Archive for the ‘Assamese Cinema’ Category

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Yesterday I was watching a Kannada film titled HOOMALE. It was basically a tale of love between an infatuated young man and a widow set in the backdrop of Assam. Having grown up in the North East, I have a fair knowledge of the region. Watching this particular film left me quite shaken …

I felt the film directed by one S. Chandrasekhar projected Assam in the most callous way. A particular sequence has the protagonist celebrating Karnataka Day in Guwahati. During the celebration, a toast was being raised with the vow that “Karnataka should not be allowed to go the Assam and Jammu & Kashmir way.” The horrifying situation that was shown in the film is mostly an exaggeration that can be felt by anyone familiar with the region.

Filmmakers ought to be sensitive when they make films incorporating developments and cultures of different states of the country. This would unquestionably lead to a much needed National integration in the truest sense. If interested, you may catch this movie today @ 2pm in Lok Sabha TV.

I was surprised that the film was given National award for Integration. OMG!!!

An Assamese biopic reminds us of folk singer Pratima Pandey Barua’s remarkable legacy

Bobby Sarma Baruah’s ‘Sonar Baran Pakhi’ traces the life and times of the artist whose achievements were overshadowed by controversy.

Both these scenes sum up Barua’s often contentious public persona. Her championing of Goalporia folk music was looked down upon by purists and Assamese linguistic chauvinists (the Goalporia group of dialects is often regarded as crude or inferior). Similarly, the contested details of Barua’s married life were often used to downplay her artistic achievements.

Sonar Baran Pakhi (The Golden Wing) will be screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (April 5-9). The 86-minute Rajbangshi language biopic not only recreates Barua’s life but also covers a fair section of the indigenous community’s history in Assam. Although this is more of Sarma Baruah’s creative reimagining, the film is aided by archival details, field research and a recollection of Goalporia folk songs. Pranami Bora and Susmita Ray play the character at different stages.

Pratima Pandey Barua (1935-2002) was known fondly as “Hastir Kanya” (Elephant’s daughter). She was the niece of legendary filmmaker Pramathesh Chandra Barua and was born into the royal family of Gauripur in the western Assam district of Dhubri. From an early age, Barua’s love for music took her to commoners like buffalo herders and mahouts. Sacrificing the privileges of royalty, she gave a distinct voice to the Rajbangshi community through her songs. The soulful nature and the humanitarian content of the lyrics touched a chord in the state.

In his essay Life as Lore: The Art and Times of Pratima Baruah Pandey, Jyotirmoy Pradhani writes:

“Her life reflects the various phases of the evolving Assamese identity, and how the folk acted as a syncretic energy in the understanding of the Assamese. Her songs, popularly called the Goalporia lokageet, are a part of a cultural community, largely the Rajbanshis, who have been historically dispersed around a vast territory including Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Southern Nepal and even Bangladesh. When Pratima Barua picked up the songs, they were seemingly in their last phase of life in public memory, for the history of the land took a sharp turn forcing the communities living in the periphery to abandon their cultural moorings and acquire new identities to conform to the altered geo-political legacy of the colonial times”.

The biopic attempts to chronicle the linguistic tussle in the region in the 1950s. Goalpara has always been a politically volatile area, especially since independence. As a result, the folksongs of Goalpara have been all but nudged out of mainstream Assamese music.

We are shown how Pratima’s family members shun the people’s music (“These are songs of the commoners, my child. We in the royal palace are forbidden to sing those”). Fighting through personal struggles, Barua continues to dedicate her life to collecting and tuning folk songs.

“These songs are performed with traditional instruments like dotara, sarinda, dhol and so on,” Bobby Sarma Baruah told Scroll.in. “The lyrics are about the human experience that each of us can relate to, so that’s why I believe these Goalporia folk songs are very special for us. And my intention is to preserve them through this movie.”

When Bhupen Hazarika met Barua on his return to Gauripur in 1956, he decided to incorporate her songs in his Assamese film Era Bator Xur (Songs of the Abandoned Road). It was the first step towards appreciating the fluidity of Goalpara’s folk heritage.

