Assam has produced about 340 films from the mid 1935 until now at an average of nearly five films per year. Most films are in Assamese, the state language, with about 13 films in three other languages, Bodo, Karbi and Mising. Starting with one or two films per year, she made 20 films in 2003, which is all time record in the last seven decades.
Film production began here in 1935 although the ground realities were not complementary to accept the just invented technology for creating artwork of a unique kind that demands a set of skilled persons for the related machinery and the equipment. The Assam of the 30’s comprising the present states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and the plains of Arunachal Pradesh was an agricultural province. The population is entirely dependent on agriculture, it was a life of austerity of little surplus and no famine. “It largest and the most important industry, tea cultivation, are mainly agricultural. Apart from tea industry, the only large labour concerns are the coalmines and oil fields and a match factory. There are a few scattered saw mills, rice mills, oil mills, engineering workshops and printing presses, but they are small and of little importance in this province. Secondly, as an agriculture province with land still available for settlement and no pressure of population. Assam has practically no indigenous industrial classes”.
Since the early years of the nineteenth century, the peoples were exposed to cinema through the film shows organized by itinerant showmen travelling from Calcutta. Initially the shows were mostly in the tea garden areas of eastern parts of the state for the benefit of the labourers. They were tribal from Orissa and Madhya Pradesh uprooted by the government from their homeland and driven to this part of India to work in the factories owned by British companies. The companies’ policy was to keep the labourers in a confined atmosphere and wooing them with Hindi films and brew that are available in the vicinity of the gardens. For the travelling operators it is an excellent business strategy to hold the shows in the labour colonies. That is the reason of emergence of the earliest Assamese film producers having the background of tea plantation.
Revelation of cinema to the audience of Assam was similar as with the rest of India in 1896 but with a difference. In Bombay, the earliest audience consists mainly of British residents, along with a few Indians of the educated and elite class of Western inclinations having identical interests of the British Empire. However, in Assam the earliest were also British subjects but of the lowest rank who were saving the Sun of the Empire from setting in the hemisphere. The film shows were described as “living photographic pictures in life-sized reproduction, by Messrs. Lumiére Brothers”. One of the operators Maurice Sestier on his way to Australia from Paris presented it. Since the first show, the novelty caught on in the other cities like Calcutta and Madras. From 1897 onward, several commercial concerns began importing and dealing in cameras, projectors, raw films, and offering services like developing and printing of film rolls. They were doing these obviously on demand from wealthy and commercial showmen. The showmen were first to realise the business potentiality of cinema and were the early exploiters of the medium. They journeyed the lengths and breadths of the country and through their painstaking perseverance and hard work popularised the medium among the common people. Cinema’s popularity in India is also a victory of the marketing technique of these showmen.
In Assam it was the showmen alone who rooted the seed of the medium into the filmmakers in course of repeated film screenings. One can perceive that no representative from a production company travelled here; there was no initiative for buying a camera. Assam lacked the indigenous class to initiate the practice. Cinema is an industrial activity invented in the West out of synthesis of vigorous machine related activities. Social history shows us that the apparently beneficial technology of the West has hindered the productive and consumption interests of the village people because of their incompatibility of the social system. Cinema is a child of such a “diffusion process as this medium was practically implanted in our socio-cultural environment without anticipation and preparation. As such the course of development in this field here has, from the very outset, has been singularly uneven and sporadic. It has moreover been utterly dependent upon, and sometimes even compelled by, the developments in the West. It inheres all the distortions and dichotomies characteristics to the general process of underdevelopment in the country”.
These are the fundamental reasons that explain why the foremost entertainment industry of India suffers from a distinct lack of order and orientation after eight decades of existence. The cinemas of Assam are the offshoots of the developments occurred in other parts of the country. While Indian cinema is a bye-product of capitalist cinema, the cinemas of Assam, in general, have adopted the characteristics similar to Bengali cinema for the first few decades and then a mixture of Bengali-Tamil-Hindi cinema for the rest of life until now, including several works of personal endeavour indeed that added the cinema a different flavour. For these personal films the cinemas of Assam has attained a special status. However, the first film made in 1935 tried to put the cinema of the land in the world map with a particular view point other than the developments occurring in the other parts of the country. The model was a nationalist intellectual cinema using the elements of Assamese society.
Enters an Agarwalla
A boy of 18 years old expressed to his friend while coming out of a cinema hall, “If a film could be made”. The name of the enthusiast was Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, the year 1921, title of the film Aadhare Aalo (Light in the Dark), and the place Calcutta. After 14 years in 1935, he made a talkie named Joymoti (Joymoti,) in Assamese language. That was the beginning of filmmaking in Assam. Assam does not have the history of any silent film.
During the emergence of Joymoti, there were only two cinema halls in Assam, one in Guwahati, and the other in Shillong. None was capable of screening talkie but the silent films. Naturally, even the most talented and enterprising producer had difficulty in fully exploiting the possibilities inherent in cinema in the conditions of 1930’s Assam. However, Jyotiprasad Agarwalla did not wait for the eventualities and put every penny to make the project happen. For him there was an urgent need to do so, and what he is going to construct is not a fare of usual entertainment kind, but some kind of an indigenous cinema, both in terms of form and content, free from the artificiality of ‘Bengali and Hindusthani’ cinema, a phrase that he had used in his essay.
