Melodious Gunfire

Zaira Arslan

One morning, while accompanying Lou Majaw — a guitarist and singer from Shillong — to a music store in Mumbai, Bidyut Kotoky got into conversation with the shop’s owner, who told him that a majority of his customers are from the Northeast. An Assamese writer and director himself, the bit of trivia found fancy with Kotoky and he began discussing with Majaw why this might be. Several odd statistics emerged. “Liquor stores in the Northeast stock some of the most expensive brands from around the world and guns are more easily available there than guitars,” points out Kotoky. The dichotomy fascinated the filmmaker, who then decided to make a film that would explore the impact of Northeast India’s socio-political scenario on the region’s music.

A travelogue of sorts, Guns and Guitars — still in production — follows Kotoky’s journey from state to state, talking to different musicians about the music they play. “We travel from one place to the next, trying to understand the socio-political situation and talk to one rock group in each state,” he says. The film ends with all of these different musicians coming together at the Bob Dylan tribute concert, organised by Majaw and held on May 24 — Dylan’s birthday. Shooting began in April last year, and so, the footage from last year’s and this year’s concerts will, most likely, be used. Although Majaw plays a large role in the film — it begins and ends with him — Kotoky says it isn’t predominantly about him.

“There is very little known about the Northeast and it usually finds itself in the news for negative things. So I wanted to make a film on the positive aspects of the area,” he explains.

The name, he believes, “reflects the soul of the film”. The word “gun” refers not only to an actual, physical gun, but “all the negative forces in the area, for instance, drugs and violence”. “The film is about people who picked up guitars over guns,” he says.

It also explores why musicians of this region play the music that they do, for instance, death metal in Manipur. The band he spoke to there told him they play death metal as a way of contending with their frustration. A state that’s been under seige more often than not, Kotoky says people here have to wait hours for something as simple as withdrawing money from an ATM machine.

A writer and director born in Assam, Kotoky has, in the last 10 years, made over 140 short films. His first feature film, As the River Flows, produced by National Film Development Corporation, is a true story based on events on the river island of Majuli in Assam. In 1997, social worker Sanjoy Ghosh was abducted from this island and the story follows the protagonist — a journalist — who travels to the island in search of his friend. The film has, however, not been released yet. Kotoky, however, hopes that he will be able to release Guns and Guitars by the end of this year.