Other States

Assamese ‘precursor’ of ‘Gully Boy’ set for release

A still from Rongeen  

Shankar Borua completed his rap-based “political musical” a month before Gully Boy’s shooting ended in April 2018. But he waited almost a year for the right time — ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls — for the release of his anti-establishment film.

The maverick filmmaker, who believes in swimming against the popular-taste tide, is not sure if Rongeen (‘Colourful’), his fourth feature film, is technically a forerunner of Zoya Akhtar’s cult film inspired by Black American protest songs.

Rongeen should be the first Indian film powered by political rap music, unlike the Bollywood blockbuster that is personal and aspirational,” Mr. Borua said.

There are other differences, too: Gully Boy has an urban setting while Rongeen has a rural backdrop; the former is a big budget movie while the latter was made on a shoe-string budget with contribution from 25 people who have been credited as producers.

“Besides, I don’t think any filmmaker has waited for almost a year to release a film. Our film was cleared by the Censor Board in July 2018. But since the story is that of revenge through the ballot box, we decided to release it before the general elections, likely within two months,” Mr. Borua, who has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the U.S., said.

The 115-minute Rongeen, whose teaser was uploaded on YouTube, is scheduled to be released in the theatres on March 15.

The film, Mr. Borua said, is a simple tale of a wronged man seeking revenge through participatory democracy. “The film has an ensemble cast, no hero and no heroine. Rather, there’s an anti-hero — a devious man named Puna Saikia played by Hiren Sarma because of whom the others come together and generate a campaign against him through rap music,” he said.

The film traces 40 years of political upheavals since the Assam Agitation and extremism in the 1980s while focussing on 27 years of injustice that Saikia metes out to an ordinary villager named Domboru Borbora (Upamanyu Boruwa). But instead of contesting the election against Saikia, Borbora props up honest schoolteacher Digombor Rajkhowa (Ranjit Baruah) and engages local rapper Pobitro Sonowal (Kussum Koilash) for influencing people through some hard-hitting songs.

“The film is an indictment of the political class and how it has consistently failed us. We have targeted the system, not any political party. We have two independent candidates, the anti-hero and the teacher, contesting a by-election for the Mahmara Assembly seat,” Mr. Borua said.

Mahmara, in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district, has traditionally been a Congress bastion. The incumbent MLA is Suren Mohan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the film, it isn’t easy for the wronged man (Borbora) to convince rapper Sonowal to “change lanes” — shift from routine rustic romantic songs to political narratives.

For Mr. Koilash, a real-life rapper, singing the nine songs in Rongeen was indeed a change of lane. “Since I started rapping five-six years ago, I have been weaving social issues in my Bihu-oriented romantic songs, such as the use of pesticides that made leeches disappear from the fields, thus denying farm boys the excuse of courting girls by offering to remove a leech from their feet. The songs in the films were tweaked to hit out at the establishment,” he said.

He hoped viewers would take to Rongeen and accept a “different” kind of Assamese rap songs that urge people to not let the political ‘chors (thieves) steal their happiness or suck their blood like leeches.


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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 5:04:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/assamese-precursor-of-gully-boy-set-for-release/article26379064.ece

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