Utpal Borpujari

November 3, 2017

Cinema of the North East: From Jahnu Barua to Rima Das, voices of note from the region

(Published in http://www.firstpost.com on 15/10/17 & 21/10/17)

http://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/cinema-of-the-north-east-from-joymoti-to-era-bator-sur-13-must-watch-films-from-the-region-4143155.html

http://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/cinema-of-the-north-east-from-jahnu-barua-to-rima-das-voices-of-note-from-the-region-4162299.html

By Utpal Borpujari

The classics of North Eastern Cinema:

Altogether, less than 1,000 films have been made in the entire North East since 1935. And only a handful among them would stand the test of time. Let’s know about some of them:

Joymoti (1935): The film’s only surviving print was lost when it got burnt during a fire at the family home of the Agarwalla’s in Tezpur, and just about an hour of it survived through a documentary film titled “Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad Aru Joymoti” by Dr Bhupen Hazarika, that retold how Jyotiprasad had made the film. These portions show the meticulousness with which Jyotiprasad had made the film, and how despite financial constraints, he had recreated a historical incident with a touch of realism. The songs of the film still remain evergreen hits in Assam. Incidentally, Aideu Handique, who played Joymoti, was socially boycotted for much of her life for acting in a film “despite being a woman”, and her engagement had been called off because she addressed her screen husband, Ahom Prince Gadapani, as “Bongohor Deu” (Dearest husband). She was forced to remain a spinster throughout her life. In the mid-2000s, a biopic on her life, titled “Aideu”, was made. (surviving 56 minutes of Joymoti with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfomR90L7IE )

Ganga Chilanir Pakhi (1976): Based on an eponymous novel by Sahita Akademi-winning author Dr Lakshmi Nandan Bora (Assam and Manipur have had a strong tradition of adapting literary work into cinema, and that tradition continues even now), this Padum Barua-directed Assamese film is considered a classic in Assamese cinema, and perhaps it would have been so in the context of Indian cinema too had it travelled in the festival circuit. A realistic portrayal of life in rural Assam, its protagonist Basanti (Beena Baruwati) longs for her former lover after her husband’s death, but is left in the lurch. The film did poorly in the Box Office, and Barua never recovered to make another film, though he had his script ready for it. (full film without EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIc1IJVE9nc )

Ishanou (1991): Directed by Aribam Syam Sharma, this remains the only film from Northeast India till date to be shown in an official section of the Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened as part of the Un Certain Regard in 1991. Based on famed writer M K Binodini Devi’s script, the powerful film draws on the traditions and beliefs of the Meitei community to weave a powerful story about relationships. It would not be wrong to call this the best Manipuri film till date. (A scene from the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XeoolGxNSI )

Halodhiya Choraye Baodhan Khai (1987): A benchmark film, this Jahnu Barua masterpiece, based on a novel of the same name by renowned writer Homen Borgohain, is the only film till date from Northeast India to win the Best Feature Film award at the National Film Awards. A powerful political film set in rural Assam, it poignantly depicted how the common man gets exploited at the hands of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. The power of this Assamese film lies in its hopeful ending. Indra Bania, who played the protagonist, won a special prize at the Locarno Film Festival for his acting in the film, and Barua himself won the coveted Silver Leopard. (Full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guoHOgcGZ1o )

Agnisnan (1985): This powerful Assamese film that skillfully subtly yet powerfully depicts a woman’s right to her body and also her equal position in a relationship is perhaps the best film made by physics professor-cum-playwright-novelist-story writer-editor Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia. “If I have to be a Sita, then you too have to behave like Ram”. This dialogue by the protagonist, spoken to her husband, remains one of the most-talked about sentences ever spoken in an Assamese film. Assamese cinema’s romantic superstar Biju Phukan gave a seering performance as a philandering, rich zamindar, while Malaya Goswami scorched the screen in the role of his wife Menaka. Like all of Saikia’s film, this too was based on his own literary work, in this case the highly-popular novel “Antarip”. The film went to several prestigious film festivals, including the Festival of Three Continents, Nantes in France. Incidentally, all of Saikia’s seven films had got selected to the Indian Panorama.

Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door (It’s a Long Way to the Sea) (1995): Another masterpiece by Jahnu Barua, this Assamese film got him the Best Director Award at the National Film Awards. Using subtle humour and irony, Barua weaves a fine tale of the development-versus-common man theme here. Bishnu Kharghoria, who has acted in every Assamese film made by Barua since then, gave an outstanding performance in the film, which got him a special jury mention at the National Film Awards. (Full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TB9PK11Z8t0 )

Sandhyarag (1977): The first film by Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia, it drew from the filmmaker’s keen observational power of human relationships, which reflects in all his writings and films. It was a sensitive tale of a young girl through whose eyes the viewer could see the urban-rural, rich-poor divide, even while the protagonist’s aspirations formed the core of the narrative. Coming soon after “Ganga Chilanir Pakhi”, it set the ball rolling in Assam as far as realistic and sensitive filmmaking is concerned.

Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious) (1981): This first directorial venture of Aribam Syam Sharma brought the world’s attention towards Manipuri cinema. A beautifully-woven story of a young boy and his grandfather, whose daughter had died at child birth after getting impregnated out of wedlock. The film won the top award at the prestigious Festival of Three Continents at Nantes, France.

