World War II has been a tale for the pages of newspapers for decades, faintly remembered and scratched on the surface. For Northeast India, a team is doing more than that; a commendable feat to honour the legacy and sacrifice of soldiers and citizens who took the frontlines. The feature documentary ‘Memories of a Forgotten War’ is a visual reminder of the sacrifices and pain those valiant soldiers endured- some paying with their blood- to pave the way for the peace and prosperity that India and, by extension, the world enjoy today.
There is not enough that can be done to remember and celebrate their bravery and valour, but documenting their heroic lives for the world to see and appreciate is a good place to start. So, today, on September 2, the world will be thrilled by a masterpiece as streaming begins on the online platform MovieSaints. That date is strategic as it is the anniversary of that great sacrifice paid more than 75 years ago.
The inspiring documentary is directed by National Award-winning filmmaker Utpal Borpujari and produced by Subimal Bhattacharjee, already widely known as a cyber security expert. The production of the movie is done under Jookto; a socio-cultural organisation. It features several interviews from veterans from the Japanese army and the defunct British Indian army. The movie also captures special scenes never before seen on camera. These include visuals like those from inside the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo which premieres for the first time on the OTT platform.
Also, the only office of Netaji-led Indian National Army (INA) on Indian soil, located at Moirang near Imphal, also features prominently in the film. Another intriguing feature is the special footage of the recovery of the wreckage of a lost World War II plane by an expedition of the US Army in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh.
Borpujari brings his experience and creativity to bear as the main director of this documentary. The entire production took three years to complete. Borpujari collaborated with a rounded international crew for the shoot in a remote battle location in Nagaland and Manipur. Other locations used for the shoot include Japan, UK, New Delhi, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
‘Memories of a Forgotten War’ documents the story of one of the most gruesome wars in the Kohima Battle that would send shivers down the spine of the bravest of men. Borpujari gives an insight into what the movie set out to achieve, “Well, this was one of the incidents that one of the many British, Japanese and Indian veterans had narrated during their interviews for the film. The veterans, who fought in the tough terrain of Manipur and Nagaland hills and valleys, had undergone the worst-possible conditions in the battles, and their stories vary from the horrific to the emotional. Many of such stories have been documented in the film.”
To create such magic on screen, directors have to be invested in the movie in some way. Borpujari says his own personal emotional investment comes as a result of the necessity to make public the sacrifices of the brave soldiers and the locals who were witnesses to the suffering. Borpujari believes that these stories are integral to the preservation of the history of Northeast India. He highlights stories like the battles of the 2nd World War that were fought in Manipur and Nagaland, the extreme western flank of the Burma Front, as some of the most vicious ones among all the battles of the War.
“It is not for nothing that the Imperial War Museum of London has declared the Battle of Kohima as the toughest battle fought by the British in the entire World War II,” he says. “However, outside of military historians and the families of the veterans who gave their lives fighting in those hills, there is very little knowledge even within India about these incidents,” Borpujari adds regretfully.
Borpujari’s journey into creating this masterpiece wasn’t an easy one. There were bumpy roads and memorable moments in the course of production. “While I had the idea of making a film on the battles of the 2nd World War, it became possible only because of the unstinted support from producer Subimal Bhattacharjee, who was born and brought up in Haflong, and now a world-renowned cyber security policy expert. Mind you, this was a documentary that was expensive to make, given that it needed extensive research and shoot in several states in Northeast India as well as in the UK and Japan.
The film would not have been complete without the interview of the ageing veterans who, as young men in their 20s, had fought in Manipur and Nagaland. And we were lucky to interview a number of them in the UK, Japan, New Delhi, Mizoram and Manipur. The youngest veteran I had interviewed was 91 and the oldest 96. Unfortunately, since the time I had recorded their interviews around 2014, a number of them have passed away. One of the most difficult aspects of the film’s making was the fact that I had to translate all the interviews from around seven languages before even trying to edit the footages – and that meant around 40 hours of interviews,” he says with a sigh.
“Moreover apart from English, Hindi and Nagamese, all the interviews in Mizo, Manipuri, Kuki, various Naga dialects and Japanese had to be translated, and then all the footage subtitled before even preliminary editing. Of course, the work was worth it, because during the making of the film, the team got to interact with and find out about many people and organisations in Nagaland, Manipur, Japan and the UK who are working at their own respective levels to perpetuate the memories of these battles – from setting up community museums to taking expeditions to find out battle relics, and from writing books to starting battle site tours,” he adds.
Borpujari also highlights the challenges he encountered in translating and introducing subtitles before the final editing. He says authenticity was an important subject to him. Shooting an important documentary such as this, required constant verification of events and locations gotten from the interviews of the veterans to project accuracy and authenticity.
Being an authority in documentary filmmaking, Borpujari highlights important points for other directors aspiring for greatness to note. In his own words, “Documentary films, as the nomenclature itself suggests, is documentation of aspects from life around us. Of course, it’s a structured documentation given that it’s always edited and structured in a way the filmmaker intends to, and also with the socio-political viewpoints of the filmmaker driving the narrative and even the selection of the subject. There are many different genres of documentary filmmaking, and it’s one of the most diverse and vibrant forms of cinema. Personally, I believe in keeping the stories accessible to all viewers. Also, documentary filmmaking, for me, is a way to explore the subject; I love how the story emerges as you go along from research to shoot to editing.”
This movie – a historical documentary and emotional presentation of a gruesome time in world history- was made with honesty to the subject and its cause, and Borpujari hopes it will make it’s may to a much larger audience.
With upcoming films like the documentary of the Mukha Shilpa (masked art) of Majuli which was already shot last year and other short fiction films in Assamese yet to be released, fans will be glad they get to see more works from this veteran director.