Both artists stole hearts as they sang to Lead Belly’s “We are in the same boat, brother” tuned with folk instruments. Unfortunately, we only get a brief glimpse of the duo in Sarma’s movie.

Sonar Baran Pakhi.
Sonar Baran Pakhi.

An artist’s inner turmoil surfaces in Sonar Baran Pakhi as Barua comes to terms with her identity. The coming-of-age section is substantiated by historical data. For example, the scene in which Barua shares her experience of auditioning at Guwahati Radio Centre speaks volumes about the kind of marginalisation she faced. The language of her songs – neither dominant Assamese nor the upper caste Bengali but a mixture of several dialects (Sylheti and tribal influences too) – came under suspicion as they did not qualify to be “Assamese” enough for public recordings.

There has been documentation on this topic. In Dhiren Das’s book O’ Mur Hai Hostir Kanyare, one gets a perspective on the treatment of these songs by All India Radio’s Guwahati station. Barua was asked to translate her music into Assamese first, and second, to focus on the religious nature of the songs. The politicising of folk music made the recording of Bhawaiyya and Chatka (fast-paced songs of an erotic/celebratory nature) music very difficult indeed.

“Hostir noran hostir choran hostir paye beri
Shottya koriya kon re mahut ghore e koye jon naari re
Tumra geile ki aashiben,
mur mahout bondhu re?”
(“You move the elephant, you graze the elephant,
you chain the elephant’s feet;
But tell me the truth, O mahout,
How many women do you have back home?
If you go away my mahout friend, shall you ever back?”)

There is a poignant mix of nature, desire, longing and the futility of worldly vices in Goalparia music. In the film, Barua’s engagement with nature is beautifully shot to convey this mix. As she emerges with clay wrapped sensuously around her body, the fulfillment of being one with nature comes to the fore. It stands as a recurring image of life imitating art. The human body in its corporeal form is bound to perish. Therefore, it is compared to a clay pitcher in the song Ek Baar Hori Bolo Mon Rosona:

“Ek baar hori bolo mon rosona,
arey manob dehai goirob koiro na,
manob deha maatiro bhando,
bhangile hoibe khondo re khondo.”
(“Say the name of God just once
My friend, take no pride in the mortal body
The human body is a pitcher of clay
When it breaks it shall shatter into thousands of pieces.”)

Sarma Baruah said, “This is an imaginative and illusory journey which I have recreated through the film. The beauty of her inner sense, her relationship with nature, all blend together to give a unique portrait.”

Today, the statue of Padma Shri Pratima Pandey Barua stands at Swahid Udyan in Chandmari, witnessing massive changes to its cultural milieu and the threat of the appropriation of folk music. It leaves me, as does the film, with a mixed whiff of hope and hopelessness.

(Src: https://thereel.scroll.in/832190/an-assamese-biopic-reminds-us-of-folk-singer-pratima-pandey-baruas-remarkable-legacy)

It is heartening to find that powerful films can come from small film industries like Assam in a dialect (Mising) spoken by a minority section of the population of the state. KO-YAD is such a haunting film, it kept me reminding of Jahnu Barua’s HKGOROLOI BOHU DOOR (It is a Long Way to the Sea).

ko-yad
Basically it is a tale of arduous struggle of a boatman Paukum who faced tremendous personal tragedies but bravely faced his circumstances and continued in the profession to eke out a livelihood for his family by catching firewood from the river. He subsisted on “Apong” – a kind of local brew of the people of the area.
Some of the dialogues linger: ” I have two rivers and a boat” (The boat was a gift to the protagonist from his father and was constructed of good timber)
“I had a belief that even if the entire world betrays me the river and the boat would never betray me.”
The film also touches upon issues of the under privileged and their difficulties faced trying to provide professional education like Medicine to their offspring. The filming qualities are remarkable – IMHO at par with the best of International cinema. The excellent cinematography echoed the films of Gautam Ghose and his brilliance in capturing the vagaries of nature. One early scene where the mother of the protagonist commits suicide in the river is beautifully and creatively shot.
The screenplay and direction is by Manju Borah.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5