Wosobipo (1991): The only feature film made by Gautam Bora, who was trained in filmmaking in the then East Germany, Wosobipo (Cuckoo’s Call) is a subtle tale of the relationship of a young kid in remote Karbi hills of Assam with his grandfather. The film was selected to Berlin Film Festival apart from winning Bora the Indira Gandhi Award for the Best First Film of a Director at the National Film Awards. Bora, strangely, never made another feature film though he made several acclaimed documentaries since then. (Part 1 of film with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9qZXBmbPPI ; Part 2 of film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6WGH_f0FRw ; remaining part not available online)

Era Bator Sur (1956): That Dr Bhupen Hazarika is a cultural giant of Northeast India does not need any reiteration. The multifaceted genius made several feature films, starting with this one. Its cast had cultural giants like Bishnu Prasad Rabha as also Balraj Sahni, who along with Hazarika and many other stalwarts of Indian cinema were part of the Indian People’s Theatre (IPTA) movement. While one can debate the cinematic qualities of the film, it is a great document of Assam’s folk art forms and as always is the case with anything done by Hazarika, has some great music. (a Song sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoFYjyYkWgY&list=PL7pm82Mn5nhYkpnrUukJk7iU1RIfcVoU5 ; another song by Bhupen Hazarika: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAc5tVpmPxY )

Puberun (1959): This Assamese film, directed by Prabhat Mukherjee of Bengal and starring Rebecca Achaw, Radha Govinda Baruah (founder of the Assam Tribune group of newspapers, and credited with having brought the predominantly-rural festival of Rongali Bihu, the Assamese new year festival held in mid-April, to the stage and thus to the urban areas), Jnanada Kakati and Tasadduq Yusuf, was the first film from the North East to be showcased at an international film festival – and it was the Berlin Film Festival in 1960, no less.

Adajya (1996): Paediatrician Dr Santwana Bardoloi, also an acclaimed theatre actress, made her debut as a filmmaker with this adaptation of Dr Mamoni Raisom (Indira) Goswami’s classic novel “Dontal Haatir Uwe Khowa Haodah (The Moth Eaten Howdah of the Tusker)”. Picking up one particular episode from the novel, Bardoloi made a powerful film about the revolt of a young widow in a conservative Brahmin family in rural Assam of early 1940s. The film won a Special Jury Prize at the 1996 IFFI and got selected to a large number of festivals. Tom Alter played an important character in the film. Bardoloi took another 20 years to make her second film, “Maj Rati Keteki” (2016). (Some portions of the film, without EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1g5EN9_PBl8 )

Raag Birag (1996): Bidyut Chakravorty, theatre and film actor, made this sensitively-handled film about desire and denunciation with a deep philosophical undertone. It was selected as the opening film of Indian Panorama at International Film Festival of India that year, and also won Chakravorty the Indira Gandhi Award for the Best First Feature Film at the National Film Awards.

Other must watches:

Several Jahnu Barua films: Aparupa (full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo3tQLALiEs ), Papori, Banani, Pokhi, Konikar Ramdhenu (full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpT6bGqe_IU&list=PLeSvHvhQ6MThpoWIT3dOPLGJpgfHPKQvy&index=2 ), Baandhon (full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JImHfLZP8A8&index=4&list=PLeSvHvhQ6MThpoWIT3dOPLGJpgfHPKQvy ) and Ajeyo (all Assamese)

All Bhabendra Nath Saikia Films: Anirban, Kolahal, Sarothi, Itihaas (all Assamese) and Kalsandhya (Hindi), apart from those mentioned above.

Sanjeev Hazorika’s Haladhar and Meemangxa (both Assamese)

Jwngdao Bodosa’s Alayaran and Hagramayo Jinahari (both Bodo),

Joseph Pulinthanath’s Yarwng (Kokborok language of Tripura) Full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTY6pNEUnUI

Manju Borah’s Baibhav (Assamese)

Ahsan Mujid’s “Sonam” (Monpa dialect of Arunachal Pradesh)

Voices to watch out for:

Haobam Paban Kumar: This young Manipuri filmmaker is perhaps one of the most important voices to emerge in Indian cinema in recent years. After making several important and acclaimed documentaries on themes as varied as politics, environment, culture and health, he made a powerful feature film debut in 2016 with “Loktak Leirembee (The Lady of the Lake)” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7qBj45Rb-Q ), which was world premiered at the Busan Film Festival and then travelled to a large number of festivals including the Berlin Film Festival. It also won the Best Film Award at the India Gold section of 2016 Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.

Sange Dorjee Thongdok: Like Haobam Paban Kumar, this young filmmaker from Arunachal Pradesh is also an alumni of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata. His fiction debut “Crossing Bridges” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNck_xV8BGc ), in his native Sherdukpen dialect, was critically well acclaimed and travelled to several important festivals.

Pradip Kurbah: One of the most talented filmmakers, Kurbah tells stories from his native Meghalaya. Visually strong, he made the powerful political film “Ri” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpbHMw_LfdA )and then followed up with the sensitive tale of a rape survivor’s inner journey through “Onataah” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHhUTvP7_g0 ), which is now being remade in Hindi, Marathi and Malayalam.

Rima Das: The latest toast of Indian cinema, Das had gone to Mumbai to follow her passion for acting, but ended up making “Antardrishti (Man With the Binoculars)” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhyAXLEoOyc ) and “Village Rockstars” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTov2nVgXaU ) in quick succession. The latter got selected to the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival where it got very positive reviews. It is also in this year’s Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival and International Film Festival of Kerala. Both her films have been made in the true Indie spirit, with Das being the producer, director, writer, art director, costume director, editor and cinematographer. In “Antardrishti”, she also acted.

