Unknown to most cinema lovers, Assamese cinema is completing its platinum jubilee. The landmark was notched up with a quiet tribute at the 40th International Film Festival of India here on Wednesday.
Virtually the who’s who of Assamese cinema turned up for the occasion. Led by eight-time National Award winning director Jahnu Barua and including veteran actor Vidya Rao, rich tributes were paid to the founding fathers of the States’ film industry and a special package was announced for the betterment of films and filmmakers.
To encourage the film industry in the State, the government decided to refund the entertainment tax collected from cinemagoers. However, 20 per cent of the collection will be pumped back into the industry by financing new films.
Only a paltry sum of Rs. 3 crore is collected annually as entertainment tax in Assam. The government decided to give free land for mini cinema halls in the rural areas and multiplexes are being encouraged in urban areas with a tax holiday for a fixed period. New locales are being offered for shooting of films in all Indian languages with a view to generate greater revenue.
Ruling out any problems because of insurgency or ULFA activities, the State secretary of the Department of Culture, Sapnanil Barua said, “Films are the strongest weapon against extremism. Culture of song is more powerful than the culture of the gun.”
Speaking on the occasion, Jahnu Barua recalled that the first Assamese movie, “Joymoti,” was launched by legendary freedom fighter-filmmaker-playwright Jyotiprasada Agarwala, a few years after the first talkie “Alam Ara” was released in 1931. “Joymati” was released in 1935.
“It is because of him that we are here,” Mr. Barua said. Admitting that films are facing difficult times in the State with the number declining to less than 20 per year, he said, “Not just now, it has been 75 years of struggle and toil. It is a struggle that I cherish very much. For all of us, Jyotiprasada Agarwala is an inspiration. When the times were tough he even dubbed for the hero as well as the heroine, himself.”
He revealed that films are made in some eight ethnic languages in Assam and hailed the contribution of the likes of Pramathesh Barua, Phani Sarma, Bhupen Hazarika and Padum Barua, who heralded the realistic filmmaking movement in the State. “We must maintain our identity and not lose out to Bhojpuri and Bengali films,” Mr. Barua concluded.