Will the National Register of Citizens (NRC) end 40 years of a “constant state of anxiety” for people on either side of the indigenous-immigrant divide in Assam?
This is one of several “uncomfortable questions” an Assamese film being made intends to ask while batting for co-existence despite political and religious differences.
Filmmaker Shankar Borua had befriended a Bengal-origin Muslim school teacher while filming for his documentary Beleaguered on a river island in western Assam five years ago. The focus of the documentary was why Surjya Tejor Anya Naam (Sun is Another Name of Blood), the first film on the political insurgency in Assam was made.
Produced by Mrinal Kumar Saikia, now a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA, that feature film was on the armed revolution by the United Liberation Front of Asom and its genesis in a perceived policy of exploitation through settling immigrants.
“My new film starts from where Beleaguered ended with a so-called Miya writer, who happens to be a lower primary school teacher on an erosion-prone river island inhabited by poor people, saying he speaks, writes and dreams in Assamese,” Mr. Borua told The Hindu .
The film, expected to be completed by January next year, is tentatively titled Beleaguered . But Mr Borua intends to have a ‘Miya’ word added that “might raise eyebrows”.
The teacher-writer who Mr. Borua met five years ago is the protagonist of his new project. The teacher’s life has been envisaged as that of members of his community referred to with pejoratives such as ‘Miya’, ‘Bangladeshi’, ‘na-Asomiya’ (new Assamese), and ‘Chorua’ (dweller of char , or sandbar/river island).
“Our film has real-life characters playing their parts. It is actually a film within a film; an entire unit goes to this sandbar to make a documentary that was thought to have been some wildlife project. Some members of the unit, inherently dismissive of immigrants, get into trouble,” Mr. Borua said.
The unit, a mix of liberal and radical people, is attacked by “both the Miyas (Muslims) and Asomiyas (Assamese)”. The Muslim teacher and his friends get attacked too, but the director stands his ground to complete the film because of his friendship with the former.
“The film is directly linked with the NRC that was expected to be the finishing line for an issue that has dogged Assam for 40 years but has put a question mark on the future of a category of people. The issue resonates through other layers across the narrative,” Mr. Borua said. Assam, he said, has the most Muslims after Kashmir.