Innovative women roles in Indian films, especially mainstream cinema, are few and far between. Some creative directors, working within the mainstream format, however have given us some meaty characters. Several women-significant films were made in the early days of Indian cinema like “Achchyut Kanya,” which touched the theme of untouchability. Bimal Roy made a few films inspired by the novels of Sarat Chatterjee like “Biraj Bou”, “Devdas” and “Parineeta.” “Biraj Bou” was a film based on a selfless Indian woman, who endured hardship and pain for the sake of her husband. Films like “Ramer Sumoti,” based on a Sarat Chaterjee work, were remarkable and depicted the love and warmth which existed within the extended Indian joint family.

In later days, filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave us memorable heroine-oriented films in “Guddi,” “Abhimaan”, “Mili”, “Khubsuroot”, and “Majhli Didi”. “Guddi” and “Khubsuroot” were simple films in which the heroine matures from a chirpy girl into womanhood. “Abhiman,” inspired by “A star is born,” dealt with ego clashes when a woman’s musical talent and fame surpasses that of her husband. “Majhli Didi” was again based on a Sarat Chandra novel, about a woman’s compassion towards an orphaned child. Basu Bhattacharyya’s “Griha Pravesh” was a realistic depiction of the obsession of a married man for a much younger office colleague. Raj Kapoor’s “Prem Rog” was a convincing portrait of the agony of a young widow. A few years back, Basu Chaterji’s “Triyacharittar” was a powerful film on exploitation of women.

Bengali filmmaker Tapan Sinha has created strong female characters in several of his films viz “Jatugriho”, “Adalat O Ekti Mey”, “Apanjan”, “Nirjan Saikate” and others. “Jatugriho” dealt with marital discord, the bone of contention being the infertility of the woman. “Apanjan” was remade in Hindi as “Mere Apne” by Gulzar, and had an elderly woman as the protagonist who finds, in some unemployed street boys, a reason to live when her own relatives forsake her. “Nirjan Saikatey” dealt with the plight of five elderly widows, while “Adalat O ekti Mey” was on a rape victim shunned by everyone. Asit Sen’s “Deep Jele Jai,” remade in Hindi as “Khamoshi” was on a nurse who eventually becomes insane play-acting with a patient.

Strong female roles have also been witnessed in parallel cinema. Here, Mrinal Sen appears to have an edge over others. His “Neel Akaser Neechey” (1959) was a beautiful film about a brother-sister relationship between a Chinese hawker and a Bengali housewife. “Punoscho”(1961) dealt with the question of economic need of the heroine, a theme later tackled by Satyajit Ray in “Mahanagar.” The roles of the female protagonist in Sen’s “Bhuvan Shome”, “Khandahaar,” “Ek Din Pratidin”, “Antareen” and others have been an interesting mix of innovation and fresh characterization. Satyajit Ray’s films have female characters of substance. In “Pather Panchali” the relationship between Durga, an innocent but mischievous girl and her grandmother Chunnibala was beautifully depicted. “Charulata” based on a Tagore’s novel dealt with marital discord with much finesse. “Devi” was on religious bigotry when an elderly man starts thinking of his daughter-in-law as a Goddess after a dream.

Ritwik Ghatak’s “Meghe Dhaka Tara” and “Subarnarekha” are considered path-breaking films about the agony of the Bangladeshi refugees, shown through the eyes of the woman protagonist. Aparna Sen’s “36 Chowringhee Lane” is an unforgettable film exploring the loneliness of an elderly Anglo-Indian lady. Sen’s other efforts “Paroma” and “Sati” questioned the traditional roles of women in Indian society. Her latest award-winning work “Paromitar Ek Din” is also a women-centric film. Nabyendu Chaterji’s “Atmaja” had a power-packed role of a mother caught between the divergent ideologies of her two sons, enacted with conviction by Gauri Ghosh. Nabyendu Chaterji’s latest “Sauda” (Bengali) reveals negative shades of some women characters. In this film made in the 90s, the director, possibly the first in Indian cinema, portrayed how the wife and the daughters of an accident victim, now in the operation theatre of a hospital, craved for his death instead of his recovery, because the family has been promised a huge sum of money by an industrialist (Vasant Choudhury) as compensation, whose car was involved in an accident with the victim. The latest talent on the Kolkata filmmaking scene, Rituparno Ghosh, has women-related subjects as theme in all three of his award-winning films “Unishe April”, “Dahan” and “Asookh” and his latest “Bariwali” (featuring Kiron Kher). The women characters in the films of Gautam Ghose & Buddhadeb Dasgupta are equally intriguing. In Gautam Ghose’s “Antarjali Jatra” a young bride is forcibly married off to a dying Brahmin, while marital disharmony was the subject of films like Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s “Griha Yuddha” and “Lal Darja” and Aparna Sen’s “Yugant”. Sanat Dasgupta’s “Janani” featuring Rupa Ganguly was a poignant Bengali film about a woman who was ostracized and labeled a “witch,” but in the end sacrificed her life for her son.

