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And the river flows to tell the tales: Kothanodi

A scene from Tejimola

A scene from Tejimola  

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In Bhaskar Hazarika’s National Award-winning ‘Kothanodi’, the soul of Assam’s folklore comes alive, writes Prabalika M. Borah.

K othanodi is a film based on characters and stories which every Assamese kid has grown up hearing— Burhi Aair Xadhu (Grandma’s tales). Four fables entwined into one and form a narrative that consist of stories of Tejimola, Champawati, Ou Kuwori — The Outenga (elephant apple) Maiden and Tawoir Xadhu (The Story of Tawoi).

The movie begins with Senehi (played by Zerifa Wahid), a schizophrenic who loathes her stepdaughter and plots her murder when her husband is away on a business trip. Her husband, Devinath (played by Adil Hussain ), encounters a woman called Ketaki (Urmila Mahanta) who has given birth to an outenga (elephant apple), which keeps following her. Devinath resolves to unearth the mystery of the outenga. Meanwhile in another village, a rich woman named Dhoneshwari (played by Seema Biswas) is getting her daughter married to a python in a bid to avenge her step daughter’s good fortune after she was married to a python who turned out to be the God of the forest . As the stories unfold, another mother, Malati (Asha Bordoloi), resolves to save her newest born from the clutches of her husband Poonai (Kopil Bora) who on the suggestion of his uncle (Tawoi), sacrificed all three of her previous babies. In doing so, she unearths a shocking truth.

While telling these stories director Bhaskar Hazarika makes sure he portrays the Assamese culture in all its totality. In doing so he highlights traditions that range right from the original and more conservative style of wearing the mekhela-sador, the tradition of extending betel nut and leaf for an invite and the old thatched houses that were smeared with mug and cow dung to give a fine finish to the floor. The music score makes the movie a breeze, with sounds and cries of birds and insects at different times of the day.

Director Bhaskar Hazarika is from Dergaon, Assam and graduated in History from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. He completed his Masters in Film and Drama from the University of Reading, UK. He has since worked extensively in Indian film and television, writing for television shows as well as films. He has co-written the screenplay for Abbas-Mustan’s Players. Bhaskar has also co-directed the documentary Live From Peepli, a film on the making of Peepli Live, for Aamir Khan Productions. His 2007 documentary Nobody’s Perfect was awarded at the 2nd National Film Festival on Disability Issues, 2008.

Kothanodi (The River of Fables) is Bhaskar’s debut feature film and it has received the Asian Cinema Fund’s Post Production Award.

Besides being in the 20th edition of the Busan International Film Festival, it was also premiered at the British Film Institute’s 59th London Film Festival.

Excerpts from the interview

In your earlier interviews you have mentioned that ‘Kothanodi’ is based on Assamese folk tales. How do you reach out to non-Assamese audiencedid you think other audiences would react to this side of folk tales?

There is a certain universality about folk tales, in that every culture in the world has folklore. Some elements are common throughout, for instance the wicked stepmother. In my opinion, audiences around the world, in countries as diverse as South Korea and Sweden, have connected with the film for this reason. In England when the movie was screened, the viewers felt it was a bit dark.

What made you choose folk tales to make a movie? What was the reason for the selection of the specific stories?

There are 20 odd stories in the compendium Buri Ai'r Xadhu (Grandma's Tales), which were collected and compiled into the book by Laxminath Bezbarooah. While working towards Kothanodi, I chose four of these stories, primarily for their potential for cinematic drama.

Do you think it is a good medium to show an Assam which people don’t know of. The movie beautifully captures the sights of a village life in Assam.

The authenticity of a bygone Assamese rural idyll owes much to the stellar work of our art director Gulok Saha and my dialogue writer Arupa Patangia-Kalita. Arupa baideo (sister) is arguably Assam’s finest living novelist and her knowledge of Assamese culture is truly vast. She played a big role in ensuring the film stays true to its setting.

The actors, especially the women, did a brilliant job of portraying shrewdness. Are they aware of the stories?

The actors in Kothanodi do deserve a lot of accolades, but here again, credit goes to Seema Biswas. Upon reading the script, she told me this film will not work without the cast getting introduced to the kind of realistic acting it requires. We thus put together an intensive week-long acting workshop, led by Seema baideo and assisted by Daulat Vaid of the NSD. This not only made the cast live their characters, it also formed a personal bond between them that worked wonders on set.

Talk about the special treatment with regards to music, portraying of village life and bringing to life an Assam on screen with its background music.

For our music, we mined into our sonic heritage for some truly unique sounds. One of Assam's leading music scholars - Birendranath Datta - gave us permission to use the exhaustive collection of folk tunes he and Ramen Chaudhary had collated in the 1980s. This formed the bedrock upon which Music Director Amarnath Hazarika worked his magic.

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Printable version | Aug 21, 2018 2:09:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/and-the-river-flows-to-tell-the-tales-kothanodi/article8645138.ece