Chi Lupo: Saving the Last drop of a Tradition

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Chirasmrita Devi

Kezang D Thongdok’s debut documentary film ‘Chi Lupo: The Shertukpen Honey Hunters’ won the Best Documentary award at the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival 2020 which was held on 30th April at Delhi. The festival which aims to celebrate the excellence of cinema is a not-to-profit, non-commercial & India’s only independent film festival, established in the year 2011.

‘Chi Lupo: The Shertukpen Honey Hunters’ is a short documentary portraying the custom of honey hunting in the Shertukpen community of West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh. Through this documentary, an attempt has been made by Kezang to capture the various activities that goes around before, during and after the process of honey hunting. The documentary is also an attempt to preserve the tradition which is on the verge of extinction.

Kezang D Thongdok is an enthusiastic independent film maker hailing from the beautiful valley of Rupa, Arunachal Pradesh.

As informed by Kezang,  Honey hunting has been an integral part of their Shertukpen community of Arunachal. Honey is utilized for preparing various delicacies and esteemed for its therapeutic properties. There was a time when honey was in demand and the honey hunters were widely respected in the community. As honey became easily available in the market with the coming of modernisation, the demand for the traditionally extracted honey gradually dwindled. “On one of my visits to my village Thongri, I came to know that the number of honey hunters have come down to just 5 or 6, out of which 2 or 3 are already in their 70s or 80s. The new generation, too, is not showing much interest in taking forward this tradition. I realised that If nothing is done soon, this tradition will get totally wiped off from our community”, Kezang expressed.

Hence, Kezang felt that this unique practice and tradition needed to be documented.

Kezang took the responsibility of preserving and documenting this tradition on his shoulders with a team of four people to assist him. Camera, editing and direction were done by him alone. The documentary was shot during the months of June-July in 2018 at the summer expedition of honey hunting.

Shooting for this documentary was a Herculean task for Kezang as shooting in a dense forest is not easy. Heavy rainfall added to the misery of the team. “Rain was already hindering our shooting. And then my assistant got stung by bees and eventually got high fever. I had to look after him as well as work because, if the shooting was not done at that time in summer, we would have to wait for the next expedition in winter”, says Kezang.

After fighting all the odds, Kezang was finally ready with his debut documentary ‘Chi Lupo’ which came out as a wonderful endeavour to portray and preserve this age-old custom of honey hunting among the Shertukpens.

On being asked about his reaction on his documentary winning the award at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival,  Kezang said, “First of all, being selected for such a prestigious award itself is an achievement. I was not at all expecting to win as there were many international films being put up alongside ‘Chi Lupo’.”

“I was watching the award show live, as I couldn’t attend the event due to the lockdown. When the results of the ‘Short Film’ category was announced, it was somebody else who won. I thought that was it. Later at dinner time,  I received a mail which said ‘Congratulations’. Initially, I was confused but when I saw the list of winners of Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival attached in the mail I was on cloud nine. Chi Lupo won the award at the Best Documentary category! I lost my appetite as I felt all content and full with wishes that kept pouring till 2 in the morning. That was one of the best moments of my life,” says an ecstatic Kezang.

As a message to the people of Northeast during this tough time, Kezang encouraged people of the region to be strong. “It’s a phase. A tough one though. Yet it will pass. Have patience and be strong”, added Kezang.

Kezang, who is the son of DK Thongdok (Former Minister of Arunachal Pradesh) and Yeshi Dema Thongdok, has also worked as a crew member in several regional films. Besides,  he has directed more than 30 regional video albums and worked as an assistant director in several docu-drama for Doordarshan, Itanagar. He also worked as an actor and editor in a movie titled ‘Besmeh’ which won Prag Cine Award 2015.

Presently Kezang is working on his upcoming project which is a documentary film titled  ‘Khiksaba’ an unexplored festival of Shertukpen tribe and a short film ‘Baan’.

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