Multiplex hits to sensitive indie films, are we witnessing a new wave in Assamese cinema?

The shift in Assamese film industry, which was witnessing a lull for over 20 years, was long pending

When Zubeen Garg’s Mission China arrived at the movie halls in Assam last year in September, the cinemascape of the Assamese industry was already in midst of a major change. Mission China was, in a manner of speaking, the tipping point. That’s when the state government took note of the sad state of the Assamese industry, which was unfairly pitted against Bollywood. Last year, a few legislators raised their voice for compulsory screening of local movies in the cinema halls across the state.

Mission China

A still from Assam’s latest blockbuster, Mission China / YouTube

It all started with Kenny Basumatary’s Assamese indie, Local Kung Fu 2 (based on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors), which released in April alongside Baahubali 2. The low-budget Assamese movie, which was doing fairly well was taken down from state-wide cinema halls once Baahubali 2 released.

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Talking to InUth, actor and director Kenny Basumatary spoke about the change Assamese film industry is witnessing:

“The Assamese film industry has always been producing decent movies, with content that the audience appreciates. There are two things that the industry could focus on so that our movies could profit. First, we need to work on publicity as our movies can do good if they are marketed well. Secondly, we need to have more cinema halls across the state. Right now, there are only 60-70 theatres. Moreover, Assamese movies get released only in some theatres and get a few shows.”

A  YouTube screengrab from the trailer of Local Kung Fu 2

It was only because Local Kung Fu 2 was doing well that the producers were able to get it back on four screens in Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia, as reported by the Quint. But Kenny clarifies that his movie got only a few shows in these theatres.

“Earlier, I used to believe that there should be a law to prioritise Assamese movies over Bollywood ones, but not anymore. Being an artist myself, asking for removing others’ work cannot be an option. Also, cinema owners need to make money, they’re doing their business. I think we should only focus more on creating good content.”

It was the super expensive spy-thriller, Mission China and the low-budget comedy, Local Kung Fu 2 (the first-ever sequel of any Assamese movie) that changed the course of the industry, which was witnessing a lull for over 20 years. More than anything else, it was the fact that both these movies were well-made.

The shift in Assamese film industry was long pending and a renaissance came with movies like Bobby Sarma Baruah’s Sonar Baran Pakhi (2016). Although a documentary, Hastir Kanya (1997) had already been made by the noted filmmaker Probin Hazarika on the life of Padma Shri Pratima Baruah Pandey, Bobby Sarma Baruah’s biopic Sonar Baran Pakhi (The Golden Wing) was different. For the first time in the country, a movie was made in Rajbangshi – a dying language that’s a mix of Assamese and Bangla and a language in which Pratima Baruah sang Goalpariya lokgeet (folksong). The movie was adjudged the Best Feature Film at the Indian Film Festival at Los Angeles (IFFLA).

Sonar Baran Pakhi

A still from Bobby Sarma Baruah’s Sonar Baran Pakhi/ YouTube

Talking about the re-emergence of Assamese industry, Bobby Sarma Baruah told InUth:

“Content-wise, regional movies are always better than the mainstream [Bollywood] movies. Bollywood movies are big budget productions, while we don’t have that kind of money for our films. But what we can do is focus on publicity and also, generating better content. Paucity of theatres is also a huge problem for Assamese filmmakers, my film Sonar Baran Pakhi released in only 16 theaters. Also, like Manipur, which doesn’t allow screening of Bollywood movies in the state theatres, Assam should also have a law to prioritise Assamese movies.”

Rima Das’ Village Rockstars (2017) that released with Mission China, won accolades at the 19th MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Film Festival and won three awards — the Golden Gateway award, Oxfam Best Film (Gender Equality) Award and the Young Critics Choice Award. Village Rockstars is a story of an under-privileged girl living in a remote village of Assam, fighting to achieve her dreams of owning a guitar and forming her own rock band.

Village Rockstars Assamese Film industry

A screen grab from the trailer of Rima Das’ Village Rockstars / YouTube

Maj Rati Keteki, directed by Santwana Bordoloi, tells the story of a writer and the journey of his self-introspection. Adil Hussain, who is the main lead of the movie, won a National Award (Special Mention) for his outstanding  performance in this movie and Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan.

Talking about the current state of the Assamese film industry and the type of movies being produced, Adil Hussain says, “Like the Maharashtra government, Assam government should make policies and provisions prioritising Assamese movies over Hindi movies. Moreover, filmmakers should make sure that the movies are well-made so that audience’s effort of coming to the cinema halls and investing their time isn’t counter-productive. There should also be efforts to screen movies across all the north-eastern states. In fact, government should make efforts to balance art (movies) and business (cinema owners).”

Appreciating Rima Das’ Village Rosckstar, which won accolades internationally, the actor laments how little her efforts paid off in Assam.

Maj Rati Keteki

Adil Hussain in a still from Maj Rati Keteki/ YouTube

So, even as Assamese cinema is producing meaningful stories and blockbuster movies, the state government needs to pitch in for help.

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