It’s not everyday that you come across a figure who excels in various facets of interests and passions, a person who pursues his calling with sheer tenacity and will and ultimately comes out triumphant. Polishing one’s skills and inculcating the desire, the passion to pursue one’s calling in life requires courage, an iron will and above all, boundless determination. The process is somewhat like a metamorphosis, like gold which glimmers brilliantly after it burns in acid. The Northeast has produced many such exponents who have attained the heights of success and acclaim in their respective fields, who have made us proud in the international arena, people who have led by example and the sheer power of their achievements. Talking of international acclaim and accolades, there are very few people who have taken the Northeast to the international arena onto such prestigious platforms as Utpal Borpujari, the award-winning journalist and film critic who has earned international acclaim and fame and whose exceptional calibre and talents have showcased brand Northeast on a pan-Indian and on an international scale. His achievements and the laurels which he has earned from all over the globe speak volumes of his professional excellence and critical acclaim which Borpujari has earned in the course of his illustrious, and still going strong, career.
A journalist-film critic based in New Delhi, Utpal Borpujari’s span of writing and interests encompasses a staggering gamut of issues, addressing prolifically diverse and interesting arenas as cinema, culture, literature, Northeast India, politics, science… the list simply goes on. When drilled on the vast expanse of the areas of his expertise and interest, Borpujari replies with great humility, modesty and frankness: “Of course, as a professional journalist, one should be prepared to write on anything if required. Though my interest lie primarily on cinema, I try to write about anything related to Northeast India – be it politics, art, culture, literature, environment, people, anything, and that is my heart’s calling. I follow diverse fields closely – arts, literature, culture, cinema, politics, sports – which I think allows me to write on them with some sense. But I am just one more journalist, nothing more than that.” This comes from a seasoned veteran who carved a niche for himself, being the first from the entire Northeast to win the Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) Award for the Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India, 2003.
Borpujari, currently based in Delhi for professional involvements, hails from the city he loves most, the city where he grew up, where he nurtured his dreams – Guwahati. However, he is strongly attached to his roots, he loves Assam and cherishes his memories in his hometown where he first started spreading his wings. Little did he know then that he would one day fly high in his cherished sky of passion and success. “Despite working in Delhi since 1995, I have been constantly writing on various aspects and subjects related to NE India consistently. Working with The Sentinel at the very start of my career, under the editorship of Dhirendranath Bezboruah, was a boon, especially when I look back at it. The place gave ample opportunities to write on any and every subject if you had the interest, and what I learnt from Bezboruah sir has been helping me even now. When I joined PTI in Delhi, if I was able to be one of the trusted hands, it was thanks to the grounding at The Sentinel.”
Indeed, Utpal Borpujari has come a long way from his days at The Sentinel in Guwahati, where he found his voice, his calling, where he was groomed into the prospective journalist par excellence that he is today, to his present engagement as the Special Correspondent of The Deccan Herald bureau in New Delhi. In the course of his enigmatic and admirable journey, he has had his path strewn with laurels and accolades from various quarters, earning the stature of a brilliant film critic and writer and above all, a person who has constantly conquered his own self to reach the scale the heights of success. However, it would be worthwhile to note that for Borpujari, the victory lap has but just begun. Speaking about his childhood and his formative years, he dwells nostalgically on those magical days: “I belong to a normal middle class household, with my father Prabhat Chandra Borpujari in the judiciary and mother Dolly Borpujari an official with the Law Department of the State Department. My younger and only brother Nilotpal has been a national level junior TT player who represented Assam in national championships from sub junior to senior levels. Even as a child, we used to watch lot of films, as my parents would take us to watch films while we were very small, in Silchar, and then in Guwahati. Of course, later, I used to watch lot of films without telling at home, bunking classes in college. Reading books was my passion, which probably drew me to writing, though not creative writing. My maternal grandfather, the late Suresh Chandra Goswami, incidentally, was a renowned novelist, a Xatriya dance exponent and the director of the ninth Assamese film Runumi (released in 1952), and I was always fascinated by his achievements. My first exposure to cinema as a very interesting visual art form came through Doordarshan’s Sunday daytime telecast of award-winning films in various Indian languages and also festivals of Indian and international films organized by Assam Cine Art Society (ACAS). Being a neighbour of director Sanjeev Hazarika, and introduction through him to people like Nayan Prasad and Chandan Sarma, apart from knowing senior journalists like Samudra Gupta Kashyap, who was a family acquaintance, also helped develop my interest in cinema, theatre and writing about them.”