Reema Borah: This Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) alumni made an impressive debut with “Bokul” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4J3PrWJKgQ4 ) two years ago, and is now in the process of making her second film in Assamese, “Bisnu”.

Kenny Basumatary: A writer-actor-director, Kenny Basumatary has a wicked sense of humour and brought the house down with his two martial arts comedies, “Local Kung Fu” (full movie with EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOrMUiU3xb4 ) and “Local Kung Fu 2” (full movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFxPzOBUasI ). The first one was made with a budget less than Rs 1 (one) lakh and became a cult film almost overnight with its zany humour and genuine Kung Fu. Both the films were released in metros outside Assam and got good response from the critics and the masses.

Bhaskar Hazarika: This NOIDA-based filmmaker caught the world’s attention with his debut Assamse film “Kothanodi (The River of Fables)” (trailer: https://youtu.be/kMBsmGpXorQ ; full movie available on Netflix), which was a clever amalgamation of four folk tales from the all-time Assamese favourite “Burhi Aair Xadhu (Grandma’s Tales)” written by Lakshminath Bezbarua, one of modern Assamese literature’s pioneers. His second script “Amis (Voracious)” has been selected to the Asian Projects Market at the 2017 Busan Film Festival.

Karma Takapa: The Sikkimese filmmaker’s “Ralang Road” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1r9KXgiyaU ) is a reflection of the ground realities of contemporary society in his home state. The film had its world premiere at the famed Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic this year.

Prashant Rasaily: Another young Sikkimese filmmaker, Rasaily has made two well-acclaimed films, “Acharya” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfrKyuW3AiM ) and “Katha” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C68xSi3XdEI )

Wanphrang Diengdoh: A musician-filmmaker, Diengdoh has made several critically-acclaimed documentaries and short films on subjects focusing on his native Meghalaya, and is soon coming out with his first feature film.

Dominic Sangma: This SRFTI graduate from Meghalaya has made award-winning short films and has just completed his first feature.

Oinam Doren: This multifaceted Manipuri filmmaker has got wide acclaim for his documentary films, and is preparing for his first feature film.

Jaicheng Dohutia: “Haanduk (The Hidden Corner)” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty0DLYigBD8 ) , Dohutia’s debut film, has caught the discerning film viewer’s attention for its experimental tone and layered narrative. The film won the Jury Grand Prize at the India Gold section of the 2016 Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival and has travelled to several film festivals across the world.

Mapuia Chongthu: This self-taught filmmaker from Mizoram made the stylishly-executed action drama “Khawnlung Run (The Raid of Khawnlung)” (full movie without EST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWu1ssaoF1Q ) which showed how visual strength can carry a film forward despite budget limitations.

Monjul Baruah: After having assisted Jahnu Barua in several films, Monjul Baruah made his first feature film “Antareen” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvt4IWF-Hs8 ) in 2016, based on a story by Sahita Akademi Award winning writer Dr Rita Choudhury. Monjul’s strength is relationship tales, and his second film “Kaneen” will soon be ready.

Bidyut Kotoky: Mumbai-based Kotoky made the politically-charged “Ekhin Nedekha Nodir Xipaare/ As the River Flows…” (Assamese/Hindi) (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pEBbva18rE ), loosely based on the murder of social activist Sanjoy Ghose by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants in Majuli river island of Assam. His second film “Xaixabate Dhemalite (Rainbow Fields)” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg5PZCFjyIY ) is now ready.

Dhruv J Bordoloi: This young filmmaker from Assam caught everyone’s eyes with his debut film, the well-structured “Dooranir Nirola Poja” (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJGOl14LlQc ).

Sanjib Dey: From Golaghat near the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Dey has been based in Mumbai for about a decade and a half after spending some time in Delhi in search of a livelihood. After working in the television and ad film industry, he has made an impressive debut with “III Smoking Barrels”, an anthology film that explores the all-pervading gun culture in Northeast India in an impactful way. The film got its world premiere at the Durban International Film Festival this year, and has been selected to the prestigious International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg in Germany and the International Film Festival of Kerala.

Films made by NE filmmakers in other languages:

Jahnu Barua: His first feature “Aparupa” was simultaneously made in Hindi, titled “Apeksha”. His later made the much-acclaimed “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara” starring Anupam Kher and Urmila Matondkar. However, his next two Hindi ventures remained unseen – “Butterfly Chase” was filmed but was left incomplete because of certain producer-related issues, while “Har Pal”, starring Preity Zinta, Shiney Ahuja and Dharmendra, was left unreleased after completion.

Pramathesh Chandra Barua: P C Barua, the scion of the royal family of Gauripur in Lower (Western) Assam, throughout his life worked from Kolkata. A legend of early Indian cinema, Barua produced and directed numerous films and acted in quite a few of them, but“Devdas” with K L Saigal in the lead role remains his most well-known creation.

Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia: The physics professor-turned-filmmaker’s swansong was a Hindi film titled “Kalsandhya”, produced by National Film Development Corporation. It was perhaps the first sensitive storytelling on the impact of insurgency on common people, and starred Ashish Vidyarthi, Debashree Roy along with Assam’s leading stars Jatin Bora and Mridula Barua.

Reema Kagti: This Guwahati girl made Mumbai her base to direct the critically-acclaimed “Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd” followed by the Aamir Khan-starrer “Talash” after honing her skills as an assistant director in films like “Lagaan” and “Dil Chahta Hai”.

