chapter  11
Critiquing stereotypes? Documentary as dialogue with the Garo
WithErik de Maaker
Pages 17

The Garo community of Northeast India has been the topic of various documentary films that aim to portray the Garo for a broad audience, both within South Asia and abroad. Such documentary films have been criticised by public intellectuals for exoticising and ‘othering’ the people filmed. In the case of the Garo, typically, the films generally focus on village life and create the impression that ‘the Garo’ are a unified ‘traditional’ community, rather than representing the substantial differences that exist between, for instance, Christian Garos and those who practise the community religion, and between people living in rural areas and in towns. Urban, educated, middle class Garo express ambivalent feelings about such films. While they are apprehensive about being ‘traditionalised’ themselves, they appreciate the films as cultural records of ‘past’ Garo customs. The people who act in the films recognise but are unconcerned about the stereotypical nature of the content of many of the documentary films made. Both actors and viewers from the wider Garo community generally acknowledge the need to produce ‘objectifications’ of what are deemed quintessential Garo customs in order to effectively communicate the cultural distinctiveness of the Garo to audiences within India, as well as globally.