A Prayer For Aliyah
In a quiet, snow veiled, remote corner of North East India, a new religion is mushrooming. A tiny but strong community of Kuki-Chin-Mizos (not more than 7,500) has been practising Judaism for the past 50 odd years, arguing to be the descendants of the Lost Tribe of Menasseh. With no written history or record to attest this claim, the Kuki-Chin-Mizos lead austere lives as orthodox Jews to prove themselves to be religiously ‘worthy’ of returning to the Holy Land of Israel. Sensitively crafted, with stunning frames of North East India, Zorawar Shukla’s A Prayer for Aliyah poignantly captures the ritualistic lifestyle of the Jewish community in Manipur. This is the first film ever to be made on the reclusive community of B’nei Menasseh. ‘The “lost” history and the secretive nature of the North-East Jews made this particular community a very appealing subject,’ shares Zorawar, more popularly known as Mr. Herbalist of the Reggae Rajahs clan. We catch up with the multi-talented, debut filmmaker as he gears up for the second screening of the film at The Attic, New Delhi.
You are well-known on the music turf as one of the Reggae Rajahs. Now you’re in the news for your documentary, A Prayer For Aliyah. Did you always know that you wanted to make films, or was this documentary a happy, fortunate accident? My interest in film started about a year ago when I was given an opportunity to work on a big feature film. It was an inspiring experience and when the chance to make a documentary film came up after that, I made sure I took it with both hands! I think film and music are two areas that can assimilate quite well and I’m looking forward to taking steps to further myself in both fields.
As a musician, one would assume you to make films on themes related to that genre. What led you to pick religion and tell the story about the Jews in North East India? I have a keen interest in anthropology and have always been amazed by the multitude of different communities living in our country. My internship at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington DC a few years ago definitely helped develop this interest. Reggae music is my passion and I hope that one day I can indeed incorporate this into a film idea.
Despite the undeniable common thread of religion, how different do you feel the North-East Indian Jews are from the Jews living in Mumbai, Kolkata and other parts of the country? They are extremely different. Firstly, the North East Jews are practicing Judaism, but are not officially converted. Secondly, their Jewish tradition is much more recent as this movement has only been in existence for the last 50 years or so. Lastly, their ancestry as a fabled Lost Tribe of Israel makes them a very intriguing group of people.
What was the one thing about the community that left you speechless? The sheer dedication and steadfast belief they displayed in their practice of their religion.
What’s next in the pipeline – on the music and film front? Well, the Reggae Rajahs are going on a Europe tour later on in the summer – we have been invited to play at two festivals. We are also coming out with an EP by the end of the year. In terms of film, there is another documentary in the works, although I can’t speak much about it yet as it has not been finalized!_
Watch A Prayer For Aliyah at The Attic, New Delhi on 19th June at 6:30pm.
By: Radhika Iyengar
Follow me on twitter @radziyengar