Northeast India has always been a bit of a mystery to the ‘mainland folk,’ and in refusing to play catch-up, many of their trends and culture have passed us by. In his 2015 documentary Japan in Nagaland, filmmaker Hemant Gaba has bridged at least one of these gaps by introducing us to the state’s blossoming sub-cultures in anime and cosplay. The term ‘anime’ is fairly popular across the country thanks to the channel Animax, which became a favourite for Saturday morning cartoon viewing, but cosplay, or in its full form - ‘Costume Play’ - is something that truly made it’s way into India in the last decade or so.
Gaba decided to make the Northeast the focus of his project having long believed that the regions experiences a kind of cultural disassociation from the rest of the country, and his curiousity about the ongoings in the hills of Nagaland led him to this unusual trail. Having had a fairly tumultuous political past with anti-India beliefs still on the sidelines of many tribes, this disconnect has made the youth more aware of their genetic heritage and links to their ancestry, which in turn fostered the birth of the anime craze in the capital city of Kohima.
The most thriving cosplay community in Nagaland, and in fact the whole of the Northeast, are the Nagaland Anime Junkies (NAJ). According to locals, their interest in anime and cosplay began due to a lack of youth activities in Kohima. The community was brought together by Biebe Natsu who set up the Facebook page , in 2011, so anime fans would have somewhere to discuss the topics they were passionate about.
In 2013, they set a new goal—to host Nagaland’s first ever anime Cosplay Festival. The entire event was funded by NAJ in order to provide a platform to explore anime culture and interact with cosplayers from across the state. Co-founders Biebe Natsu and Imtizulu Zamir tried to incorporate as much traditional Naga culture through the medium of anime. Despite the huge personal investments they insist that the Cosfest was never a means to earn a profit, and even with its growing popularity the founders have never lost sight of their goals, as Imtizulu asserts, the point of NAJ was “to create a Utopia, this environment for people like us, who enjoy these kind of activities. We just want to create a community here.”
This craze is particularly interesting when you take history into account. As Scroll.in put it in an article, “one wonders what older people with memories of the failed Japanese offensive into Kohima in 1944 during the Second World War will make of their young ones yearning to build connections with their would-be conquerors.” They have achieved national recognition in the cosplay community for their dedication and high standards of work. Cosplay is one of the most gruelling and expensive hobbies in the world, and the people of NAJ have taken it to new heights both in and out of the larger Indian context. Their Cosfest 2016 was reportedly a huge success, and hopefully, their passion for the culture will spill out from the cocoon in the Northeast and take root with the youth of the rest of the country as well.
To watch the trailer, click here.
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