Friday Review

Ripples in the Brahmaputra

LOOKING WITHIN Still from “Antardrishti”   | Photo Credit: 04dfrAssamese

The history of Assamese cinema is the story of struggle against myriad problems and the first Assamese film, Joymoti (1935) by Jyotiprasad Agarwala, was made with limited resources and against a limiting social background. Agarwala set the foundation for the Assamese cinema fighting against all odds.

Assamese cinema found a new language in the films of Padum Barua and Bhabendra Nath Saikia during the ‘70s and ‘80s. They pioneered New Wave Assamese cinema by shunning the conventional storylines and focusing more on socially and politically oriented themes. But it was Jahnu Barua who took Assamese cinema to the international map with his film “Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai” (The Catastrophe, 1987) that won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1988 and Silver Leopard at the Locarno International film Festival. The next generation filmmakers like Gautam Bora, Sanjeev Hazorika, Bidyut Chakravarty, Swantana Bordoloi and Manju Bora continued to make serious films, often experimental, choosing aesthetics over commerce.

But Assamese cinema suddenly found itself trapped in the cheap populist video cinema at the first decade of this century. There emerged a barren period in the Assamese film industry. The industry celebrated its golden jubilee in 2010, but so far, it has produced only 380 films. There are almost 100 mini cinema halls operating in Assam, while more than 60 cinema halls had already been shut down.

When Assamese cinema was on the verge of losing its identity as an art form, a group of young and passionate filmmakers like Bhaskar Hazarika, Reema Borah, Monjul Baruah, Rima Das, Suraj Duwarah, Jaicheng Jai Duhutiya, Kankan Deka have emerged with new promises and possibilities. The Assam Movement (1979-1985), the rise of extremist groups, infiltration from Bangladesh – these social events which have changed the social structure of the state, have served as the backdrop of their films. Jaicheng Jai Dohutia’s debut film “Haanduk” (The Hidden Corner, 2016), awarded the Jury Grand Prize for India Gold at the recently concluded Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, is a clear indication that they are socially conscious filmmakers, targeting those audience who understand meaningful cinema.

Bhaskar Hazarika’s debut film “Kothanadi” (River of Fables, 2015), premiered at the 20th Busan International Film Festival and the Best Feature Film in Assamese in 63rd National Film Awards, is retelling four fables - ‘Tejimola’, ‘Champawati’, ‘Ou Kuwori’ and ‘Tawoiekor Xadhu’. The four different stories from “Burhi Aair Xadhu” (Grandama’s Tales) by Laxminath Bezbarua, are interlinked into one narrative. The film, set at a distant past, begins with Poonai burying the first of three newborns in the middle of the night in a forest and Ketaki, a weaver who was ostracised as a witch because she gives birth to a vegetable, an outenga (elephant apple) and thus, engages with the contemporary issues like infanticide and witch-hunting. Malati, wife of Poonai decided to save her new born baby from her husband and her transformation from a docile to a strong woman is clearly reflected when she says, “ Its enough. I cannot tolerate now…” In fact, the filmmaker addresses the issue of women’s position by drawing different female images: the voice of protest in Malati, Tejimola’s submissive nature, the vindictive nature of Tejimola’s step mother and Dhoneshwari’s greedy nature as a mother. “It took me about six months to turn in the first draft. It was tricky, because I was trying to write multiple narratives,” says Bhaskar who did his post graduation in Film Studies from the UK.

