For the First Naga Woman Producer, Real Stories Click

Meenakshi Kumar 23 Apr 2014

Growing up in the quiet and laidback Dimapur, the largest city of Nagaland, Rebecca Changkija may never have dreamt of rubbing shoulders with the dream merchants of the Mumbai film industry. But for the free-spirited and fiercely independent daughter of an army officer, nothing was too difficult to achieve. So after training in fashion designing, Changkija decided to produce movies. The recently released The Dark Secrets of Tonhi, playing in theatres around the country, has been produced by Find Studioz, which she co-founded with Shiraz Henry. It deals with the still prevalent diabolic practice of witch-hunt in India. In an interview with NE Travel and Life, she talks about the making of the movie, her next film and her endeavour to promote the Northeast. Excerpts from the interview.

What drew your interested to the witch-hunt practice in Chhattisgarh? Why did you think of making a film on it?
Three years ago I visited Chhattisgarh with my business partner and came across stories of witch-hunt. Till then I had not heard of this practice and didn’t know that innocent women and children were victimized in the name of this shocking practice. Chhattisgarh, I discovered, has the highest incidence of witch-hunt. All this was new and shocking to me and I wanted to tell the world about this inhuman practice still continuing in 21st century India.

During the course of my research I found that this practice existed in other parts of the country such as Assam, Rajasthan and Bihar and every day women were either tortured or killed mercilessly.

Making a film on this subject seemed the best way to draw people’s attention as well as give a message to society.

Tell us about the film The Dark Secrets of Tonhi? What were the challenges you faced during its making?
In Chhattisgarh, tonhi is a black magic woman. My film shows how in the name of superstition, women are dubbed tonhi and then tortured. J. Brandon Hill, who is an American doctor comes to this village to investigate the reason behind the children’s death. The villagers believe that it’s the tonhi (played by Natasha Sikka) who is killing the children. But after much search, the doctor is able to find out the reason, it’s the sweets from outside that the children consumed which killed them.

We shot the film in Ratanpur, a small village 85 kms from Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh. Villagers were all helpful and understanding. We stayed in a jungle for 15 days and were completely cut off from the world with no mobile or internet connection. But it was a good experience. Frankly, it wasn’t so tough shooting in the village as we thought it might turn out.

You are a fashion designer by training? So how did you venture into film production?
I started fashion designing while still in Dimapur, and when I moved to Mumbai, I opened my own fashion studio in 2010 where I did styling for friends and clients. Soon, I started getting appreciated by models and Bollywood actresses and got offers to do styling for production houses. After three years of doing styling I felt that I should start my own production house. Also, I have been a die-hard Bollywood fan since my childhood. So, in a way it was a dream come true for me when Find Studioz was opened. My first movie under my own banner as a co-producer was Beyond the 3rd Kind. It was my foray into filmmaking and gave me the confidence to make The Dark Secrets of Tonhi and the soon-to-be released Te Amo. Interestingly, Te Amo, which in Spanish means ‘I love you’, is shot in the Northeast and brings alive the beauty of the region. It is 90 per cent complete and we hope to release it in summer this year.

For a total outsider in Bollywood , how has the journey been so far in establishing yourself ?
To enter Bollywood without any background of films or a godfather in the industry can be very tough. But I believed in myself and worked really hard to establish myself. There were times when I went without food and didn’t even have a place to sleep. Even some friends deserted me because I was penniless. But I persevered and didn’t give up. Soon people started liking my designs and style and work started coming. Normally, I work 18 hours a day and continue to do so. My journey in Bollywood has just begun.

You have earned the distinction of being the first woman producer from the Northeast in Bollywood. How does it feel?
I feel blessed. Without the love and support from people nothing could have been possible. This keeps me going and I am enjoying every bit of my journey. I am living my dream at the moment.

What are the kind of films you want to make under your banner Find Studioz?
I love realistic films which have a social message, like my recent movie The Dark Secrets of Tonhi. That’s the kind of films I would like to produce. Also, I would like to focus on the Northeast so that people get to see its beauty, culture and heritage. I shot Te Amo in some of the most beautiful parts of the Northeast and even have seven artists from the region. I really want my fellow Indians and people in other parts of the world to know more about the eight states.

What or who has been your influence and inspiration?
My mom is my biggest inspiration. She is hard working and has taught me that no work is small or big. We should just do our best and leave the rest to God.

Would you agree that there is lot of misconception and lack of knowledge about Northeast in the rest of the country? Have you faced it first hand? Did you have to try hard to fit in?
It’s really sad that so many Indians know nothing about the Northeast but have all the knowledge about Pakistan or America, which are separate countries. I have faced this problem of ignorance many times and every time I try to explain about the different states and their rich culture. This is also the reason why I want to make more films on the Northeast so that misconceptions are cleared.

Are you a Bollywood movie buff? Who are your favourite actors/actresses/directors? Which are your favourite movies?
I am big fan of Bollywood.It has given me everything. My favourite actors are Salman Khan and Aamir Khan while among the actresses I like Zeenat Aman and Kareena Kapoor. Among directors, I like Shiraz Henry, Imtiaz Ali  and Raju Hirani.

What is your favourite cuisine? From your own Naga food, what do you like the most? Have you introduced it among your friends in Mumbai?
I love my mom’s cooking. My favourite is pork with bamboo shoots and a special Naga dish made of boiled vegetables. I have introduced my friends and staff in Mumbai to Naga cuisine and and they have started loving it.

What are your plans for the future?
Future is with God, my duty is to keep working. I shall keep promoting  my home, the Northeast, in every possible way. And whatever projects I have at present, I want them to be successful.

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