South Asian Projects
Director’s Name: Bobo Khuraijam, India
As centenarian Avi Khanoala prepares to take with her the indigenous tattoo inscribed on her body, a maverick artist battles to revive the ancient art of tattooing.
100 years old AVI KHANOALA is the last among a few in her community to bear indigenous tattoos. The tattoo, which runs down from her chin to her belly, was inscribed when she reached puberty. Today, none of her descendants bear the native tattoo. Avi was born a decade after her community embraced Christianity. Her Tangkhul community was the earliest to convert among a mosaic of ethnic groups in Manipur, an Indian province in the far eastern fringes bordering Myanmar. Since then, tattooing has been discouraged by the church. In time, traditional beliefs and customary practices diminished.
Lately, Avi often packs up her belongings in a shawl. As if she is gearing up for a journey. In packing up her belongings, Avi is also taking along with her a community’s cultural heritage. A muted language inscribed on her body, which no one has ever tried to decipher. But on the other hand, a maverick artist has been trying to revive the indigenous tattoo for more than a decade.
MO NAGA, a trained fashion technologist, is determined to bring back the lost cultural heritage. He left a lucrative career in the fashion industry to study his community’s indigenous tattooing art. For Mo Naga, his intensive journey of research and practice of the native tattoo is like unearthing a treasure trove of traditional knowledge. A sense of urgency pervades him as he is aware that most of the native tattoo bearers are at the dusk of their lives.
Mo Naga’s self-educating journey into indigenous tattoo has given him global recognition. He yearns to open a tattoo village at his ancestral place. The place is located near the Myanmar border, a haven for smugglers, poachers, and poppy growers. They are not going to like the spotlight that comes with the tattoo village. Mo Naga is all set to navigate his way through.
Re-Inkarnation is an inspirational journey of tattoo revivalist Mo Naga and the graceful life of Avi Khanoula. The film intimately follows the artist and the aging lady from a distance and observes the former’s endeavor to build a bridge between the past and the present.
Mo Naga’s quest to decipher an ancient language reconnects him to the past. It dawns on him that the language that has been muted must be revived. He holds the conviction that reviving the language, the tribal art, and aesthetics that were bulldozed by the colonial onslaught can take a rebirth. He also believes that a deeper understanding of the language will throw the light of wisdom into traditional art and culture. But in order to revive the language, he has to race against time. The language, which is the ancient indigenous tattoo is on the verge of extinction. People like Avi Khanoula, who is the last among the tattoo bearers are at the dusk of their lives.
Centenarian AVI loves to pose for photographers. Her frail body does not dampen her spirit. With a warm smile, she proudly displays her tattoo, which runs from her chin down to her belly. The perennially slippery mountain terrains make the journey to the Khamasom Tangkhul village a little tedious.
In a quiet room, amidst the concrete jungle of Delhi, MO NAGA is in a close conversation with one of his clients. He explains, in detail, what the lines, the dots, and the curve denote in Naga traditional tattoos. After the one-on-one session, Mo Naga starts the inking process with care and precision.
MO NAGA enquires over the phone about the feasibility of his resettlement at his ancestral village, Khoibu. His long-cherished dream is to open a tattoo village. For him, the tattoo revival work is a return to his roots, and also a return to nature.
MO NAGA’s tour of cities comes to an end for the year. With the earnings from the tour, he resumes his research works. His dream suffers a setback. First of all, the folks of his ancestral village are not happy with his resettlement plan. Besides, the poppy growers, illegal loggers, poachers, and cross-border smugglers sense a threat to their nefarious network from the proposed tattoo village.
AVI often packs up her belonging in a large shawl. She says that she is moving to her son’s house, which is near the entrance of the village. His son tries to convince her that she need not worry about her things. AVI takes her dinner of steaming rice and smoked pork. She asks them to give good food to the visitors who had come to film her.
MO NAGA, along with his brother and his apprentice cousin, pays a visit to his ancestral village. Traversing through winding roads up in the mountains they reach the Khoibu village. They track through a hill spot covered with tall grass. He points out to his cousin that the place was the first choice for the tattoo village. But he needs to find another spot as the villagers are against his choice.
The film follows the graceful aging AVI from an intimate distance, and also her serene village, which reverberates with soulful tunes on festive occasions. It also narrates the inspiring journey of an artist, and his trials and tribulation.
Bobo Khuraijam is a close observer of human stories. He loves poetry and creative non-fiction. An independent filmmaker, whose film Ima Sabitri won him the Silver Conch award at the 15th Mumbai International Film Festival. The film was the opening film of the Indian Panorama section at the 47th International Film Festival of India, Goa. He juggles his vocation between filmmaking and journalism. He is also with the Editorial Collective of www.yendai.org, an e-journal.
The film is at an early stage of production, and open for co-production and grant. The project is stipulated to wind up by the end of 2024.
Ten percent of the total budget is secured.