Best Film in Maithili for Mithila Makhan. Photo credit: Nitin Neera Chandra

by Shillpi A Singh

NewsGram presents an exclusive tête-à-tête with the cast and crew of this year’s National Award winning Maithili film, Mithila Makhaan. In the second part of the series, Shillpi A Singh gets you the story of how director Nitin Neera Chandra scripted history in the regional language cinema with his outings in Bhojpuri and Maithili.

“A crisis creates the opportunity to dip deep into the reservoirs of our every being, to rise to levels of confidence, strength, and resolve that otherwise we didn’t think we possessed.” These words by Jon Meade Huntsman Sr, an American businessman, and philanthropist, beautifully sum up the story behind the making of National Award winning Maithili film Mithila Makhaan by Nitin Neera Chandra, and to some extent his astounding career path. And mind you, he’s barely three films old. His directorial debut Deswa, in Bhojpuri, has left an indelible mark on the history of regional cinema, widely acclaimed and feted in the national and international film circuits for its gritty portrayal of the state of affairs in Bihar.

Dinesh Bhatia, Consul General of India in Canada, with film director Nitin Neera Chandra and actor Kranti Prakash Jha in Toronto. Photo credit: Nitin Neera Chandra

Close on its heels was Deswa’s Hindi remake Once Upon A Time in Bihar that created ripples for raising socio-political issues, authentic setting and storyline, and believable performances by its star cast. His third one, Mithila Makhaan, has catapulted the Maithili language cinema to the world stage and caught the fancy of filmgoers all over.

The film was one among the three films that had a world premiere at the recently concluded International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) in Toronto. Mithila Makhaan was the only one in Maithili to be part of IFFSA, touted as the biggest South Asian Film Festival in North America, in its five years history that witnessed participation of the film fraternity from across the globe.

The poster of the film Mithila Makhaan. Image source: Nitin Neera Chandra
The poster of the film Mithila Makhaan. Image source: Nitin Neera Chandra

Though it was Chandra’s second outing at IFFSA, first one was for Bhojpuri film Deswa, but it was truly an enlightening experience. “I am indebted to the Festival organisers for giving a global platform to my maiden venture in Maithili. It feels great to get a pie of the huge slice of adulation that IFFSA commands in North America. The affection and attention are motivating enough to make me say that I will surely come again to show Champaran Talkies’ next, Ladaku and Company Ustad, to the world.”

Sibling Revelry
Chandra hails from Dumraon, in Buxar district, which also happens to be the birthplace of Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan. Born in a modest family in Bihar’s capital Patna, he has two other siblings —  sister Neetu and brother Abhishek. While his brother is a costume designer, sister is an established actor of Hindi cinema and also the “honorary producer” of all his creative ventures. He completed his initial schooling from Patna and then like most others, moved to the Capital of the country for his undergraduate degree.

“Moving to Delhi for studies is like a rite for most natives of Bihar and it was no different in my case. It seemed like a natural progression,” he said. After completing the first lot of studies there, he moved to Pune, in Maharashtra, for his Masters in Media Research from the Department of Communication Studies, at the University of Pune.

Change of Course
As a student in Pune, he witnessed the anti-Bihar movement that was rampant on the campus and to some extent in the state, in the early Naughties. “The state of affairs in Maharashtra was disturbing. I was appalled to see the way people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were being treated. The attitude was certainly not in consonance with the state’s remarkable contribution in every field. It spoke volumes of ignorance, and this ignorance didn’t spell bliss for Biharis in general and students from the state in particular.” A baffled Chandra went on to make a short film “The Outsider” on the raging issue. In a way, the campus crisis made him change the course of his studies, from media research to film production. His first documentary “Bring Back Bihar: Moment of Awakening” was screened at various forums in India and abroad. Having a sister who is a famous actor, it was expected that he would sooner or later foray into films, but not many thought that he would go behind the camera and don a director’s hat.

The Crisis Call
In August 2008, heavy rains and poor maintenance caused a breach in the Kosi embankment near the India-Nepal border. The river Kosi, also called the Sorrow of Bihar, changed its course, wreaking havoc in parts of Bihar and neighbouring Nepal, and spelling misery in the 14 districts of the Mithilanchal region of the state. The disastrous floods that followed Kosi deluge changed the course of Chandra’s career. He witnessed the tragedy first-hand while working for an NGO in the flood-affected districts of the Mithilanchal region of Bihar and neighbouring Nepal. The catastrophe that the river had brought, the plight of people and subsequent migration of people to safer places in search of a better life and means of livelihood triggered his thought process. “The state needs not just job-seekers, but job creators who can make a more meaningful contribution to the state and help control widespread migration,” he said.

