National Film Awards: Filmmaker writes to jury for not awarding any Bodo film

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Actor-director from Assam Rajni Basumatary wrote an open letter to chairman of the feature films jury at National Film Awards, for not awarding any Bodo film this year. The awards were announced recently.

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Kaziranga University

In her strongly-worded letter to jury chairman N Chandra, Basumatary alleged that her Bodo language film ‘Jwlwi, The Seed’ was ignored by the jury because the ‘lack of awareness of the region, its people and their history’.

Jwlwi, The Seed’ was submitted for best Bodo language film category but it failed to get the nod of the jury.

“It is distressing not only for me and my team but also for hundreds of thousands of Bodos who were keenly expecting a rightful recognition of our film by you,” Rajni Basumatary wrote to the chairman.

“As per the official website, the national awards aim at encouraging the production of films of aesthetic and technical excellence and social relevance contributing to the understanding and appreciation of cultures of different regions of the country in cinematic form and thereby also promoting integration and unity of the nation.”

“And apparently, the objective of awarding a film made in a certain Indian language is, we are told, to promote and preserve the language and culture in which the film is made,” she mentioned in the letter.

Bodo language film – Jwlwi – deals with insurgency in Assam

Jwlwi deals with the struggle of families who lost their near and dear ones when the insurgency was peak in Assam. It’s about a family that crumbles amidst insurgency and the mother’s journey to bring home her last offspring.

The film has been screened in several major international film festivals across the country. Besides having its theatrical release, the film was displayed in rural areas especially in the Bodoland Territorial Area districts. People came out in large numbers for these special screenings due to lack of theatre halls.

“The film has garnered rave reviews in the media and immense love from the audience. It has won several awards. This film, therefore, has to be more than a decent film. Moreover, Bodo films rarely make it to the limelight outside the region, and maybe only once in a decade, and entering a competition for national awards is even more seldom,” she added.

A jury member, however, said that no filmmaker can claim that way that her or his film has been neglected. “There must be something in the film for which they decided to go against it. There are certain rules and regulations and norms which we need to follow while selecting a film,” the jury member, in the condition of anonymity, said.

Rajni Basumatary’s unedited open letter to N Chandra, jury chairman at 67th National Film Awards:

Dear Mr Chandra, a year ago the BTR Accord was signed to bring peace and prosperity ending decades long armed struggle of the Bodos. The armed struggle, you may be aware, was primarily to assert language and cultural identity of the community which were about to vanish for various reasons. Having to take up arms to assert self-identity was indeed devastating for the State and the people in the region. Hence, the BTR accord was a welcome step taken by the current dispensation.

To celebrate one year of the Bodo Accord this January, the Union Home Minister attended a huge gathering at Kokrajhar where he promised to the people in my region that his government will work to protect the language and culture of Assam.

The Hon’ble minister repeated this promise last Sunday in the same place, to the same people. It could be a sheer coincidence that the following day, the 67th National Film Awards were announced and it was found out with great disappointment that no Bodo film was awarded in the Best Bodo Film category, let alone in other categories.

According to the official site, “National Awards aim at encouraging the production of films of aesthetic and technical excellence and social relevance contributing to the understanding and appreciation of cultures of different regions of the country in cinematic form and thereby also promoting integration and unity of the nation.”

And apparently, the objective of awarding a film made in a certain Indian language is, we are told, to promote and preserve the language and culture in which the film is made.

Hon’ble Chairman, as a chairman does not and cannot watch all films, you may not be aware of my Bodo language feature film “Jwlwi – The Seed”, which was submitted to be considered for the 67th National Film Awards. This film has travelled to several International Festivals and won awards and recognitions in Guwahati and Bengaluru. A film, based on Assam’s insurgency days when thousands of families were impacted by gun violence, “Jwlwi – The Seed” has garnered rave reviews in the media and immense love from the audience. This film, therefore, has to be more than a decent film. Moreover, Bodo films rarely make it to the limelight outside the region, and maybe only once in a decade, and entering a competition for national awards is even more seldom.

Therefore, it is distressing not only for me and my team but also for hundreds of thousands of Bodos who were keenly expecting a rightful recognition of our film by you, Hon’ble Chairman and your jury members.

In the wake of the government’s promises to the people belonging to smaller communities that their cultures and languages will be protected, preserved and promoted, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that an eminently important Bodo film not being selected for the Bodo language category is a failure of the jury members selected. It indicates their lack of awareness of the region, its people and their history. If this was not the case, they would have behaved more responsibly in contributing towards fulfilment of the government’s promises in regards to our language and culture and not making it look like doing just lip service.

I urge you, Hon’ble Chairman, not to dismiss this letter as whining of a losing fighter. I am writing to you with utmost responsibility and I know what I am saying. This is not my first film that did not win a National award. I did make a film in 2014, which was in Assamese language and had been submitted for consideration. I accepted the decision of the jury member wholeheartedly as I knew there were better films in the competition. But this time round, “Jwlwi – The Seed” not winning an award cannot have a logical conclusion.

Through this open letter to you, Hon’ble Chairman, I urge future jury members of the prestigious National Film Awards to be not just cinematically but also socially responsible in upholding the aims and objectives of the awards. Those who are responsible to select Jury Members must also see to it that irresponsible and mediocre jury members are not placed for such a huge task as that of selecting Best Films in Indian Languages, who have no understanding or empathy for ethnic minority groups struggling to keep their languages and cultures alive.

Finally, if you haven’t seen the film kindly do watch it. You will be able to understand my contention and may want to admonish the ignorant jury members who blocked the film from coming to your table. People say ‘awards are like a lottery’ but in the case of my film, I feel the name-chit itself was kept out of the draw bowl!

Best wishes,
Rajni Basumatary


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