Screen Legend

An animated film revives the memory of a Khasi hero

01 March 2015
Tirot Sing resisted the British from 1829 to 1833.
courtesy Cosmic Clusters
Tirot Sing resisted the British from 1829 to 1833.
courtesy Cosmic Clusters

IN 2009, while home on holiday in the Meghalayan capital of Shillong, Ban Casper opened his door to a boy delivering groceries. As they chatted, Casper discovered that the teenager, a fellow Khasi—the Khasis are Meghalaya’s largest ethnic group—had just moved to the city from a nearby village. Out of curiosity, Casper asked the delivery boy if he knew of Tirot Sing, an eighteenth-century Khasi chief revered for resisting British colonisers. “He is Punjabi, right?” the boy replied.

Casper, then 23 years old, was in his sixth year with an animation studio in Kolkata. He had worked as a senior animator on Eklavya, a two-film series about a young prince from the Mahabharata for the television channel Cartoon Network, and other projects featuring heroes such as Ghatotkacha and Hanuman. But he had grown tired, he wrote to me this January, of “making the same movie about the same characters”—figures from Hindu myths and fables—“over and over again.” In early 2012, Casper quit his job to co-found Cosmic Clusters, an independent studio, and went in search of novel subjects. After several conversations, such as the one with the delivery boy, he settled on Tirot Sing.

Tirot Sing led an armed resistance in the Anglo-Khasi War, between 1829 and 1833. The British had wanted to build a road through the Khasi Hills, in what is now central Meghalaya, and had agreed on terms with a Khasi council. But, as tensions with the foreigners rose, Tirot Sing attacked a British garrison, setting off a series of brutal retaliations. Facing British guns and fighting with just shields, swords, and bows and arrows, the Khasis were routed. Tirot Sing waged a guerilla campaign until he was captured and exiled, in 1833. He died under house arrest two years later, in Dhaka. Casper’s film, titled U Syiem—The King—largely follows this history, but Casper chooses not to show Tirot Sing’s death, instead symbolising his spirit as a fire that continues to spread over the Khasi Hills even after his capture.

Sukruti Anah Staneley is an assistant photo editor at The Caravan. 

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