An alumnus of FTII Pune, Reema Borah’s “Bokul” ( Bokul , 2015) represents a tumultuous period in the socio-political sphere of Assam where human values have no space. A multi-layered narrative, the film Bokul depicts of three characters – an old fisherman, a young rickshaw puller and a single mother – all are named Bokul, representing the varied slices of human lives. Raktim, the central character, returns his home town after a long gap and is upset to find the changing face of the place. He is a symbol of a mere onlooker of the happenings of the recent past of Assam. Is Raktim, the filmmaker herself? Reema Borah says, “The film is a part of my autobiography, a mirror of my time and space.” If it is a part of her life, why the filmmaker has used ‘ He’ rather than ‘ She’ to narrate the story. Reema clarifies, “I am neither a male nor a female. Gender is a state of mind.” Literally, ‘Bokul’ means an aromatic flower whose fragrance spreads far and wide. But the filmmaker has used ‘Bokul’ as a tool to narrate the pains of the voiceless in the society, whose roles are often ignored and who often accept life as it is – this is the fragrance of Bokul. For the filmmaker, “Bokul” represents those whom we normally ignore to identify their roles in society. It represents the voice not of a philosopher but of a common man, of a man of soil.”

After working as assistant director under the guidance of Jahnu Barua, Monjul Baruah in his film “Antareen” (Quest of Sanctuary, 2015) addresses the theme of women’s subjugation and the inherent potential for resistance It is a story of a woman’s heart-wrenching quest of a sanctuary in a world which is morally void. She is framed as a paranoid patient. The film narrates the subdued voice of the marginalised through the characters of Tarali and Mini Kurmi, her real mother. Baruah says, “The quest for identity is one of the focuses of the film. I have structured the film in such a way so that it has the aesthetic appeal.” Music has played a major role in the film. “In the film I have used music as a reflection of the psychological state of the protagonist Tarali. It is used as a significant part of the narrative”, says Tarali Sarma, a National Award winning music director.

A diploma holder in cinematography from Regional Government Film and Television Institute, Suraj Dowarah is a recipient of the Rajat Kamal at the National Film Awards for his film “Oraang” ( Strangers in the Mist, 2014). Set at the backdrop of the insurgency in Assam, “Oraang” talks of adolescence through a 14-year-old boy Rasong. Suraj depends more on the visuals than dialogues to narrate the story. The young boy Rasong is fated to work in a diesel pump as an operator to support his family. Since the pump site is situated deep inside the forest, he is psychologically disturbed and often is in quest of a route to escape from the dense forest. He takes an imaginary journey to the city and after spending a couple of days, he returns to his work place. The audience is confused here between the real and the unreal; it is ambivalent whether it was his real journey to the city or not. But the filmmaker, like a magician, establishes his point by the repeated use of digging scene that it was just a figment of his imagination.. When asked why the filmmaker has used so many wide angle shots than the close up, he says, “I used wide angle shots because I did not want to intrude into their lives.”

Rima Das’ “Antardrishti” (Man With The Binoculars 2016) focuses on the transformation of a retired teacher, Chaudhury’s life after getting a pair of binoculars as a gift from his son. He is first excited to see the distant things closely, but starts unearthing secrets and the binoculars become the cause of his pain. “I saw the binocular as both a character and a metaphor, an invitation to explore various emotions that is part of the universal human condition,” says Rima, who is based in Mumbai.

A diploma holder in editing from Regional Government Film and Television Institute, Jaicheng Jai Dohutia’s Haanduk ( The Hidden Corner, 2016) recounts how the rising of insurgency in Assam has changed the lives of many people. Filmed in actual location and in the midst of the people who have witnessed the uprising of the extremism, the film recounts how Hiramoni, mother of an untraced extremist Mukti, waits hopelessly and cherishes a hope that her son will return one day. Though she has performed the funeral of her son, yet she received an intimation that the death of her son cannot be confirmed by the outfit. Hence, it is a waiting for uncertainty – a longing which is alive at Haanduk, a Moran word which means the dark corner of a house.

Bhaskar Hazarika’s Kothanadi has got the commercial release, while the rest are still struggling to take their films to the theatres. Most of the new generation filmmakers have run out of funds while making the films, but yet they are fighting against odds to give a new dimension to Assamese cinema today. They are the new voices of the Assamese cinema who have attempted to articulate the complex social fabric of Assam. They are promising filmmakers and have shown a sign of new potential.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 3:15:09 AM |

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