Ordinary women characters, rising to extraordinary levels, were witnessed in films like Sushant Mishra’s “Aasha” (Oriya), Arinbam Shyam Sharma’s “Imagi Ningtem” (Manipuri) and Sanjeev Hazarika’s “Meemansxa” (Assamese). “Aasha” dealt with a courageous lady journalist hounded by corrupt politicians. “Meemansxa,” dealt with the agony faced by a woman when she moves to court after being molested by a powerful man.

Shyam Benegal in films like “Ankur”, “Sardari Begum” and “Mammo” have given us some unusual female characters. “Mammo” was an elderly lady who went through an ordeal when she comes to visit her relatives in partitioned India from Pakistan. Govind Nihalani in “Rukmavati ki Haveli”, “Dhristi”, “Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa” has given us women characters of myriad hues. “Dhristi” was on marital discord, while “Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa” saw Jaya Bachchan giving a fine performance as a woman trying to cope with the death of her son. Ketan Mehta’s “Mirch Masala” with the powerful actress Smita Patil demonstrated the strength of women, when a group of village women unitedly bring about the fall of a tyrant police officer. Muzaffar Ali’s “Umraao Jaan” gave Rekha one of her finest roles in her career as a ‘kotha ‘ dancer. A disabled dancer overcoming her problems to rise to great heights in her field was the subject of “Nache Mayuri,” with Sudha Chandran playing the lead role. Prakash Jha’s “Mrityudand” witnessed a new face of the educated Indian women, willing to rebel and fight for her rights.

Likewise, Deepa Mehta’s “Fire” brought to the fore hitherto taboo subjects like lesbianism to the Indian screen for the first time. Women characters in Mahesh Bhatt’s “Arth”, “Swayam”, “Kaash” and “Tamanna” were interesting. Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi gave great performances in “Arth” while in “Kaash,” the wife tries to cope with a failed actor husband who turns a derelict and a little son diagnosed with a terminal disease. Likewise Gulzar’s “Andhi”, Mausam” and “Koshish” and Kalpana Lazmi’s “Ek Pal” was noteworthy. “Aandhi,” was on the life of a lady politician and in “Koshish,” Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri gave mind-blowing performances as a hearing impaired couple. Sai Paranjype’s “Saaz” and “Sparsh” deserves a mention. Amol Palekar’s “Dayaara” and “Kairee,” too, are exceptional. “Dayaraa” dealt with the life of a transvestite. “Kairee” is about a little girl and her relationship with her aunt. “Rao Saheb,” “Chakra” “Mother India” and “Dahej” dealt with the theme of subjugated women who were exploited.

Yash Chopra’s portrayal of women have been extraordinary. Be it Nanda in the role of a murderess in “Ittefaq” or that of Rekha and Jaya Bachchan in “Silsila” women in his films have been consciously different from their peers. Recently the film “Astitva” ( featuring Tabu) explored sensitively a women’s role in a marriage when her husband discovers after twenty-five years that his wife had a sexual relationship with a man which resulted in an offspring, and the offspring is actually the same whom he had been considering his own son.