Nip Barua: A member of the leading filmmaking family of Assam (his elder brother Brojen Barua was an actor-director-musicjan of high repute, whose films include the all-time blockbuster Dr Bezbarua, while his younger brothers the late D’Bon Barua, Romen Barua and Dwipen Barua are filmmaker, music director and singer respectively), Nip Barua directed the Bengali version of his immensely-popular Assamese film “Kokadeuta, Nati Aru Hati”. The name of the Bengali version was “Dadu, Nati O Hati”.

Biswajeet Bora: This young Mumbai-based Assamese filmmaker, who has made a few Assamese mainstream films, a couple of years ago made a Hindi film called “Aisa Yeh Jahaan”.

Films from outside, shot in the North East:

Maya Tapes (unreleased, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, shot in Meghalaya and Assam);

Har Pal (unreleased, shot in Meghalaya);

Koyla (songs of this Shah Rukh Khan-starrer were shot in Arunachal Pradesh, leading to the Sungetser lake near Tawang getting the popular nomenclature as Madhuri Lake after actress Madhuri Dixit);

Kurbaan (shot in Meghalaya; a bridge on Shillong-Cherrapunji road is even now called the Salman Bridge after actor Salman Khan who serenaded Ayesha Julka in those parts);

Rangoon (much of this Vishal Bhardwaj-directed film was shot in picturesque locations in Arunachal Pradesh mainly, and a small part in Assam);

Rock On 2 (was partly shot in Meghalaya);

Yeh Gulistan Humara (starting Dev Anand, it was partly shot in Arunachal Pradesh);

Jewel Thief (the all time hit of Dev Anand, directed by his brother Vijay Anand, was partially shot in the then the kingdom of Sikkim);

Ek Pal (this Kalpana Lajmi directed film starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Faroukh Sheikh was shot in Assam and Meghalaya);

Daman (another Lajmi-directed film, starring Raveena Tandon, entirely shot in Assam);

Aisa Yeh Jahaan (starring Palash Sen of rock band Euphoria fame, it was partly shot in Assam);

Lal Darja (this Buddhadeb Dasgupta-directed Bengali film had certain scenes shot in Cherrapunji area of Meghalaya);

Sohra Bridge (another Bengali film, directed by Bappaditya Bandopadhyay, was shot almost entirely in Cherrapunji area. In fact, Sohra is the local name for the place. Bandopadhyay was shooting his subsequent film also in the same area, but he passed away before he could complete it.

Pahuna (this Priyanka Chopra production has been shot in Sikkim)

Films on NE films not shot in NE

While the North East is yet to thematically attract filmmakers from outside the region, barring a few examples mentioned above), there have been a few films that have themes with the region as the backdrop but have not been filmed in the region. In this category falls films like Mani Ratnam’s “Dil Se”, Omung Kumar’s “Mary Kom”, Ajay Devgn-Bobby Deol starrer “Tango Charlie”, Anurag Basu’s “Jagga Jasoos” and Priyadarshan’s “Bum Bum Bole”, which was an adaptation of Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven”.

People from the North East who have created a mark in the film world outside:

Dr Bhupen Hazarika: This giant of a cultural personality left his imprint in Bengali and Hindi music and film industries too, though much of his work was set in Assam.

Sachin Dev & Rahul Dev Barman: The father-son duo is among the all-time greats of Indian film music. Related to the royal family of Tripura, the elder Burman made Kolkata and then Mumbai his work place, and created some magical music, and the junior Burman also became a legend by himself when his turn came.

Salil Choudhury: Assam-born Choudhury is another legend of Hindi film music, and he used his knowledge of folk music of Assam very effectively in several of his evergreen songs.

Danny Dengzongpa: This FTII graduate, who is on record that he faced a lot of problems in Pune because of his looks during the 1962 Indo-China War, made the industry take notice of his raw talent and overcame the limitations of his Oriental looks to essay a wide range of roles in hundreds of Bollywood films over the years. Danny now spends quality time of a few months every years in his home state Sikkim.

Victor Banerjee: Born in Assam and schooled in Shillong, Banerjee is a legend in Indian cinema, and is the only actor to have worked with Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, David Niven and Roman Polansky, four world greats. His filmography is too well known to be described here.

Adil Hussain: This National School of Drama alumni from Assam lists theatre as his first passion, which is why he never shifted from his base Delhi so that he can be close to his alma mater NSD where he is a guest faculty. But since he made ginger forays into the world of Hindi cinema less than a decade ago (he had acted a few Assamese films before coming to NSD, and had also acted in a Bengali film titled “Iti Srikanto” long back), Hussain has acted in films from across the world and across genres and languages, showcasing his versatility and range. His most notable work have been in Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”, Subhashish Bhutiani’s “Hotel Salvation/ Mukti Bhawan”, Iram Haq’s Norwegian film “Hva Vil Folk Si (What Will People Say”, Partho Sen-Gupta’s “Arunoday / Sunrise”, Gauri Shinde’s “English Vinglish” and Abhishek Chaubey’s “Ishqiya”.

Seema Biswas: Another NSD alumni, Biswas, who hails from a theatre family in Assam’s Nalbari town, burst into Indian cinema through her defining portrayal of Phulan Devi in Shekhar Kapoor’s film. And since then, she has not looked back, acting in numerous films across languages.

Angaraag Papon Mahanta: The son of legendary singing couple Archana and Khagen Mahanta of Assam, Papon created his band The East India Company and made a name for himself in the live concert scene through his folk fusion music before becoming a go-to man for many Hindi film songs that suits his unique voice. His pan-India fan base is increasing every passing day.

