National Award winning Assamese director Arup Manna talks about the struggle behind the making of his latest film “Adhyay”, to be screened at the Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi this Sunday

“In the last six years, I have struggled a lot to save money, bit by bit, to make this film.”

It is heart wrenching to hear a National Award winning director talk like this. It prods you to wonder definitely, what the coveted award means to the winner ultimately. In 2007, Assamese film director Arup Manna was awarded Rajat Kamal for Aideu, a moving tale of destitution and ostracising of Assam’s first actress Aideu Handique for featuring in a medium not considered ideal then for a girl of good upbringing. The recognition evidently has not helped Manna much to pursue filmmaking. After six years of struggle, he has recently come up with his next, Adhyay…a Chapter, to be screened at the ongoing Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi this Sunday afternoon. Manna though had to compromise with the format of the film due to paucity of funds.

“Whenever the question about financing a film comes, I have always struggled a lot, the same continues even after winning the Award. No producer comes forward to back a film which they feel has no essence of a commercial film. So Adhyay has been made in 16mm and was blown up to 35 mm finally,” says the alumnus of Mumbai’s Xavier College.

Adhyay, featuring a clutch of brilliant actors from the State’s theatre background, including the NSD-trained Pabitra Rabha — who runs a popular drama group of talented midgets, is based on the contemporary socio-economic misery of a large section of people against the backdrop of a hopelessly materialistic society. The story focuses on these lines through sporadic incidents of human life about the deterioration of humanism in the society.

Manna says, after Aideu, he was on the lookout for a strong subject. “I sort of started a survey in different villages of Assam about the living conditions of the people there, their economic situation. I noticed that in most rural parts, villagers were still deprived of even their basic needs like healthcare, drinking water and a viable education system. This deprivation added to large-scale poverty pushing them further to darkness and thereby making them more susceptible to superstition. They ultimately become victims of it,” he says. Manna wanted “cinemagoers to ponder over this story of deprivation prevalent even after so many years of Independence, and think of making an end to such a shameful adhyay (chapter).”

“I could have made a film with a heart touching romantic story, but making a film on the biting social issues are more important for me,” he says. Though it is a feature film, he thinks “it is also a document of the life of our poor lot.”

Adhyay, first screened at Kerala International Film Festival in Thrissur, also had to suffer because of “a faulty film distribution system.”

“The film distribution system has not changed in Assam since the 1930s. So a regional film often suffers. The Hindi film lobby in the State also plays a role. Moreover, the decrease in the number of cinema halls due to insurgency has also made it hard for a filmmaker to get adequate feedback from viewers. It is hard to get the pulse of the people by releasing a film in just a few cinema halls,” he says.

How did he get a nomination for the Habitat Film Festival?

“After seeing it in Thrissur, the Habitat Film Festival committee took from me the DVD of the film and finally selected it for screening. I am grateful to such festivals for giving a much-needed platform to independent filmmakers us,” he states.

(“Adhyaya” will be screened at the Habitat Film Festival at 2.p.m on May 12. Besides screenings other films, the nine-day fest ending on May 19 also pays a special tribute to Balraj Sahni on his birth centenary year. For details, log on to www.habitatfilmclub.com)