Utpal Borpujari

September 20, 2017

Films from Assam win big in National Awards, but we must look beyond just awards

(Assamese translation of this article was published in Monthly publication Raijor Batori, May 2017 issue)

By Utpal Borpujari

After quite a long gap, Assamese cinema has scored big at the National Film Awards in its 64th edition. For quite sometime now, cinema from Assam has had to be content with just the best in a particular language category of Rajat Kamals (“Best Assamese”, “Best Bodo”, “Best Mising”, “Best Rabha”, etc.). Without taking out any credit of the films that won these awards, one must concede that the award for the Best Film in a particular language is actually just equivalent to a state film award in which only films from that state compete. Why, in certain cases, such as awards that are given to films made in languages not included in Schedule VIII of the Indian Constitution, there is only one film in that category and the jury awards it as the “best” in that language because it has got a certain cinematic merit but does not – according to the jury – deserve to win a bigger, “all India” category award. Of the recent films that have won the Rajat Kamal in specific language categories, I personally believe that Jahnu Barua’s “Ajeyo” (Best Assamese), Manju Borah’s “Ko:Yad” (Best Mising) and Suraj Duarah’s “Orong” (Best Rabha) are films that deserved more than what they got.

Anyways, the latest edition of National Film Awards, the 64th edition to be precise, has brought back some of the deserved glory back to the state’s film industry (of course, it is another matter if it can be really called an ‘industry’). This year, Cinema from Assam (a more correct term instead of the often-used term “Assamese Cinema”, to reflect the various languages in which cinema is being made in the state) won two major honours at the National Awards – the Indira Gandhi Award for the Best First Feature Film of a Director (a Swarna Kamal) and the Nargis Dutt Award for the Best film on National Integration (a Rajat Kamal). In addition, there is a special mention each in acting (to the brilliant but underrated Adil Hussain) and documentary filmmaking (to “Sikar Aru Sitkar” by Romen Borah and Sibanu Borah).

The Indira Gandhi Award, which has earlier been won thrice by the state’s filmmakers – Gautam Bora for his classic Karbi film “Wosobipo”, Bidyut Chakravarty for “Raag Birag” and Sanjeev Hazorika for “Haladhar” – this year went to Deep Choudhury for his film “Alifa”. What is significant is that “Alifa” is a Bengali language film. It is the first time that a Bengali feature film made in Assam has won a National Award, and it is to the credit of Choudhury that the film won this prestigious award even though the film industry in West Bengal regularly churns out quality feature films every year, including at least a couple by debut filmmakers. Produced by Arman Ahmed, starring veterans Baharul Islam and Jaya Seal along with young Pakija Hashmi, and photographed by Nahid Ahmed, the film is the story of young girl Alifa and her family who live in the outskirts of Guwahati. It’s a human story about survival, hardship and basic truths of life, and addresses issues like poverty, immigration, basic human struggle to exist and lost innocence. According to Choudhury, “Above all it is a beautiful love story about a family, it’s a story which needs to be told, a story which needs to be seen.”

The Nargis Dutt Award for the Best Film on National Integration has come to Assam for the second time. Manju Borah’s “Aai Kot Nai” had won it earlier, and this time it has gone to “Dikchow Banat Palaax”, Sanjib Sabhapandit-directed and Utpal Das-produced Assamese-Naga love story set in the backdrop of the Freedom Struggle. With veteran Kulada Kumar Bhattacharyya in the lead role, the film examines the traditional relations that the Assamese and the Nagas had shared in the past and where those ties stand in the present times. Sabhapandit’s films, while technically being minimal, always strives to raise current socio-political concerns facing the society in Assam, and this film also does not shy away from doing so, even as it on the surface is about lost love of a high caste Assamese young man and an Ao Naga girl.

On the other hand, by getting the Special Mention for acting in two different films, the internationally-acclaimed “Mukti Bhawan” in Hindi and “Maj Rati Keteki” in Assamese, Adil Hussain has at last been acknowledged, even if a bit grudgingly, by a National Awards jury. It is, however, a kind of travesty of justice that the jury describes his acting in these two films as “brilliant” but gives the Best Actor Award to a star like Akshay Kumar for an ordinary film like “Rustam”. It reminds one of the year when Nana Patekar was given the Best Actor Award for a very loud and melodramatic performance in “Krantiveer” while Bishnu Kharghoria was given the consolation prize of a Special Mention for his brilliant portrayal of an old boat man in Jahnu Barua’s “Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door” (Kharghoria won another special mention much later, for “Bandhon”, another Jahnu Barua film).