Zubeen Garg: The multi-talented heart throb of Assam, Zubeen burst onto the national consciousness through his song “Ya Ali” from the film “Gangster”. Since then, he has sung many Hindi film songs, but his focus is more on Assam and West Bengal. Garg has sung nearly 30,000 songs across languages from the North East and rest of India, including in Tamil.

Shahnaab Alam: This Assamese raised in Delhi has been executive producer and/ or co-producer of an eclectic range of Hindi films, such as Omerta, D-Day, The Lunchbox, Monsoon Shootout, Ugly, Peddlers, Kabul Express and Dhoom.

Ronnie Lahiri: This Shillong boy has partnered Shoojit Sircar to produce some of Hindi cinema’s most interesting outputs, such as “Vicky Donor”, “Madras Café”, “Piku” and “Pink”.

Ashraful Haque; Haque, another NSD graduate, died too young, but left his mark through films like “Black Friday”, “Fukrey”, “Deewar”, “Raavan”, etc.

Pijush Kanti Roy: The late Roy, who was from Assam, created a name for himself as a sound designer/recordist in Mumbai. He had won a Filmfare Award for his work in the 1970s. Now, hardly anyone in Assam remembers his name though. He also did the Sound for several of Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia’s films.

Bijoy Chowdhary: Another Assamese who shone in the Mumbai film industry. Winner of the Filmfare Award for editing for Balika Badhu (1976), he edited a range of acclaimed films, including “Aamne Saamne”, “Barsaat Ki Ek Raat”,“Anurodh” and “Amanush”.

Amrit Pritam Dutta: Jorhat, Assam-born Dutta has done the sound designing of a number of top Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam films jointly with Oscar winner Resul Pookutty. A National Award and IIFA Award winner, Dutta has also independently done sound designing for a number of films. He was this year nominated as a voting member to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more popularly known as the Oscar Academy. Films in various languages he has worked on include “Love Sonia”, “Zoo”, “Kaabil”, “Endhiran/Robot”, “Pathemari”, “Jazbaa”, “PK”, “Margarita With a Straw”, “Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja”, “Court”, “Highway”, “Ankhon Dekhi”, “English Vinglish”, “Ra.One” and “Ghajini”, in addition, to, of course, several award-winning Assamese films.

Debajit Changmai: A National Award and IIFA Award-winning sound designer, mixer and re-recordist, the soft-spoken Changmai from Assam is a name you would see in the credits of “Ishqiya”, “Jodha Akbar”, “Jagga Jasoos”, “Bahubali 2: The Conclusion”, “Dangal”, “Kaabil”, “Tere Bin Laden”, “Kaminey” and so on.

Reema Kagti: See Above.

Geetanjali Thapa: A former Miss North East, Thapa hails from Sikkim. She has made her mark as an actor, winning the National Award for Best Actress for the film “Liar’s Dice” a few years ago.

Dipannita Sarma: This supermodel-tuned-actress from Assam has done quite a few Hindi films and is a well-known face in the Hindi film industry and the modeling world.

Plabita & Parineeta Barthakur: Among the sisters, Plabita, the younger one, recently impressed everyone in “Lipstick Under my Burkha” and was also seen in “PK”, while Parineeta is a known face in Hindi television serials.

Lin Laishram: This Manipuri actress has done films like “Mary Kom” and “Rangoon”, and has defied militant groups back home to act in Hindi films.

Anurag Saikia: One of the youngest winners of the National Award, this Assamese musician has composed music for Hindi, Assamese and Marathi films apart from being a busy programmer of Hindi film music. He works frequently with Pritam as a programmer, and among the films he has programmed music for are “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, “Dangal” and “Jagga Jasoos”.

Kalpana Patowari: An Assamese girl who is a heartthrob in Bihar. That is the apt description for the singer with a powerful voice. Kalpana, known as the Queen of Bhojpuri music, has sung for several Hindi films, and collaborated with renowned percussionist Trilok Gurtu for more than one world music project.

Joi Barua: With his unique voice, the Mumbai-based singer from Jorhat, Assam is more seen as an independent singer and has come up with some remarkable songs in Assamese. His “Dusokute” in “Margarita With a Straw” caught the eye of the discerning listener.

Dhrubajyoti Phukan: An engineer-turned-music programmer, DJ Phukan, as he is popularly called, is a legend by himself in the Hindi film music industry. Mention the name to anyone associated with film music in Mumbai, and the head is likely to bow in near-reverence. Is the favourite arranger of nearly all A-list musicians. A frequent collaborator of Pritam, Phukan has also composed music for several feature films in Hindi and Assamese, and won the National Award for the music he composed for Hindi short film “Panchakki” some years ago.

Jaya Seal: This Guwahati girl started off as a popular Bihu dancer. Later she acted in films in Hindi (such as Chhal by Hansal Mehta), Bengali (Uttara by Buddhadeb Dasgupta), Telugu and Tamil languages. A graduate from NSD, she has also acted in a few films in Assam in recent times.

Nicholas Kharkongor: This Khasi theatre personality has been practicing his art in Mumbai for many years now. Recently, he directed a Hindi film, “Mantra”.

Kalyan Barua: A legendary guitarist in Hindi film music industry, Kalyan Barua learnt the basics in Guwahati before shifting to Mumbai. He has been the go-to guitarist for many composers for years now, and some of the most famous guitar pieces you have heard in Hindi films since the 1990s have been played by him.

Manas Choudhury: Another leading guitarist in the Hindi film music industry. Like Barua, also from Assam.

Abani Tanti: A highly-respected song recordist and sound editor on Hindi film industry.

