At the onset, we might not find anything common between Rakeshwar Bora and Dhunu. The former is a middle aged impoverished farmer who has been cheated of his land by a wily landlord. Dhunu, on the other hand is a carefree young girl from the village of Chhaygaon who dreams of owning an electric guitar one day!
However, take a closer look and you will find that despite the obvious difference in their gender, age and milieu, they have something in common- the will to fight insurmountable odds despite their hostile socio-economic condition.
Bora and Dhunu have another something else in alike- both are protagonists of the Assamese movies which won Swarna Kamal, given for the Best Feature Film in the National Film Awards. While Rakeshwar Bora is the iconic character portrayed by actor Indra Bania in Jahnu Barua’s masterpiece ‘Halodia Choraye Baodhan Khaye’ (The Catastrophe) in 1987, Dhunu is the name of the girl from Rima Das’s debut movie ‘Village Rockstar’ which made Assam proud once again after almost three decades on the national platform.
And this definitely gives hope to the ailing Assamese films that the resurgence of Assamese films is possible. However, there is equal amount of apprehension as well in spite of the awards and appreciations, things will be back to square one in few months.
Master filmmaker Jahnu Baruah who has given Assam some of its most iconic films like ‘Aparoopa’, ‘Halodia Choraye Baodhan Khaye’, ‘Xagoroloi Bohudoor’ (It’s a Long Way to the Sea) and ‘Konikar Ramdhenu’ (Ride on the Rainbow) among others said that while ‘Village Rockstar’ winning Swarna Kamal is indeed a great news, overall scenario of Assamese films is not going to change overnight.
“Cinema is passing through a very troubled phase, not just in Assam but in the entire country. Cinema as an art form is seeing rapid deterioration. There is some serious lack of content in our cinema today which is alienating the tasteful audience. Earlier, even our so called mainstream commercial films were so well made. The main problem for Assamese films is that we don’t have a big enough market. Cinema is an expensive medium and unless your film earns money from the market, it is difficult to get funds to make your next movie,” said the multiple award winning filmmaker whose next movie ‘Bhoga Khirikee’ (Broken Window) is expected to hit theatres this year.
Film critic turned filmmaker Utpal Borpujari whose debut feature film ‘Ishu’ won the Rajat Kamal for being the Best Assamese Film this year says that people of Assam, especially in rural areas are very much willing to watch Assamese movies in theatres, but there are not enough cinema halls.
“If we just take the areas around Guwahati like Jagiroad, Mirza, Palashbari, Panikhaiti, Chandrapur, Khetri and Pamohi among others we will be getting a dedicated audience base for Assamese cinema. Just we need to cater to them. Nowadays, good Assamese films like ‘Calendar’, ‘Dooronir Nirola Poja’ and ‘Antareen’ are being made and we only need to ensure that they reach the audience,” he said.
It may be mentioned that recently Assam government has decided to provide Rs 50 lakh to people who are willing to set up cinema halls in the State whereas in order to help revive old cinema halls, the government would provide a fund of Rs 25 lakh.
Young filmmaker Himjyoti Talukdar, whose debut film ‘Calendar’ has been a success both commercially and critically, thinks that a wave of independent cinema is going to hit Assam soon. “I believe if we can provide good content, audience will always come. We are yet to have an established movie industry here in Assam. So, independent movies like ‘Village Rockstars’ are the best bet here because such filmmakers come sans any baggage and bring fresh content. Nowadays, there are so many platforms like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube among others. Filmmakers need to remember that if their content is good, then it will definitely earn money, even if it’s not from the theatrical run,” he said.
Filmmaker Deep Choudhury whose first movie ‘Alifa’ which released few days back has garnered immense appreciation said that Assamese cinema always got respect on the national platform. He says, “Our films always got respect on national platform. It is fantastic that ‘Village Rockstars’ has brought back that legacy”.
However, he is also skeptical whether this national award will change anything for Assamese cinema. “Filmmakers here are trying to create a movement. They are doing their part. But audience needs to support them. I am not saying people should watch a bad Assamese cinema just out of sentiment. But a culture of watching movies seriously needs to grow here. In South India, people keep a monthly budget for watching movies. That doesn’t happen here. Unless viewers encourage tasteful cinema, Assamese films are not going to come out of the rut,” he said.
In the coming days, it would be interesting to see whether we can capitalize on the huge success of ‘Village Rockstars’. This unique tale about a girl from a backward village in Assam dreaming of becoming a rockstar has already piqued attention. People of Assam like stories which are connected to their roots. There was a time in the interim when filmmakers here tried to ape the glitz and glamour of Bollywood with disastrous results. However, now they have again gone back to their roots, as a result of which we are getting movies like ‘Village Rockstar’, ‘Dooronir Nirola Poja’, ‘Calendar’ and ‘Alifa’ among others. It is difficult to say whether getting a ‘Swarna Kamal’ award after three decades will finally bring the resurgence of Assamese cinema.
Nevertheless, we can say that a good start has been made.