Screen smart
It was while travelling along the banks of rivers Kosi and Baghmati in the flood-ravaged villages that he conceived the idea of Mithila Makhaan. “I saw how people had lost not only their lives but also their livelihood. The raging river destroyed the standing crops, flattened houses and left thousands of people dead and lakhs stranded. I was part of the relief operation, but it was a short-term help and way too little for those affected by the deluge.” There is great catharsis in great pain and then something that is sublime. He made a documentary “Boya Ped Babool Kaa” narrating the catastrophe and his first-hand experiences of the worst tragedy in Bihar’s history.
He was back in Mumbai, but the images of the worst floods in Bihar’s history haunted him. “My determination to tell a story and motivate people to come and do their bit in being part of the change in Bihar grew stronger with the passage of time,” he said. The crisis created an opportunity for Chandra, lighting the creative spark and kick-starting his film career in some way. And the rest is history in the making, at least for the regional language cinema from the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand.

A Son of the Soil
The movie-making exercise helps vent his creative fury on a larger canvas and satiate himself, in some measures, that he is doing whatever it takes to change Bihar and Jharkhand’s image in the minds of people at large. He set the ball rolling with his first film Deswa that changed the popular perception about Bhojpuri films. It wasn’t loud and brash unlike other films in the language that came as a refreshing change and caught the young cine-goers’ fantasy. “The film didn’t have any distasteful content or anything that smack of vulgarity. In fact, it boasted of a realistic storyline, and believable performances. It was a promising start and a sincere attempt to pull the native language speakers back to theatres,” he said. The 2011 film is a set against the theme of lawlessness in Bihar in the late Nineties and early Naughties and has serious political undertones as it depicts the state’s turnaround over a period of six years through the protagonists.
His attempt provided the much-needed facelift to Bhojpuri cinema, and it drew rave reviews from the masses and classes alike. The film was screened and lauded at the International Film Festival of India, International Film Festival of South Asia, Montage Film Festival, Habitat World Film Festival and International Film Festival of Fiji.
He also went on to remake Deswa in Hindi as Once Upon a Time in Bihar with the same star cast — Ashish Vidyarthi, Pankaj Jha, Kranti Prakash Jha, Arti Puri, and Deepak Singh — in the lead roles; the film was released last year.

Shock and Awe
From Bhojpuri, he moved on to explore cinematic opportunities in another regional language, Maithili, for his next, Mithila Makhan. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 Kosi deluge, the film poignantly captures the plight of those who faced the river’s wrath, losing lives, land, and livelihood to it. The protagonists of the movie try to breathe a new lease of life in the barren, lifeless village through their novel ways. They help revive two important sources of livelihoods — the first one being fox nut cultivation for the men, it’s processing, packaging and marketing, and the second one being preserving and promoting Maithili paintings by engaging the womenfolk of the village. “The film tries to instil pride, respect and a sense of belonging to one’s culture, traditions, language, literature, food, dress, song, music, dance and above all the way of living. These elements form our identity and should be preserved and promoted for the future generation. Or else we will lose ourselves,” said Chandra.
The other overbearing theme is to introduce the best of Mithilanchal to the world and get the youth involved in the development and progress of their immediate surrounding and promote the idea of Make in India. To sum up, “It is a back-to-the-roots story, told with great sincerity, about a courageous youthful rescue effort happening in Bihar.”

Festival Circuit
The film has managed to get ample attention at the recent world premiere at IFFSA, Toronto, and screening at Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi, and the National Film Archives of India, Pune. “The film was screened to a packed house at IFFSA. Many ladies had come to watch our film Mithila Makhaan. Not all of them came from Bihar or Jharkhand. They came from different social backgrounds and hailed from various parts of India. Their presence at the screening of a Maithili film was overwhelming,” said Chandra. Syed Ali Abbas, who watched the world premiere at IFFSA, was bowled over with the film’s presentation and how it had managed to capture the attention of the younger generation, who could relate to the characters and issues dealt deftly in the film. “Mithilaa Makhaan is a great movie and the effort and initiative behind its making is commendable. The best part was that it had managed to capture the attention of the new generation, like a teenager who has been raised in North America all along. It proves that you have accomplished your mission with this movie. Hope to see more in the coming years.”

