Since Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwala made the first Assamese movie Joymoti, the Assamese film industry has evolved a lot.
From the time when as a thriving movie industry, Assamese film industry, also popularly called as Jollywood, churned out both commercial blockbusters and sensitive middle of the road cinema, winning accolades at the National Awards and film festivals across the globe, movie making business in Assam has come a long way. At that time, there was a dedicated audience for Assamese cinema who would devote their time and money at the theatres to watch the latest releases.
However, onslaught of Bollywood engulfed Assamese cinema since the 90s and took it almost to a point of no return. From a thriving industry, Assamese cinema got reduced in shambles trying to unsuccessfully imitate the razzmatazz of Hindi films. A time came when lack of good content almost made the audience turn away from Assamese films and lack of revenue made the hall owners reluctant to screen those films at the theatres.
Hopefully, things are changing for the better due to efforts of some young filmmakers who are not afraid to take risks. These youngsters are not bound by constraints…and despite facing heavy odds, they have been able to come up with engaging content which is marking the return of Assamese audience to movie theatres.
While, as we hope that the scenario is only going to get better for Assamese films in the future, let’s look at some Assamese movies from recent years, which no cinephile would want to miss.
Rima Das’s directorial Village Rockstars, which won the Swarna Kamal for being the Best Feature Film at the 65th National Awards and also got selected as India’s official entry to the 92st Academy Awards, has been a shot in the arm for Assamese films. Made with a shoestring budget, the movie tells the story of a young village girl Dhunu who dreams of owning an electric guitar one day and starting her own rock band with her friends. However, things are not as easy as societal norms, nature’s fury and deprivation makes it almost impossible to realize her dreams. Rima Das weaves magic on celluloid as this little film with a gigantic heart leaves you wanting for more.
III Smoking Barrels
Despite the obvious similarity in title with the Guy Ritchie classic, III Smoking Barrels directed by Sanjib Dey is one of the most original films to come out in recent times. Through the story of three individuals – a young girl trying to flee from a militant camp, a disillusioned engineering dropout who becomes a drug peddler and a poor fisherman who becomes an elephant poacher after government bans fishing in the protected areas of the forest, Dey shows us a macro picture of the region, highlighting some of its most burning issues like insurgency, drug abuse and poaching of wild animals. Some deft cinematography portraying the virgin landscape of Northeast with all its grandeur has been the high point of the film along with arresting performances from all the actors.
Himjyoti Talukdar had started an online portal called Enajori where old Assamese songs, movies, articles and photos were archived. At that time, nobody knew that one day he will himself make a film which will be archived in the annals of Assamese cinema. Starring Arun Nath, Moloya Goswami and Gunjan Bharradwaj, Calendar is a heart-warming family drama. Post its release, the movie managed to get both accolades and footfalls. People related to the story of the movie and many narrated on social media how the film made them reconnect to their parents.
Every day while passing through the busy streets of Guwahati, we would see a group of nameless folks huddled in a corner of the road. They are daily wage labourers who wait for someone to hire them for some manual job so that they can put food on the table for their children at night. Deep Choudhury’s directorial debut Alifa’s greatest achievement is that he puts the focus on the plight of these people. Encroachment of hills around Guwahati, man-leopard conflict, displacement of farmers due to vagaries of nature, humiliation of a particular community, Choudhury addresses many burning topics of the state. His film is however elevated by some terrific performances by Baharul Islam, Jaya Seal and Pakija Hasmi in the titular character of Alifa.
Maj Rati Keteki
Veteran filmmaker Santwana Bordoloi returned to filmmaking after a hiatus of two decades and delivered a slow burning but extremely moving cinematic experience. Adil Hussain is his usual brilliant self as the writer Priyendu Hazarika who returns to his hometown after a decade and tries to grapple with his memories of the place. Hussain won his second Special Mention/Special Jury Award in the 64th National Awards for his performance in the film. The movie is now streaming on Netflix.
Bhaskar Hazarika’s Kothanodi was perhaps the first Assamese movie to give importance to promotion. Based on Lakshminath Bezbaroa’s collection of fables Buri Aair Sadhu, the movie was dark and was intense. Shot in the World Heritage Site Majuli, the film starred some of the best actors in business from Assam like Adil Hussain, Zerifa Wahid, Seema Biswas, Urmila Mahanta and Kapil Bora. Hazarika offered his own interpretation to the stories, especially to the female characters. With the ugly head of superstition popping its head up time and again, Kothanodi relevance is tremendous. The movie also got positive feedback both from the theatre hopping crowd and the festivals alike. It was selected as the Best Feature Film in Assamese in the 63rd National Awards.
Local Kung Fu
No Assamese film in recent years had entertained me as much as this directorial debut of Kenny Basumatary. Made with a shoestring budget of Rs 95,000 and shot with a Canon 550-D HD Camera, Local Kung Fu with its madcap characters, healthy dose of slapstick humour and martial arts garnered attention of audience and has become some sort of a cult film over the years. The movie was successful and inspired a sequel called Local Kung Fu 2.