Lately in Assamese cinema several strong women characters was evoked, like in Bhaben Saikia’s “Agnisnaan”, Jahnu Barua’s “Firongoti”, Dr Shantanu Bordoloi’s “Adajya” and others. In “Agnisaan,” the female protagonist (Moloya Goswami) has a relationship with another man when her philandering husband crosses all limits. “Firongoti” was based on the life of a lady school teacher who tries to bring education among poor villagers.

In films from the South, K.S.Sethumadhavan’s “Stri”, Prema Karanth’s “Phaniyamma”, Girish Kasarvalli’s “Kraurya”, Balu Mahendra’s “Moonram Pirai” (remade as Sadma in Hindi) or Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s “Mathilukal” have intriguing female characterization. “Stri” dealt with the wife of a drunken man, who in spite of all her husband’s faults and their apparent differences, could never forsake her husband. It did carry the message “Pati is Parmeswar,” but in a beautiful way. “Phaniyamma” dealt with the agony of a young widow, whereas “Kraurya” dealt with the neglect of the elderly. In “Sadma,” SriDevi gave a fine performance as a girl whose mental condition reverts to that of a five-year-old when she meets with an accident. Because of my ignorance of films from this region, I will have to end this here.

In conclusion, several filmmakers have earnestly tried to portray women in a dignified, realistic, and an intriguing way and have succeeded considerably. Of this genre, filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Mahesh Bhatt, Amol Palekar, Tapan Sinha and Girish Kasaravalli and a few others seems to have given us the best of such women-significant films.

10-Mar-2002

Winners_of_63rd_NFA_2015

Jatinga_Ityadi

Film on ULFA script going haywire makes it to Indian Panorama

An armed underground rebel group draws up a strategy to create an “international dhamaka” and kidnaps a British couple who had come to Assam looking for a graveyard where the man’s grandfather, a tea planter, lies buried. Unable to communicate with the foreigners, the outfit picks up an educated but frustrated youth who speaks English. Eager to be a part of change, this youth readily jumps in. But once in the hideout, he discovers a totally different picture and decides to work to free the British couple.This in brief is the outline of Jatinga Ityadi, an Assamese feature film made by Sanjib Sabhapandit, that has found place in the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2007. It is also a film that probably reflects, without any hesitation, the disgust and hatred that the common man in Assam has developed against armed militancy.

“My film is just an honest depiction of what is happening across Assam,” says Sabhapandit, an entrepreneur-turned-filmmaker, whose film has already earned accolades after having been screened in at least three prestigious festivals, MAMI, Pune and Thrissur. Sabhapandit incidentally belongs to the same generation as several top ULFA leaders including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and armed wing chief Paresh Barua.

“It is a simple depiction of present-day reality. I have no axe to grind with the ULFA. This is just a portrayal of real-life situation vis-à-vis armed militancy and people’s sufferings arising out of it,” Sabhapandit says.

Sabhapandit, however, has no pretensions in saying that the armed movement had seriously affected every village in Assam. “How long will we remain silent? Will you allow people to be killed this way?” asks Rita, the lead female character in the film as her brother is shot for not paying money to the militants.

And, inside the rebel hideout, Manab, the educated-but-jobless hero discovers that the idea he had of the militant group and its “struggle for independence” was entirely wrong. And he tries to help the British couple escape, in the process getting killed in a crossfire that also takes the lives of all the militants present in the scene.

“It is definitely a holistic representation of the crisis that the Assamese society is passing through,” says Noni Gopal Mahanta, coordinator at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Gauhati University.

“Sabhapandit’s film is also a touching interpretation of a big dream that the ULFA had given to the people of Assam, and an honest depiction of how removed it was from reality,” says Mahanta, who has recently obtained a Ph.D for his doctoral thesis on the ULFA. “The film also points at the insensitivity of the state in tackling the situation,” he adds.

However, Sabhapandit’s is not the first film that has been made with the ULFA as the backdrop. Dinesh Gogoi’s Surya Tejor Anya Naam, released in 1991, was the first film on militancy in Assam. In 1999, noted filmmaker Bhabendra Nath Saikia’s Hindi film Kaalsandhya looked into how a society was suffering due to rise of armed militancy. Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se too had militancy in Assam as the backdrop.