Sounak Kar is a former student and currently holds a position as an assistant professor at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata, where he teaches Direction and Film History. He is a versatile writer, director, cinematographer, and editor who has experience in both fiction and non-fiction works. “Bird Thief” (Peta Dochcho) is a groundbreaking film in the Galo language, which is spoken by the lesser-known Galo tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, India. Kar immersed himself in the local community for an extended period of time and collaborated with Basar’s film enthusiasts to write, direct, film, edit, and even handle the sound design for the project.
The “Bird Thief” review is included in the Submit Your Film program.
In the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, within the dense forests of Arunachal Pradesh, resides the Galo tribe. One of their long-standing traditions is bird trapping, and the consumption of bird meat is considered a delicacy. The story follows a group of teenagers led by Tajo, who discover that the trapped birds keep disappearing. Unbeknownst to them, it is an older member of the community who is stealing the birds to feed his meat-loving wife, who believes he is catching them himself. As the boys find more and more empty traps, Tajo accuses his friend Takay of being the thief. This leads to a physical altercation between the two boys, resulting in Takay getting a bloody nose. When Takay tells his older brother what happened, they join forces with another friend to chase after Tajo. This leads to a series of events that almost result in Tajo being strangled and Takay losing an arm. The families of both boys inevitably become involved, with Takay’s family seeking revenge and Tajo’s family trying to prevent him from being punished by losing his arm as well. When the thief’s wife discovers what is going on, she too gets involved in a fight with the others.
Filmed on a small budget, Sounak Kar utilized local non-professional actors as the main characters in an attempt to showcase the local culture while also creating a revenge-themed genre film. The end result may resemble a low-budget slasher movie at times, but it is the unique local touch that sets it apart. This is especially evident in the cinematography, where Kar skillfully captures the tribal backdrop, featuring rural homes, forests, and mountains with a sense of artistry and enthusiasm. Through this, the beauty and essence of the region are effectively portrayed.
However, there are some concerns about other aspects of the story. The actions of the main characters and their tendency towards violence may be seen as excessive. It could be argued that Kar intended to showcase how neglect from authorities leads to such events, but other storylines such as the couple’s fights, romance, and Doken’s appearance shift the focus of the narrative. This suggests that Kar may have been unsure of the direction he wanted the film to take. One clear message that emerges from the movie is that while men may initiate violence, it is ultimately women who put an end to it. This theme is emphasized throughout the film, with female characters portrayed as more mature than their male counterparts.
In terms of the performances, it is evident at times that the actors are not professionals, especially when the boys seem to overact without any clear motivation. However, the female actors fare better, with Talo Babing delivering a convincing portrayal as the Thief’s wife and Token Taba similarly impressing as the village leader.
Kar’s editing produces a quick rhythm that enhances the enjoyment of the movie and also helps to conceal some of its flaws, to some extent at least. The frequent cuts are effective in both aspects.
“Bird Thief” is definitely an important film considering its uniqueness, but is also one that is quite amateurish on a number of aspects. Fans of extremely low-budget genre titles will definitely want to watch this, even as an addition to their collection, but I am not sure about everyone else.