Maj Rati Keteki: Revealing an author’s insight

When a popular stage and radio artiste made a full-length Assamese movie in the early 90s, the film-goers responded positively and everyone thought it as a natural transformation from a performer to a director.

But even after receiving critical appreciations for ‘Adajya’ (The Flight, 1996), the director, who is a practising paediatrician, did not launch any movie for nearly two decades giving space to her critics to term Dr Santwana Bardoloi as ‘one-film wonder’.

Disproving all criticisms, the distinguished filmmaker, nearly a decade after, has now readied her second movie in Assamese for commercial releases in theatre halls.

The accomplished stage and radio artiste, who received national award for ‘Adajya’, repeated her achievement with ‘Maj Rati Keteki’ (Midnight Keteki) at 64th National Film Awards (of India, 2016).

Conceived, produced and directed by Dr Bardoloi, the 116 minutes movie won national award as the best Assamese feature film. Popular Bollywood actor Adil Hussain, who hails from Assam, received national award with jury’s special mention for his performances in ‘Maj Rati Keteki’ (shared with Hindi movie ‘Mukti Bhawan’, directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani).

Dr Santwana Bardoloi

Produced under the banner of Dr Bardoloi’s newly launched production house named Udara Films, the movie has other casts including Kulada Kumar Bhattacharya, Sulakshana Barua, Mala Goswami, Shakil Imtiaz, Mahendra Rabha, Rahul G Sarma, Pranami Bora, Indu Mohan Das, Ashim K Baruah, Ponkhi Kashyap, Kasvi Songkorison etc.

‘Maj Rati Keteki’ has cinematography by Gnana Shekar VS and music by Anurag Saikia. Its sound design and mixing was done by Debajit Changmai and only song played by Rupam Bhuyan’s voice. Ushma Bardoloi edited the movie and also worked as the associate director.

Waiting for release on October 27, the feature film was recently screened in two international film festivals of Kerala and Bengaluru, where it attracted rave reviews from the audience as well critics.

Maj Rati Keteki’ also received invitations from a number of prestigious film festivals across the country and is waiting for more screenings.

The story of the movie, scripted by the director herself, revolves around a sensitive author who returned to his native place after many years and thus encounters a series of events involving different personalities to redefine his old experience and realizations. The title of the movie literary means midnight hawk-cuckoo, which gets reflection in the long whistling cry of a small Keteki bird.

A physician by profession at Assam’s well-known Dispur Hospital and a cultural entity by choice, Dr Bardoloi ventured into the world of celluloid with ‘Adajya’, which was based on a much-admired Assamese novel tilted Dontal Haatir Uiye Khowa Haoda, authored by Dr Indira Goswami. Starring Tom Alter, Bishnu Kharghoria,  Nilu Chakrabarty, Trisha Saikia, Bhagirothi, Triveni Bora, Chetana Das, Indira Das, Mintu Barua etc, the movie brought laurels at 44th National Film Awards. ‘Adajya’ also was screened in various international film festivals.

FTII-trained cinematographer Mrinal Kanti Das won  the national award for ‘Adajya’ (shared with ‘Raag Biraag’), which came for the first time to the Assamese film industry. A seasoned Assamese actor Bidyut Chakraborty was awarded with Indira Gandhi director’s best debut film award for ‘Raag Biraag’ (Vacation of a Sanyasi, 1996), which was also based on an Indira Goswami’s literary creation.

Sadly, Jnanpith award-winning author Mamoni Roichom Goswami, young cameraperson Das, national awardee music director Choudhury and popular performer Chakraborty faced untimely deaths in the recent past creating a major vacuum in the regional film industry.

Addressing the media persons recently at the Guwahati Press Club, Dr Bardoloi highlighted the present crisis of Assamese film fraternity as the number of movie-goers for regional cinemas hasn’t increased substantially. She admitted that often the regional filmmakers fail to understand the urge of audience towards their productions. However, she remained hopeful that the general audience would come forward to support the local film industry.

Pointing out that a good movie can be totally entertaining and another one too serious, where the third one may be entertaining as well as serious, but Dr Bardoloi claimed that all three productions can be good movies. She urged the intellectual section of the society, including the media, to encourage the common audience for enjoying such movies.

Even though she admitted that a producer of Assamese movies hardly gets back the invested amount of money for the production, but the visible response from the audience in cinema halls encourages a responsible filmmaker to start a new venture. The film societies, as well as the media, can promote the culture of appreciating honest cinemas in the country, Dr Bardoloi commented.

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