Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI) has made ‘Ishu’ a children’s film on witch hunting in Assam. The film is directed by national award winning film critic Utpal Borpujari where actors from Assam and Manipur have played different roles.
Set in a remote tribal Rabha village in western Assam area bordering Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, this Assamese feature film is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel with the same name. It marks the feature film debut for Utpal Borpujari.
The film takes a look at the inhuman practice of ‘witch hunting’ that is prevalent in parts of Assam as well as some other parts of India, through the eyes of an innocent child whose favourite aunt is branded as a ‘witch’ by the evil village quack who conspires with another aunt to do so.
Treated like a fairy tale albeit set in today’s times, ‘Ishu’ is a sensitive take on how such incidents impact a child psychologically, with the narrative taking the viewer along protagonist Ishu’s quest to find his aunt who goes missing after being assaulted by the villagers at the instigation of the villainous quack.
“However, despite its sensitive and serious backdrop, my film treats to subject in a way that it is suitable for viewing by children. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has given it a U certification without any cuts,” says Borpujari, who believes that children’s films can affectively take up social issues if handled sensitively.
‘Witch hunting’ has been a recurring problem in Assam, so much so that the state Assembly unanimously passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015, following years of sustained campaign by civil society organisations and an intervention by the Gauhati High Court. The Bill, however, is still awaiting the President’s assent to become a law.
Several incidents of witch hunting has been reported in Assam during this year too, while according to data placed in the state Assembly, 93 cases of witch-hunting were reported and 77 persons, including 35 women, were killed during 2010 to 2015.
Kapil Garo, Tonthoingambi Leishangthem Devi of Manipur, Bishnu Kharghoria, Chetana Das, Pratibha Choudhury, Dipika Deka and Nibedita Bharali among others have played crucial roles in the film.