The Assam film industry&’s voyage began 80 years back when Joymoti, produced and directed by legendary poet, author and filmmaker Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, based on a play by Rasaraj Lakshminath Bezbarua, was screened at Kolkata&’s Rownak Theatre on 10 March 1935. It revolved around the sacrifice and inspiring life story of an Ahom Kunwari (princess) in the 17th century. The cinematography was by Bhopal Shankar Mehta while the screenplay, lyrics and music were by Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad himself. This full-length talkie starred Aideu Handique, Phunu Barooah, Phani Sarma, Swargajyoti Barooah, Mohini Rajkumari, Manabhiram Barua, Naren Bardoloi, Shamshul Haque, Pratap Barua and Banamali Das.
Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad, who went to Berlin to learn the art of filmmaking, established Chitraban studio temporarily at his family-owned Bholaguri Tea Estate near Gohpur in central Assam. This cultural icon used locally available materials like wood, bamboo, banana stumps, mats, deer and buffalo horn, traditional Assamese hats, etc, for the settings. Edited in Dhaka (now capital of Bangladesh), he dubbed all the voices of his characters with spot sound recording, which did not work well. Produced with a budget of Rs 50,000, Joymoti was also screened at Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir, Guwahati, the only modern theatre in the state at that time.
Contrary to pioneer Indian filmmakers’ dependence on mythological themes for their ventures, Jyoti Prasad tried his hand at a socio-political issue through Joymoti. He thought of injecting a historical protagonist with a realistic approach in this very first Assamese movie that was arguably far ahead of Satyajit Ray&’s evergreen Pather Pachali (1955).
Amidst the limitations and challenges, Assam&’s regional film industry has moved on. With a populace of 30 million, it has witnessed the release of six language movies in the first half of this year, with the promise of showcasing many more films in the second half.
Around 20 regional movies were produced and released last year, though most of these failed at the box office. However, a few feature films produced by local directors have earned laurels from national and international filmgoers and critics. Dau Huduni Methai, (Song of the Horned Owl), a Bodo language feature film directed by acclaimed Assamese filmmaker Manju Borah has been selected for screening at this year&’s Montreal World Film Festival in Canada. Borah&’s debut movie Baibhab (A Scam in Verse), released in 1999, was awarded a jury certificate at the 47th National Film Awards. It was also adjudged the best film in the Asian section of the Sixth Dhaka International Film Festival.
Assamese feature film Kothanodi (The River of Fables) has been selected for a grant from the Asian Cinema Fund, South Korea. This will help towards the film&’s completion and screening at the forthcoming Busan International Film Festival, one of Asia&’s biggest fiestas.
Based on a literary creation penned by Sahitya Samrat Lakshminath Bezbarua, Kothanodi is directed by Bhaskar Hazarika and the cast includes Seema Biswas, Adil Hussain, Zerifa Wahid, Kopil Bora, Urmila Mahanta and Asha Bordoloi.
The Assamese film fraternity has pledged to make the industry commercially viable and a recent assembly of film personalities in this regard included award winners like Jahnu Baruah, Munin Barua, Abdul Majid, Bishnu Kharghoria, Chetana Das and many others. The gathering was also graced by Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who is from eastern Assam.
Important Assamese movies released till July included Ahetook directed by Bani Das, Arohi by Arup Manna, Anuradha by Rakesh Sharma and Love in Bangkok by Ashim Baishya. Films awaiting release in the second half of 2015 include Aparajita by Mr Moon, Avataran by Aarunabh Dutta, Bokul by Reema Borah, Morichika by Nipon Dholua, Dhou by Lakhinandan Pegu and Gaane Ki Aane by Rajesh Jashpal.
The Assamese film world has lost some prominent personalities during this period, among them theatre actor-director Mahananda Sarma, radio-film artiste Indra Bania, actor-theatre director Rabin Neog, actor Lakhi Borthakur and directors Bidyut Chakrabarty, Kanaklata Hazarika and Achyut Bhagawati.
The writer is the statesman&’s Guwahati-based special representative.