A resounding embodiment of academic excellence, Borpujari decided to don the garb of a journalist after pursuing an M.Tech in Applied Geology from University of Roorkee (now IIT-Roorkee). And commenting on this unusual shift in his career track, Borpujari remarks: I think that was destined. I was always interested in cinema, and the M. Tech in Applied Geology from IIT-Roorkee probably happened because I did not have guidance to take up a journalism or mass communication course, which were not so easily available in the late 1980s or early 1990s). Of course, as a subject, I love geology, and I have also written quite a few pieces on geology-related aspects. By the time I was completing the second year of my M.Tech course, I had in mind decided to become a journalist, as my experience of writing for The North-East Sun while doing my B.Sc in Guwahati and then writing articles in various newspapers (Sunday Observer, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Prantik, Assam Tribune, North-East Times, etc.) while in Roorkee whetted my appetite”
Borpujari’s name has become synonymous with authority and expertise in the realm of film criticism and in the print media. Many prestigious awards and privileges have been conferred on him for his contributions to the realm of cinematic criticism and writing. A member of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), he has served on several prestigious film juries including the Jury for Best Writing on Cinema, 51st National Film Awards of India, 2004, FIPRESCI Jury at the MAMI International Film Festival, Mumbai, 2006, Critics Jury of the Indian Competition section at the 10th Mumbai International Festival of Short, Animnation and Documentary Films (MIFF), 2008, NETPAC (Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema) Jury at the 11th Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian & Arab Cinema, New Delhi, 2009 etc. As a critic and journalist, he has covered Cannes film festival, Nantes, IFFI, MAMI, 3rd Eye, MIFF and Osian’s Cinefan film festivals over the years. And that’s not all. To add yet one more feather to his cap, he has edited the official catalogue of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 & 2008. He has also been a member of the preview committee to select international films at the 39 IFFI (2008) and 40th IFFI (2009). In keeping with his professional pursuits, he is associated with Film Trust India, New Delhi; Assam Cine Art Society, Guwahati; and Cine Art Society, Asom (CineASA), Guwahati). He has contributed cinema-related essays to various publications, and served as an honorary consultant to the 1st Ahmedabad International Film Festival (2009). However for this prolific critic, he has but started on his long, long road.
Shifting focus from his professional achievements to the complex host of issues haunting the State, especially the socio cultural aspect, I try to extract the seasoned journalist’s response on the burning issues of the day. Speaking about the deplorable plight of the Axomiya film industry, Borpujari pours forth his concern and opinions regarding the pathetic plight of the film industry in the state which once upon a time produced such masterpieces as Dr Bezbaruah, Moniram Dewan and Chameli Memsaheb to name a few. Borpujari also draws attention to the surprising fact that while Assam, in tandem with other States, has a rule that every hall has to run local films at least 100 days per year, filmmakers are refused screening space by halls, without drawing any action from the government. That too when with the few number of movies made, the halls rarely get local films to screen, let alone screen them for 100 days! Indeed the deplorable plight of the Assamese film industry deserves more attention if it is to be rescued from the deluge of maladies paralysing the industry. Coming back to the topic, it would be worthwhile to note that as the trend of parallel or artistic cinema catches up in other parts of the country, thereby offering ample scope to the new breed of conscious film-makers to address the concerns and questions taxing the minds of our age, the concept hasn’t exactly caught up in this part of the country. Utpal Borpujari believes that the audience in Assam needs to respond to the concept of such films in a positive manner, thereby offering sufficient stimulus and creative encouragement to the budding film makers to showcase their talent. “Filmmaking, like any creative, art form, has all kinds of products, if we can call them that. ‘Intellectual’ films, as you call them, are basically films that are also called ‘parallel’ or ‘art’ cinema in various parlances. Just selecting a serious subject would not result in a good ‘intellectual’ film, because the creator of that film too needs to have the ‘intellectual’ capacity to deal with such subjects with the required sensitivity”
Addressing the concerns and burning questions of his native land has always been a matter of responsibility and priority with this talented critic-journalist, and he has explored various avenues to put forth his opinions on whatever has concerned him. Significantly, he had also co-authored the book Secret Killings of Assam with journalists Mrinal Talukdar and Kaushik Deka on the spate of the infamous secret killings in the State. The book is primarily an exposition of his opinions and research into what he terms as ‘the dark chapter of Assam’s recent history’. Encouraged by the response of his first stint as an author, Borpujari is in the process of a pioneering initiative to bring out a coffee table book on Assam, the first-ever coffee table book on the State along with Mrinal Talukdar and nine others. Indeed, it is worthwhile to mention that such innovative initiatives will go a long way in promoting brand Axom on a pan-India scale. Talking of Axom , one is bound to give due cognizance to the unfortunate fact that the State has witnessed a spate of conflict and strife unlike any other State in India, and it is in this context that Borpujari dwells with concern on the host of problems which have created a hostile situation here: “We have to learn our lessons from our recent history, and learn to be hard working, honest, and confident to take on the world if we have to be at par with the rest of the country or the world. It is really sad that whenever there is a study on the States’ performance in sectors like education, health care, agriculture, Assam is near the top from the bottom! And we have to overcome the fascination for easy money, bestowed upon us thanks to reasons we all know”.
Shifting focus to the different shades and the lighter side of this talented critic, much has been said and written about his professional and intellectual interests, but how prolific is the critic when he dons the garb of the loving family man, the indulgent father. For one who has many cards up his sleeve, Borpujari never fails to impress: “Well, there is nothing to talk about – I am a journalist who goes to office every day! I stay in Delhi with my wife Bornali, who works with a private company, and our two little devils Arunabh (8) and Anurag (1+).
Indeed, some people, their achievements and above all their attitude and perspective leaves an indelible impression on our minds, and it is without a grain of doubt when I say that Utpal Borpujari is truly an icon. For whatever he represents, his dedication and success has taken him to new levels of endeavour and achievement. As stated earlier, it is not everyday that you come across a person who constantly re-invents himself, his commitment and his passion. Needless to say, we can be sure of the wonderful reassurance that Utpal Borpujari, critc-journalist-writer extraordinaire will continue to rediscover himself and make his people, us , everyone proud through his commendable achievements. As Robert Frost aptly said: “And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep”, Utpal Borpujari too has a long, glittering and remarkably beautiful ahead of him, a road that ultimately leads to the innermost sensibilities of his place, of his native land and his people.