The Best Assamese film award this year went to Dr Santwana Bardoloi for “Maj Rati Keteki”, her second feature film that has come 20 years after she made “Adajya” in 1996. On the other hand, the Best Moran Language film award (for the category of films made in languages not mentioned in Schedule VIII of Constitution) went to Jaicheng Dohutiya’s evocative and powerful “Haanduk”, which has brought in a breath of fresh air to the state’s cinema with its treatment that is unusual for Assamese cinema (the only comparison could be “Orong”) – long takes, a treatment that creates a world both real and unreal at the same time, and some beautiful cinematography, editing and sound design. “Haanduk” is not a conventionally-treated film and it would have limited appeal for the usual cinema viewer, but its artistic elements will ensure its place in the history of the state’s cinema. Incidentally, “Alifa” was in the international competition section of the Kolkata International Film Festival, “Majrati Keteki” in the same category in the International Film Festival of Kerala, and “Haanduk” won the 2nd Best Award (the Best Film award wen to to Manipuri filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar’s “Loktak Leirembee”) at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival last year – all highly credible achievements.

But one thing must be said here, and that too, with emphasis. While a National Award or an Indian Panorama selection is surely a prestigious thing, they are not the ultimate benchmarks of a film’s merits, unlike what is usually projected in Assam’s media. A few Assamese films and filmmakers have made bigger international splashes, which, according to this writer, are far more important developments as far as the film industry of the state is concerned than either of the two. One is Bhaskar Hazarika’s “Kathanodi”, an adaptation of four stories of Lakshminath Bezbaroa’s “Burhi Aair Xadhu”. The film, of course, won the National Award last year, but more importantly, it had won the Post Production Grant at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, becoming the only second Indian film to win this honour. Similarly, Rima Das’ under-production “Village Rockstars”, which she has been making with shoe-string budgets at her village in Chaygaon, has won an editing grant in Rome and also has been picked up from Hong Kong International Film Festival’s Work in Progress Lab by the Marche du Film (Film Market) section of the Cannes Film Festival. Getting selected by the Marche Du Film is a big development considering that filmmakers from all over the world pay big amount of fees to enter their films in the market section of Cannes Film Festival, with the hope of attracting the attention of production companies and sales agents. Das, who recently made “Antardrishti”, finds herself in an enviable position where, because of the pre-selection made by Marche du Film, will have the world’s attention on her project, rather than her chasing prospective co-producers and sales agents. Given the very limited market size of Assamese cinema locally, seeking out the world market is the right approach to take for sensible and artistic cinema, and these two films have shown how that can be done. Hopefully, young filmmakers of the state will try to break ground internationally more rather than just targeting a National Award in the category of best in a particular language.

May 18, 2010

Regional juries set to make a come back in National Film Awards

By Utpal Borpujari

A practice abandoned in the mid-1970s is all set to be revived as an expert panel tasked to suggest revamp of the National Film Awards has suggested that the judging process should be first at a zonal level and then at the national level.

The expert committee, chaired by noted filmmaker Shyam Bengal, has recommended that there should be a two tier viewing of films to facilitate the selection process of the National Film Awards. 

According to its suggestions, a central jury will choose films for various award categories from a short list chosen by five regional juries which will look at films made in various languages in those regions. 

The committee has also outlined guidelines for the regional jury composition. Incidentally, almost a similar jury system was in vogue decades ago, which was later scrapped apparently to overcome alleged intra-regional biases.

The committee, formed at the behest of Information & Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni to make the National Film Awards more contemporary, has also suggested constitution of new awards in audiography, music, best screenplay and dialogue.

It has suggested that the award for best art direction be called Best Production Design Award to reflect contemporary technology. Also, it has said that the number of awards in the feature film category be raised from 31 to 34 and the cash prize for special jury award in feature films be raised from Rs 1,25,000 to Rs two lakh.

For the non-feature film category too, the committee has made some key recommendations, including splitting of the award for the Best Film on Environment, Agriculture and Education into Best Educational Film and Best Film on Environment awards. 

It has also said that the cash component of awards for best non-feature film and best direction be enhanced from Rs one lakh to Rs two lakh so that they are brought at par with feature films. 

The report of the committee, comprising Benegal, Sai Paranjpye, Ashok Vishwanathan, Rajiv Mehrotra, Sharmila Tagore, Vishal Bhardwaj, Nagesh Kukunoor, Mohan Agashe, Waheeda Rehman, Jahnu Barua and Shaji Karun, was presented by Benegal a few days ago to Soni, who promised immediate processing of the recommendations.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 17-05-2010)


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