Urmila Mahanta: An FTII graduate, Mahanta, who hails from Sonapur, a small town near Guwahati, made her debut with National Award-winning Tamil film “Vazhakku Enn 18/9”, and later acted in its Bengali remake “Chirodini Tumi Je Amaar 2”. Has acted in Hindi films like “Ballad of Rustom”, “Majhi the Mountain Man”, “Chakallaspur”, “Akira”, etc. You will hear more of her in the coming years for sure.

Some other names from Northeast seen in films outside the region in recent times:

Andrea Tariang: This Khasi beauty from Shillong impressed everyone with her strong screen presence in “Pink”.

Patralekha Paul: Another Shillong girl, who has acted in Hansal Mehta’s “City Lights” and another Hindi film.

Diganta Hazarika: This strapping young actor from Assam was seen as Hrithik Roshan’s friend in Ashutosh Goweriker’s “Mohenjo Daro”.

Boloram Das: The NSD graduate has acted in a few Hindi and regional films.

Bala Hijam: This young and popular Manipuri actress starred opposite Malayalam cinema’s heartthrob Dulquer Salman in “Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi”.

Manikangkana Dutta: The Assamese supermodel who has modelled for top international brands, walked the ramp across the world and appeared in top global fashion magazines was seen in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Guzaarish”.

Bijou Thaangjam: The young Manipuri actor has been seen is “Mary Kom”, “Shivaay” and “Jagga Jasoos”, but his talent is not yet fully tapped. Was also a contestant in Masterchef India Season 2.

Advertisements

Cinema of the Northeast: From early Assamese films to star Manipuri directors, all you need to know

(Published on http://www.firstpost.com on 07/10/17)

http://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/cinema-of-the-northeast-from-early-assamese-films-to-star-manipuri-directors-all-you-need-to-know-4109699.html

By Utpal Borpujari

The positive reviews that Rima Das’ totally-independent Assamese film “Village Rockstars” received (she has directed, written , produced, photographed, edited the film, while Amrit Pritam Dutta has done the sound design and Nilotpal Bora has composed the score) at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) almost got overshadowed back home as the media space got captured by actor Priyanka Chopra’s misconstrued comments made on Sikkim being an ‘insurgency-hit state’ and ‘not having’ a filmmaking history till she produced the children’s film “Pahuna”, also screened at the same festival.

Thankfully, the comments by Ms Chopra got only a limited-space time in the media, as the controversy died down soon following her acknowledgement of the mistake and the subsequent apology to the Sikkim government. Thankfully, because, the spotlight needs to be on the exciting cinema that is being made by some fresh talents like Das, Haobam Paban Kumar and Pradip Kurbah in North East India rather than on ill-informed comments made by some on the geo-politically, ethnically and culturally-complex region.

What Chopra said is the not the first time that anyone has made a wrong observation on the North East, but it got more traction simply because she being a celebrity, it became saleable news. In fact, even within the media, the knowledge about the region is rarely more than perfunctory, and this writer can vouch for that having been worked in the media space in Delhi for over two decades. What made Chopra’s comments more newsy was the fact that it contrasted with her connection with the region as a Brand Ambassador for Assam Tourism and also as a producer who is looking at it seriously (after “Pahuna”, she is producing an Assamese films that will be directed by master filmmaker Jahnu Barua).

That “Pahuna” is not the first film out of Sikkim is a fact. And that gives us an opportunity here to take a look at cinemas of North East India. You may call it a primer, or a check list, but here it is, a basic guide on cinemas from what perhaps still remains India’s most less-understood region.

First, let’s find out where it all started. To be precise, the journey of cinema in what is now called North East India started in Bholaguri tea estate, located in the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, not very far from the historically-rich town of Tezpur, also called the cultural capital of Assam. Why a tea estate? The numerous histories of Indian cinema would not tell you that, because in most of them, the genesis of cinema in the region is either completely absent or is just about a footnote. The fact is that Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, an icon in Assam and the scion of a business family that had migrated from faraway Rajasthan several generations before he was born, had set up a temporary film studio in this family-owned tea estate to shoot the first Assamese film, titled “Joymoti”, which was released in 1935, initiating the film movement of Assam and also the whole region. (In a state where still “Marwaris”, as the business community with origins in Rajasthan are broadly called, are viewed as profiteers who make money at the cost of locals, the Agarwalla family is an exception and is credited with being a leading contributor to Assam’s cultural space, thanks to several poets and writers among Jyotiprasad’s predecessors).

Jyotiprasad, who collaborated with his contemporaries and giants of Assamese cultural space such as Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Phani Sarma, to make “Joymoti”, based on a play by Lakshminath Bezbarua, often considered as the father of modern Assamese literature. But it was not a whim of a man from a rich tea planter community that led Jyotiprasad to make a film. He was already an established writer, playwright, lyricist, poet, composer, in addition to being a prominent Freedom fighter (it’s perhaps not a coincidence that he gave the break to a teenager in his second and last film “Indramalati”, made some years later, who later on emerged as another cultural giant of Assam and India, and who went by the name of Bhupen Hazarika).