Wooing the Audience
The scene in Pune was no different. It saw students and people from all walks of life and hailing from the twin states thronging NFAI Auditorium to watch the National Award winning film. “I am glad that a young man (Nitin Chandra) dared to challenge the age-old cinematic stereotypes about Bihar in particular and Biharis in general. The film will help dispel the misconceptions that people have about Bihar,” said Sushma Srivastava. Many like her didn’t want to miss the opportunity, more so because it was a matter of pride for them to see a film in their native language winning the National Award, the first of its kind honour for a regional language cinema from Bihar and Jharkhand. “It is an amazing feeling that our films Deswa and Mithila Makhaan are now at NFAI. It is a rare opportunity to see our films being part of the film archives, along with works of other great Indian filmmakers. We are here to create a rich legacy in our regional languages,” said Chandra.

Road Ahead
The director firmly believes that regional language cinema will be a force to reckon with in the days to come. He said, “This will be because English will take over Hindi but regional languages will survive especially in the South, Punjab, Bengal, and Maharashtra.” He emphatically asserted that “no film in any language is regional, but there is regional language cinema. And if cinema was regional, then Satyajit Ray’s films would not be taught at the New York University.” His sister Neetu was in agreement with him on this subject. “Films are never regional, languages are. We have made global films in regional languages,” she proudly said.
He added that it is high time that the younger generation comes forwards and does its bit in preserving and promoting the native languages such as Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi, Avadhi, etc. He quoted an interesting anecdote to bring forth the point. “While travelling from Mumbai to London, I saw an 83-year-old Gujarati lady, who was sitting next to me, and watching a Gujarati film and enjoying it thoroughly.” Do we take that kind of pride when it comes to a film in Bhojpuri or Maithili? he tersely asked. If we don’t, then whom do we blame for the degradation of regional language cinema? The fault lies in our myopic approach. “We want the entire country to know about a Maithili film winning the National Award but have we done enough to give it the kind of respect it deserves in its home states.”

Activist to the Core
Chandra calls himself a “fire on the social networking sites”, and rightly so. He has been quite vociferous in expressing his thoughts on matters that matter to an ordinary man, from over speeding vehicles to Board results to brutal rape of a girl in a village in Madhubani, Bihar, to the ban of liquor in his native state. He dares to express his views and draws a lot of appreciation from his fans and followers. His posts are poignant and touching sometimes, hilarious and newsworthy on most occasions. In one of his recent posts, he urged parents to accept their child’s results in Class 10 and 12 Board exams heartily and refrain from judging them based on their scores because every child is brilliant in one or the other way. “Encourage and never compare your kids with anyone. It will scar them for life,” he wrote in his FB post. After Bihar was officially declared a dry state, he posted parodies of famous Hindi songs that will be played in the times of prohibition. But even on this platform, it is Bihar that wins hands down, finding a mention in 90% of his post. That’s a subject closest to his heart. And will always be.

 In the next part, we will get up, close and personal with the stars of the award-winning film. So watch out for this space!

Shillpi is a freelance contributor at NewsGram. She may be reached at:  shilpi.devsingh@gmail.com 


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40.7 Million American Workers Seek Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment has increased worldwide as bussinesses remain shut due to COVID-19 pandemic

People who lost their jobs are reflected in the door of an Arkansas Workforce Center as they wait in line to file for unemployment following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Fort Smith, Arkansas. VOA
By Ken Bredemeier


Applications for unemployment compensation eased again in the U.S. last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as some employers started to reopen businesses after the coronavirus pandemic forced their closure.

Even so, another 2.1 million more workers sought cash benefits after being laid off as other businesses curtailed their operations in the face of the continuing threat from the virus and less demand for their products.

In all, since mid-March, 40.7 million workers have now sought unemployment compensation, nearly a quarter of the U.S. labor force of more than 164 million.

However, the current actual number of jobless workers is unknown since some who sought unemployment benefits in previous weeks have now been called back to work by their employers. All 50 state governors have begun to ease restrictions on businesses opening in a patch-work array of directives that varies widely throughout the country.

The U.S. death toll from the virus topped 100,000 on Wednesday and health experts predict tens of thousands more will die in the coming months. But President Donald Trump, facing a November re-election contest against former Vice President Joe Biden, is predicting the country will have a robust economic recovery.

“States should open up ASAP,” Trump said on Twitter this week as the stock indexes advanced sharply. “The Transition to Greatness has started, ahead of schedule. There will be ups and downs, but next year will be one of the best ever!”

But the coronavirus has had a major effect on U.S. commerce, with 27 companies already filing for bankruptcy protection in May and some companies announcing they were closing permanently.

The official April unemployment rate was 14.7%, with Trump economic advisers acknowledging that the May figure, when it is announced in early June, is likely to be 20% or more. They say the rate could remain in double digits on Election Day Nov. 3 and could still be about 10% at the end of 2021.

