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‘Nagoba Jatara’ wins triple honours at Mexico

by Gehna Kapany


FTII-graduate Jennifer Alphonsse’s documentary awarded Best Director, Best Film in the Documentary, as well as in the Indigenous Asians category at the Quetzalcoatl Indigenous International Film Festival.

Award-winning writer-director-producer, Jennifer Alphonsse, aims to challenge the stereotypical perceptions of people about culture and traditions through her works of cinema. Her latest film, ‘Nagoba Jatara’ bagged the Best Quetzalcoatl Short Documentary Film Jury’s award, Best Female Director Quetzalcoatl (documentary) award, and won in the Indigenous Asians category at the Quetzalcoatl Indigenous International Film Festival.

The festival aims to promote, propagate and explore the understanding of the native, aboriginal and indigenous cultures of the world through the lens of cinema. It is held in a different country/city every year and in 2019 it was held in Mexico from 1st to 5th July.

Alphonsse’s 30-minute documentary, narrated in Gondi language, is based on the life of an Indian tribe called the Raj Gond, residing in the Telangana Adilabad district. Nestled in the lush green forests, unperturbed by civilisation, the Mesram clan of the Gonds have their own set of beliefs and rituals which are integral to their existence.

”We hear so much about African or Central American tribes, but we hardly hear anything about the tribes in our own country. So after spending some time with the Gond tribe, I realised there is so much to tell about their lifestyle, culture, heritage, and the magical ritualistic dance form called Gusadi to the world outside that is completely unaware about it," said the Hyderabad-based director.

Being a native of Telangana, Alphonsse was fascinated by the cultural richness of the Gond tribe and their resilient efforts to pass down their ancestral rituals to their future generations. Through this documentary, Alphonsse has endeavoured to portray the lives and times of Gonds, their rich and varied heritage for the sake of posterity. The shooting of this film took her to deep jungles, and to win the faith of the tribals in order to convince them of her genuine intentions was a demanding task too.

Nagoba Jatara is a ten-day-long annual festival of the Gondi culture, wherein the Mesram clan of the Raj Gonds worship their Serpent clan God, Nagoba. This annual event is the second most sacred festival of the tribes in Telangana and the film documents this auspicious and zealous event. Raising funds for the project was very challenging as it concerns a little known tribe with no profits attached.

“It has been quite a journey till now, sleepless nights, barefoot shoots, extreme weather conditions. Irrespective of the award, the journey was worth it and I feel lucky to have witnessed something like this which not many can experience. I hope to continue this journey of exploring more hidden cultures, their age-old traditions and the stories behind them. ”

Alphonsse believes that her film will help garner the audience’s attention towards a tribe that is struggling to sustain its culture.

With a little over nine years of experience in the field, Alphonsse was the first female director from India to win the Royal Reel Award for her documentary ‘The Take Over’ at Canada International Film Festival in 2016. Her debut short film ‘Kachra’ (2010), which shed light on the lives of rag pickers in India, has won 3 Nandi State Awards. Her 2014 short, ‘Strangerssss, screened at Cannes’ Short Film Corner.

This award adds to her already growing motley of accolades and critical praise she has gained over her nine illustrious years as a filmmaker.