It was just four years ago, in 1931, that India’s first “talkie” film “Alam Ara” had been released, and films were regularly being made in Mumbai and Bengal by then, but in Assam, it was still an unknown realm. But Jyotiprasad did not want to do an amateurish job, and went to the famed UFA Studios in Germany where he learnt the basics of filmmaking, and also got impressed by the realistic approach of cinema taken by the Germans and the Soviets. So, while much of the filmmaking in rest of India was focusing on religious and mythological cinema, he picked a historical subject, about an Ahom princess Joymoti who had sacrificed her life for the sake of the Ahom-ruled Assam in the 17th century,

Being a nationalist, Jyotiprasad picked a theme that had much resonance in those days, with the anti-British sentiment building up across the country. And he used the inspiring tale of Joymoti to subtly lend a cinematic support to the Freedom Struggle. While doing it, he took a realistic approach, and eschewed the melodramatic route, thus laying the foundation of Assam’s cinema on realism. It’s another matter that it took more than four decades after that for Assamese cinema to actually strongly pick up the realistic approach to cinema.

The tragedy was that Jyotiprasad had to release his film in Raunak cinema in Calcutta (now Kolkata) because there was no cinema hall in Assam. He of course released the film later in Assam, starting with a theatre hall in Guwahati, called the Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir. The lack of screening space meant “Joymoti” was an unmitigated financial disaster.

After Jyotiprasad showed the way, films started getting made in Assam quite regularly, though not many in number. Quite a few of them were notable in local context, and some are now considered as films that need fresh re-evaluation for their cinematic value, such as Bhupen Hazarika’s first film “Era Bator Sur (The Song of the Deserted Path”), in which he documented must of Assam’s musical culture through a fictional story, and Sarbeswar Chakraborty’s patriotic sage “Maniram Dewan”, which has several immortal songs by Hazarika, including the stirring “Buku Hom Hom Kore”, which was later transliterated by him into “Dil Hoom Hoom Kare” in Kalpana Lajmi’s “Rudali”.

As the North East India as we know it now took shape over the years, with states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram carved out of Assam, and Sikkim getting incorporated first into India and then made a part of the “North East” region as an administrative decision, filmmaking efforts also started gradually in other states. Manipur, which had its first film made by Deba Kumar Bose, a Bengali filmmaker from Kolkata, in 1972 – the film was “Matamgi Manipur (Today’s Manipur) – has the most well-developed film industry along with Assam in the region, with both content-driven and mainstream masala stuff being made concurrently over the years. In other states, filmmaking is a more recent phenomena, with only Meghalaya having a sporadic filmmaking journey since 1981, when the first Khasi language film “Ka Synjuk Ri ki Laiphew Syiem (The Alliance of 30 Kings)” directed by Hamlet Bareh Ngapkynta, was released.

In a region where the usage of the term “film industry” is done more for the want of a more appropriate term, the reality is that only Assam and Manipur has a regular filmmaking tradition, though video films in local languages for local consumption have been made in other states quite regularly in recent years, though their cinematically they have hardly any merit simply because of the fact that while the easy availability of digital cameras has enabled lot of young film makers from the region make interesting short films and documentaries, it has also enabled some film illiterate but glamour-struck people to make what can be described at best as poor imitations of B or C-grade films in Hindi, Bengali or Telugu films. And even in these two regular filmmaking states, Manipuri filmmakers make films for budgets in the range of Rs 10-15 lakh, while in Assam, a film with a budget of over Rs 50 lakh is still considered a big budget one. In fact, in Assam, only in recent years a couple of films have crossed the Rs 1 crore budget, and only very recently, singer-musician Zubeen Garg produced and directed “Mission China” which with its reported Rs 2 crore-plus budget, has become the highest-budgeted film of North East ever.

The major problem for filmmakers in the region is lack of enough theatres, with quite a few states not even having a permanent cinema hall, and except Assam, all other states having cinema halls having less than 10 screens each. But in addition to that, another problem is that North East India is a virtual Tower of Babel with nearly 275 ethnic communities with as many languages and dialects, most of which are not understood by communities other than that which speaks it. So, when a film is made in, say Monpa, Sherdukpen or Wancho dialects of Arunachal Pradesh (for example “Sonam” by Ahsan Mujid, “Crossing Bridges” by Sange Dorjee Thongdok and “The Head Hunter” by Nilanjan Datta respectively), their local target audience comprises small tribes of a few thousand people (in most cases less than 50,000), who are spread across difficult mountain terrain in small villages, all places which have no access to cinema halls. So, a film made in such a dialect can have no commercial prospect locally, and can hope to earn back its investment back only if the film travels outside India and is acquired by a foreign distributor. Even local distribution efforts, through “travelling” or “tent” cinema models, are not easy to achieve in the region that has a difficult geographic terrain. And, of course, outside their specific local regions, in rest of India, such films stand no chance commercially as even films made in much bigger languages hardly travel outside their respective states (though the scenario is now changing with multiplexes in major cities releasing films in various languages, though in a limited manner).

Quite clearly, films are not made in this part of the world for only commercial reasons, though there was a time when Assamese films had quite a sizeable market, glimpses of which got seen with recent stupendous Box Office success of “Mission China”, with Assamese crowds thronging the halls in such a way after over two decades, the last time being in 1995, when the gargantuan hit “Joubone Amoni Kore (My Youth Troubles Me)” had come along.

But undaunted by inter-connected problems like dearth of funding, lack of enough cinema halls and a society that has been almost always in turmoil, filmmakers in the region have continued to weave their dreams, seeking to tell stories relevant to the region and its societies, over the years, and more so in recent times. While funding for feature films are often hard to come by, talented youngsters are making a gamut of interesting short films and documentaries, picking up themes that are relevant and current. But, like everything else about the Northeast, this had remained largely outside the so-called ‘mainland’ India’s consciousness.

