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Tales of motherhood

Assamese film Kothanodi by debutant filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika (below) is one of the most intriguing, beguiling and disturbing feminist statements that one has seen on Indian screen in recent times.— Photos: Special Arrangement  

The most remarkable thing about the Assamese film, Kothanodi (River of Fables), is the radically different way in which it portrays motherhood, otherwise a much revered idea, both in Indian cinema and in reality too. Debut filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika shows another, questionable side of it. For him the reverence for mothers happens in patriarchal cultures and is not entirely based on reality. In real life, mothers, and more generally women, are as fallible as men and are equally capable of giving in to their dark sides.

“Qualities like goodness and evil are gender neutral,” he says and so he does not treat the lead protagonists of the film as ‘women characters’ but as simply ‘characters.’ This is the reason why the film is one of the most intriguing, beguiling and disturbing feminist statements that one has seen on Indian screen in recent times.

Hazarika has been working in films, television and documentaries as a writer and director for the last 15 years, also sometimes doubling up as a documentation expert for the development sector. Picking Kothanodi as a subject for a feature film, especially his first feature was a very spontaneous and reflexive decision. The folk tales that form the crux of the film’s narrative were compiled into a book in 1911 by Rasaraj Laxminath Bezbaroa. Titled Buri Ai’r Sadhu or Grandma’s Tales , this compendium of 20-odd stories has been a bestseller in Assam for generations.

“I took the dramatic essence of four stories from the compendium and stitched it together into one narrative about four mothers struggling with their own demons,” says Bhaskar. He selected these four specific stories partly because they all had a very contemporary edginess to them, even as the setting was rooted in the classical. Says he: “It made for a very interesting clash. Most of these stories are so unique and odd that it’s a wonder they are not better known outside Assam.”

The journey of the film spanned three and a half years, from start to finish. The budget included Rs 21.5 lakh raised from crowd funding. It has been shot partly in Majuli Island and along the banks of the Brahmaputra near Bhaskar’s own home town, Dergaon. Shooting in Majuli was challenging in terms of logistics and budget, but Bhaskar feels it was well worth it. “No other place retains the old world mystic charm of Assamese rural life that is the setting of the film,” he says.

Well-known actor Seema Biswas plays Dhoneshwari, a woman intent on getting her daughter married to a python. Zerifa Wahid is Senehi who loathes her stepdaughter Tejimola and plots her murder when her husband is away. The third story has FTII graduate Urmila Mahantaa as Keteki who has given birth to an outenga (elephant apple), which rolls around after her. The fourth story is about yet another mother, Malati (Asha Bordoloi), who wants to save her newest born from the clutches of her husband and his uncle, who have sacrificed her three previous babies. Kasvi Sharma makes a sparkling debut as Tejimola. “I suspect Assamese people will henceforth forever associate her with Tejimola!” says Bhaskar.

All these actors were put through their paces in an intensive acting workshop held prior to the shoot. Seema Biswas took the lead in organising it.

The talented bunch of technicians is also drawn from Assam. Bhaskar hopes to release the film all over Assam and in select cities of India by April this year.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 1:15:48 AM |

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