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III Smoking Barrels Film Review

Born in Northeast India himself, director Sanjib Dey is introducing his hometown to the world with stories of the civilians who are the victims of war and political unrest in the area – both directly and indirectly – through three separate stories inspired by true events. Six languages are spoken throughout the film while English narrate major parts of the stories, representing over 200 dialects in this isolated region of eight states, connected to mainland India by a narrow passage called the Chicken’s Neck. The abundant natural backdrop of the film was depicted in the most honest way possible while each story depicts the society’s issues, made relatable to the whole world through a very personal approach.

The film begins at Manipur – a state that connects with Myanmar’s borders at the east – with the story of a 14 year old girl who was abducted and forced to join the army camp for just being at the wrong place in the wrong time. The film portrays the child victims of war in a more hopeful way as the story progresses, as the girl is able to escape from the camp and forces a middle-age man at gunpoint to take her as a passenger. The man was going across the state to visit his family in Guwahati, Assam where the girl agreed to be dropped off. While on the road, the two develop an unusual relationship. Sympathy and understanding fill up the screen through the man’s perspective, as he sees the girl being terrorised, terrified, haunted and yet innocent to what was going with the world. The story circles back on the man’s family who’ve just recently welcomed a new born member, implying the possibility that such a horrific event could happen to any child with just a flick of the eye. In another neighbourhood of the same state, begins the second story. A college drop-out, Donnie struggles to meet his mother’s expectations while chasing his circle of friends. Influenced by heavy metal legends and craving financial status, he starts to fall deep into a world of drugs, both abusing them and trafficking them. While it is sadly a common issue in the borderlands, the fate of this lost soul leaves us all with the question of what to blame. His greed? Ambition? Family? Or did he just get unlucky?

The last story tells a life of a man, Mukthar. Struggling with poverty and alcoholism while barely surviving day to day selling marijuana, Mukthar is desperate to take care of his wife. And when he is offered an elephant poaching job, it seems like he has very little choice. He is determined to only take a few jobs, earn some big money, start a better life and quit– but his life does not go according to plan. As expected from the uneducated lower class people, his need for money becomes a black hole that can never be satisfied. Wasting most of his money gambling, Mukthar’s life fails to improve after months of earning tens of thousands.

Child-victims of war, gun violence, drugs, poverty, and elephant poaching, the characters in this film remind us of the abyss into which it is so easy to fall. At the same time, the film reminds us that people who have fallen into this abyss might not deserve to be labelled merely based on their actions.

After a world premiere at the 38th Durban International Film Festival in South Africa 2017, III Smoking Barrels has been shown at many international film festivals and events including the 66th International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg where it was nominated for the Grand Newcomer Award, International Film Festival of Bhubaneswar and more. Chiang Mai had the privilege of viewing the film at SFX Cinema Maya Chiang Mai on March 14th with the generous support of the Consulate of India in Chiang Mai.

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