Over the years, the region has produced several filmmakers who have earned high praise nationally and internationally through their socially-responsible cinema. They include Jahnu Barua and the late Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia of Assam, and Aribam Syam Sharma of Manipur, as also the multifaceted genius Dr Bhupen Hazarika. This, even as those like P C Barua, Danny Denzongpa, Seema Biswas, S D & R D Burman and Salil Choudhury have made a place in ‘mainland’ cinema of different eras, including Adil Hussain and Reema Kagti in more recent times.

Manipur is actually a great example of how one can turn in adverse situation to an advantage. After Hindi films were ‘banned’ by Revolutionary People’s Front , one of the numerous militant groups in the state, in September 2000, leading to the closure of most of the cinema halls in the Imphal Valley (the hill distrcits of Manipur did not have a single cinema hall then, and do not have even now). This led the local filmmakers to devise an economic model in which they shoot their films in the digital format in ultra low budgets and hold ticketed shows in various available halls (theatre halls, community halls, etc., though a few cinema halls in Imphal city has reopened in recent times), this recovering their investments and even making profits.

Those who follow meaningful Indian cinema would know that in Assam, both Jahnu Barua and Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia have contributed immensely given some really good films. Barua’s “Halodhiya Choraye Baodhan Khai” (Catastrophe) that did commendable international business. There have been several other filmmakers who have made one or two acclaimed films before fading into the oblivion as despite winning both national and international honours for their initial films, they never got the funding for their next films. Among them the most notable one is being Gautam Bora (whose only film “Wosobipo” in the Karbi tribal language was screened at the Berlin Film Festival apart from winning the Indira Gandhi Award for the Best First Film of a Director in the National Film Awards), and Dr Santwana Bordoloi (whose only film till recently was “Adajya” in Assamese, which had won a jury award at the International Film Festival of India in 1996. She recently made another film titled “Maj Rati Keteki”). There have been a couple of notable exceptions though, such as Manju Borah (“Baibhav”, “Laaj”, “Aai Ko Naai”, etc., in Assamese, “Ko:Yad” in Mising, and “Dai Huduni Methai” in Bodo languages) and Sanjib Sabhapandit (“Juye Poora Xoon”, “Jatinga Ityady”, “Dikchow Banat Palaax”, etc.), who have managed to make socially-relevant films with small budgets. There have been several other serious filmmakers who have shone through their films, such as Sanjeev Hazorika (“Haladhar”, “Meemagxa”), Bidyut Chakraborty (“Raag Birag”), Ahsan Mujid (who made “Sonam”, the first film in the Monpa dialect of Arunachal Pradesh), etc. And before all of them, it was Padum Barua who in 1976 gave rebirth to Jyotiprasad’s vision of realistic cinema through his unheralded master piece “Ganga Chilanir Pakhi” in Assamese, which remained his only film.

Manipur, where Aribam Sharma gave outstanding films like “Imagi Ningthem” and “Ishanou” (screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival), younger filmmakers are making an effort to make films to tell stories that capture the turmoil of the present-day society as well as folk tales and stories from literature. The most prominent among them, and perhaps of the most important young cinematic voice in the entire North East now, is Haobam Paban Kumar, who after a string of internationally-acclaimed documentaries, recently made his debut fiction film “Loktak Leirembee (Lady of the Lake)” which has scorched the festival circuit from Busan to Berlin.

Some remarkable young talents are emerging from states like Mizoram, from where self-taught filmmaker Mapuia Chawnghtu made the highly-stylised “Khawnlung Run”, or “The Raid of Khawnlung”, with a miniscule budget of only Rs 12 lakh, and Arunachal Pradesh, from where a young Sange Dorje Thongdok made “Crossing Bridges”, the first feature film in the Sherdukpen dialect, which was acquired by Insomnia Films of France), In Meghalaya, Pradip Kurbah made the dramatic Khasi language film “Ri”, which sought to create a debate around the sense of alienation among the youth of the region and how some of them get sucked into a world of violence, and followed it up with the much-appreciated drama “Onataah”, whose Hindi, Marathi and Malayalam remake rights have been sold, a feat for North Eastern cinema that has only once been achieved earlier by Abdul Majid’s Assamese film “Chameli Memsaab” that was remade in Bengali and Hindi. In Sikkim, the smallest of the North Eastern states, several young filmmakers have emerged, such as Karma Takapa whose “Ralang Road” got its world premiere at this year’s Karlovy Vary, and Prashant Rasaily, whose “Acharya” and “Katha” got good reviews in several festivals. In Tripura, Joseph Pulinthanath, a Keralite priest settled in the state, has made a couple of acclaimed films in the tribal Kokborok language, most notably “Yarwng”.

A few films from the North East have got limited release outside the region, such as Jahnu Barua’s “Baandhon”, Rajni Basumatary’s “Raag” and Kenny Basumatary’s laugh riot of a martial arts comedy “Local Kung Fu” (all Assamese), via the now-defunct PVR Director’s Rare initiative. The 2nd installment of “Local Kung Fu” got a commercial release in a few metro cities earlier this year, while Zubeen Garg’s “Mission China” also got a good few days’ run in the metros, thanks to the increasing Assamese population in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. With the emergence of popular video-on-demand platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which are picking up good content for a global audience, a window of opportunity sure exists for the filmmakers from the region who want to tell their own stories. Bhaskar Hazarika’s Assamese film “Kothanodi (The River of Fables)” sometime back became the first North Eastern film to be picked up by Netflix and is said to be having a decent run on the platform. Still, filmmaking in the North East remains more of a passion project than a commercial venture. But then, only passion can lead to the birth of a film like “Village Rockstars”.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.