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow talks to reporters. VOA

The government at first said the national economy dropped 4.8% in the first quarter, but that was before the full impact of the pandemic became apparent. It raised the figure to 5% on Thursday and economists expect a further decline in the April-to-June quarter.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, told the Washington Post recently that there are some “small glimmers of hope” in the economy. But he also acknowledged the ongoing difficulties the coronavirus pandemic poses to the world’s largest economy.

“Look, it’s really hard to model a virus, a pandemic, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years,” Kudlow said. “The numbers coming in are not good. In fact, they are downright bad in most cases. But we are seeing some glimmers, perhaps … there’s a lot of heartbreak here. There’s a lot of hardship here. There’s a lot of anxiety here. It’s a very difficult situation.”

Numerous states still require social distancing of at least two meters between people in stores and some major retail outlets are requiring their employees and customers to wear face masks. Some governors are limiting restaurants to half capacity.

But in other states, the restrictions have been significantly lifted and crowds have quickly emerged to resume life, shopping or enjoying a day at Atlantic and Pacific beaches, often ignoring the admonitions of health experts to maintain a safe distance from others or to wear a face mask.

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has warned that the American economy could endure a multi-year recession if more aid is not authorized for workers. He said that 40% of American households earning less than $40,000 a year lost jobs in March.

In a few states, the restrictions have been significantly lifted. VOA

But Trump and Republican lawmakers are balking at approving more government assistance until it can be determined how much effect the already-approved funding is helping the economy.

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U.S. workers filing for jobless benefits normally are paid slightly less than half their normal salaries. But these payments are currently being augmented during the pandemic with $600-a-week supplements from the federal government for four months, through July.

The peak of the unemployment benefit claims likely came in late March with 6.9 million workers filing for the jobless compensation.

The weekly pace of claims has diminished each of the last 10 weeks since then, but the millions of claims have still been unparalleled over decades of U.S. economic history, reaching back to the Great Depression in the 1930s. The number of claims has far exceeded those made during the Great Recession in 2008-2009. (VOA)

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NASA, SpaceX Postpone Historic Astronauts Launch Due to Bad Weather

The launch was delayed due to unfavourable weather in the flight path according to SpaceX

astronaut NASA
NASA and SpaceX postponed historic launch of two astronauts to space. Pixabay

NASA and SpaceX postponed historic launch of two astronauts to space from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday due to bad weather.

“Due to the weather conditions, the launch is scrubbing,” NASA tweeted, Xinhua reported.

SpaceX said the launch was delayed due to unfavourable weather in the flight path.

The next launch opportunity is scheduled on Saturday, May 30. Pixabay

The next launch opportunity is scheduled on Saturday, May 30.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry the Crew Dragon spacecraft and veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS).

It will be the first time since 2011 that American astronauts launch on an American rocket from American soil to the ISS. (IANS)

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Pixar Introduces it’s First Gay Lead Character in Animation Genre

Pixar unveiled the first gay lead character in the animation film "Out"

Pixar premiered the LGBTQ-themed short film "Out" on Disney+ streaming service. Wikimedia Commons

Pixar Animation Studios has created animation genre history with its short film “Out”. The studio introduces its first gay lead character in the film. AS a part of social media advantages, the teaser was posted on the official Twitter account.

The Disney-owned computer-generated animation studio premiered the LGBTQ-themed short film on Disney+ streaming service as part of its more experimental SparkShorts program, reports dailymail.co.uk.

The nine-minute film follows a man named Greg who is trying to hide his sexuality from his parents, and attempts to remove traces of his boyfriend Manuel ahead of a visit from his parents.

The official Twitter account of the streaming platform posted a ‘heartwarming’ teaser of the film.

In the clip, Greg, who has a thick red beard, is seen trying to talk himself into coming out to his parents.

human-rights Pixar
The film is nine minutes long and follows a man named Greg who is gay. (Representational Image). Pixabay

“Just look them in the eyes and say, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m…”, he said in the clip before he gets interrupted by his parents, who ring the doorbell.

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The short film is the first Pixar release to feature a gay lead character, and it is also the first time Disney has featured an animated gay main character.

However, the official synopsis of the movie makes no mention of the word ‘gay’ and or Greg’s sexuality. The term is not used in the clip either, but a loved-up photograph of Greg and his boyfriend hints at the fact.

Pixar didn’t release a film with an openly gay character until “Onward” earlier this year, which featured Lena Waithe voicing the small role of a female police officer who references having a girlfriend. (IANS)