‘Boomba Ride’, written, edited and directed in 2021 by Indian filmmaker Biswajeet Bora, is like his previous opus ‘God on the Balcony’, shot entirely in the state of Assam, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River where he spent his childhood and youth.
The inhabitants of the surrounding villages are poor and lack the essential. Most of them live in wooden huts on stilts to protect themselves from flooding. They live with pets, chickens and pigs in particular and have no electricity, no kitchen, no toilets. Their way of life is reminiscent of that of the Neanderthals in history books. The women squatting stoke the fire under a pot and the children eat with their fingers and play in nature. Yet television, cellphones, motorcycles and cars exist in those who can afford them and in cities.
Boomba (Indrajeet Pegu of a confusingly natural) is a smarter seven-eight-year-old boy and more alert than children his age. He lives with a courageous mother (remarkable Dipali Pegu) who after the death of her husband has to raise a little kid that she carries on her back like the shell of a snail and sell fruit and vegetables and some artisanal products. Mother urges Boomba to go to the communal primary school initiated by the grandfather because the instruction is synonymous with social advancement. But he is reluctant at the task especially since he is the only student in the school. So, he is pampered by the teacher and the principal of the school concerned with preserving and retaining their jobs. Boomba takes the opportunity to blackmail them. He eats good food at their expense and extorts money from them. He goes to the principal’s house to get a free bottle of kerosene, to watch television and to have a glance of his daughter who attends the English medium school.
The fool’s bargain holds until a national education inspector comes in for an inventory. To look good, the principal and his deputy paid the village kids some money with the help of Boomba to cram them into the classroom for the inspection. But the deception is quickly discovered when none of the kids can answer the inspector’s basic questions. The school is threatened with closure and the principal severely holds Boomba responsible for his outspokenness. Boomba runs away and becomes a leader, listened to, by his illiterate friends. He finds the objects stolen by Pitou, a kid whom the two educators wanted to knit in his place, and brings them back to school. Everything ends well then. Boomba gives up the idea of joining the English school and returns to the school attended by all the kids. The feat of symbolically climbing the Tree of Knowledge, which fails twice at the start of the film, comes true at the end. Boomba sitting high up at a crossing of branches gazes serenely into the distance.
Biswajeet Bora made a film with little money, the actors being villagers who have never been to a movie theatre. He describes with great accuracy and affection the daily life of a community that lives in symbiosis with nature as in his earlier film, ‘God on the Balcony’.
The green landscape and the rays of the sun which colour it according to the hour, the flow of the water, the cries of the birds which merge with the squealing of the pigs and the wailing of the baby (very good sound processing by the faithful Jyoti Chetia), old-fashioned weaving, spicy dishes, are all valuable ethnographic data. The still glaring social inequalities are associated with corruption and venality (the inspector’s agreement is bought with a bag of food and the children’s agreement with small bills), pettiness, resourcefulness and lies. The children of the rich go to English school where etiquette is required (uniforms for boys and girls). The principal’s daughter rides there by bicycle (reminiscent of ‘God on the Balcony’). The students are clean and the teacher teaches in English. However, the filmmaker believes in the motto of Nelson Mandela recalled in a box at the beginning of the film: education is the future of the new generations. You can do just as well in the municipal school as in the private school.
Biswajeet Bora is found in the portrait of his young hero. He magnifies his malice, his schemes and his determination to climb as high as possible. Boomba is Apu’s distant cousin of Satyajit Ray and Abbas Kiarostami’s children trapped in a backward education system but driven by an unwavering desire to challenge the obtuse mindsets of adults in Where’s My Friend’s House?
Boomba stands up to the elders using their weapons and arguments. He exploits their loopholes to become a shameless operator himself. Doesn’t the policy consist in making a few exploited more knowledgeable than the others into future exploiters? This is the final lesson in Boomba’s transfiguration.
The film is produced by Luit Kumar Barman, Koushik Hazarika, Binod Lal Das and Biswajeet Bora under ML Entertainment and Quatermoon Productions.