He is entering the 90s but Anwar Hussain has not yet retired. For him still miles to go. One of the pioneers in filmmaking not just in Assam but across India, this veteran is working on his next project which is based on Kamakhya.
“Script and other related things have been completed. I’m expecting to begin the shooting shortly,” a confident Hussain told this writer at his Kumarpara residence in Guwahati.
His journey commenced in the early 1950s when he ventured to Mumbai to immerse himself in the art of cinema. At the tender age of 21, he displayed his directorial prowess with ‘Sorapat’, an Assamese feature film that graced screens in 1955, earning him acclaim as one of the youngest filmmakers in India at the time.
After that, he continued to make several films.
Continuing the conversation, Hussain said he is hopeful that his film would be widely accepted. Hussain had already made a feature film ‘Maa Kamakhya’ in 1982. Till now no one filmmaker has made any feature on Kamakhya Temple.
“Being a Muslim, I worked on Maa Kamakhya. I take immense pride in that. I hope my next film will equally be accepted,” Hussain added.
Born to Niyamat Ali and Habiban Nesa in 1934 in Kumarpara, Guwahati, Hussain’s educational foundation was laid in his hometown. Following his school years in Guwahati, he furthered his studies at St Anthony’s College in Shillong. However, his passion for the magic of cinema drove him to the Motion Picture Arts Academy in Mumbai, where he delved into the intricacies of film direction in 1952-53.
“Those were tough days. There were a lot of conflicts… I loved cinema very much whereas my father who was a conservative Muslim was against it. But I followed my love and ended up in Bombay (now Mumbai),” he recalled with a smile.
In Mumbai, he met some of the biggest names of that era including Dev Anand, RD Barman and Kishore Kumar among others. He had also the privilege of working with Dev Anand on one of his projects which helped him to earn some money.
Hussain began his career as an assistant director on various projects, contributing to notable films such as ‘Lanka Dahan’ and ‘Hyderabad Ki Nazneen’ in Mumbai. Notably, he served as the chief assistant director for ‘Devta’, a film in which the legendary Balraj Sahani took centre stage.
After spending some time and learning the craft of filmmaking Hussain landed in Guwahati. He desperately wanted to make his first film but where is the fund? And his father was dead against him joining filmmaking. So, Hussain started to work and gather some funds amounting to Rs 60,000.
“As there was no hope that my father would help me I started to do some work. I took up the contract work to build some professors’ quarters and could gather the funds. Immediately I started shooting for ‘Sarapat’ in 1955,” he said.
Subsequently, Anwar Hussain embarked on his journey as an independent filmmaker in Assam. His dedication to the craft led to his directorial endeavours in subsequent Assamese feature films, including ‘Natun Prithibi’ in 1958. Drawing talent from Kolkata for both actors and technical roles, the musical landscape of the film was masterfully crafted by Mukul Barua, Birendra Kr Phookan and Rajeswar Bordoloi. The film’s soundscape was thoughtfully curated by Bordoloi.
Hussain’s creative journey continued with films like ‘Tejimala’ in 1962, ‘Paap Aru Praychitta’ in 1977, and ‘Sri Sri Maa Kamakhya’ in 1982. ‘Tejimala’ garnered high praise, receiving the Certificate of Merit from the President of India at the National Film Awards.
In 1995, Anwar Hussain endeavoured to create another Assamese film, ‘Agnikanya’. Unfortunately, the film has yet to see the light of day.
The legacy of Hussain’s first film, ‘Sorapat,’ is preserved at the National Film Archive of India, Pune, a testament to his enduring impact on Indian cinema.
During his school days in Guwahati, Anwar Hussain not only pursued academics but also embraced the arts. He cultivated his talent in playing the sitar under the guidance of Sundar Bordoloi at Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir. Additionally, he had the privilege of receiving encouragement and mentorship in the world of filmmaking from the revered Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rava.
Anwar Hussain’s dedication to Assamese cinema did not go unnoticed. He was honoured with the Chief Minister’s Special Award in 1988, recognizing his significant contributions to the cinematic landscape of Assam. In 2010, on the 141st birth anniversary of Dada Saheb Phalke, he received the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Academy Award for his unwavering commitment to Assamese cinema.
Hussain’s legacy is further cemented by the artiste pension he receives from the Assam government, acknowledging his immense artistic contributions.
Not confined to filmmaking, Anwar Hussain also served as the President of the Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA) for several years, leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape of the region.