Agarwalla (1903-51) was born in an enlightened Rajasthani family who had migrated into Assam during early nineteen century for opening new business opportunities here. They were Vaishnavas not Jain, unlike other such Marwaris that had travelled to Assam at about the same time. They got assimilated with the local people including marriage. Jyotiprasad early showed a feverish interest in music, singing, drama and literature. The library of his grand father and the cultural atmosphere in their house helped him to grow that way. He wrote his first literary piece, Sunit Kunwari (The Princess of Blood), a play at the age of fourteen while still reading in high school. Then onward his journey began meandering many an area like editing newspaper, writing revolutionary poems, songs, and drama, children literature, art criticism and essays about ‘culture vs. anti-culture’, and audience-responsibility for growth of cinema in Assam etc. He aligned him with the cause of India’s independence from the colonial British, been labelled as ‘absconder’, and jailed twice. Later he joined in the Communist Party led uprising in 1942 but resigned from a Govt. body in protest of compulsory contribution to Second World War fund. He was the President of the first India Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA) conference in Assam. The list is endless. Yet one thing is sure that politics is inseparable from the works of Agarwalla be it words, music or cinema.
In 1926 while perusing his law studies in England Agarwalla took a lively interest in cinema. Naturally, he did not feel comfortable in continuing the course; he found more interesting things around. In the same year, he was noticed in roaming around the sets in UFA studio of Germany. Several Indians, namely Himansu Rai, Devika Rani, Niranjan Pal was engaged with co-producing films with German companies. For six months, Agarwalla updated him with the first sight knowledge of filmmaking and returned home. Back home the situations were not favourable to start a film; call for independence was in all heights. Jyotiprasad temporarily suspended his plan with the muse and joined the volunteer force of freedom fight.
In 1933, he began the works of Joymoti by building a makeshift studio in their Bholaguri tea garden near Tezpur. He decorated the sets of the royal court and the households with bamboo mat and banana plants. Before shooting, he floated newspaper advertisements for artists, mentioning brief outline of the film and description of the characters, offering remunerations to the successful candidates. One of the preconditions is they must be from respectable family backgrounds. After prolong search, struggle and interview, he brought the chosen ones to the tea garden to make them acquainted not only with his characters but also to the techniques of filmmaking so that a film industry is shaped in Assam. Until now, most artists had any experience of seeing a film. He appointed one cameraman and two sound recordist brothers from Lahore. The brothers have invented a battery operated sound recording system advertised to be innovating, and is suitable for outdoor shooting in remote locations.
The film tells the story of an Ahom princess of the 17th century who died under torture while refusing to betray her country while saving her husband from the tyranny of a puppet king. Based on a widely popular legend containing para-historical materials, the theme is nothing original. Yet the most striking is the treatment of the materials. It is somewhat realistic following the footprints of English and Russian films of the 1920’s, which he saw while in London and in Germany. The realistic approach of his itself in Joymoti was a political agenda, contradicting the theatrical style of acting burdened with highly ornate and rhetoric dialogues, which at the time were the dominant vehicles to construct a film in other regions of India.
Joymoti might have allowed Jyotiprasad to see the political values of the “Assamese” images on the screen but technically, it was a disaster. The low cost battery operated sound recording system turned out to be hoax, which was discovered at the editing table at Lahore during post-production. Agarwalla accepted the faulty out put and dubbed the voices of nearly thirty artistes with his voice alone, including of the female characters. Back home, he arranged a number of itinerant shows in different places of the state, after releasing the film in a theatre hall of Guwahati. People in large numbers turned up to witness the marvel of Assamese moving image besides paying homage to the legendary lady protagonist. It was not the entertainment the public was used to. It went unnoticed by the critics as well, who failed to appreciate the formal innovations.
Joymoti left him bankrupt. The film cost him a fortune – fifty thousand rupees but could recover less than half of it. He had to close down the studio.
Four years later Agarwalla made his second film, Indramalati (Indramalati, 1939), based on his own story, with an eye to recover the lost money. Before that he founded a cinema hall his hometown. Indramalati wished to bridge the social gap between the town people and the village dwellers. He maintained the identical realistic flavour of Joymoti in this film as well. With a moderate budget of 15,000 rupees he completed it in two phases of shooting, the outdoors in Tezpur and the indoors in Aurora studio of Calcutta. Aurora provided him all technical support including supply of camera, sound recording system, and the technicians for the outdoor phase. The film turned out to be an average work, yet it brought him the investments back further adding some changes into the balance sheet of Joymoti.
It is interesting to have a look at the structure of the films. The acting style of both is realistic but in several scenes, the performances have transformed the situation to day-to-day conversation level. The director appeared to have no firm control over the actors. The camera works also lack the professional approach, sometimes it finds difficult to pin point the subject properly. Although Agarwalla had denounced the theatrical principles in film but his own film-compositions failed to reflect his believes. These inconsistencies give the works an amateurish look. Yet the last sequence of Joymoti is quite extraordinary. Joymoti takes her last breath at the hands of the executioner in the torture ground with her hands tied at her back to a tree. The scene is cut with a sequence of a flowing river taken from various camera positions. The sound track is filled up with a duet praising the glory of Joymoti’s death for the cause of the country. This type of a radical conclusion of a film is a rare phenomenon in the cinemas of the other parts of India. In addition, the overall standpoint of Agarwalla to Joymoti is novel, so far in establishing a film industry with a product that portrays the culture of the land. He wished to have more such films also by other producers.
The experiences of Joymoti and Indramalati taught the future filmmakers that making of film is possible even in a difficult and hostile situation. Yet the films erected a signpost that products of the land could never be a winner in the box-office. Then onwards the practice of filmmaking has been confined to matters of personal and private concern. Barring a few incidents, it is simply the virtue of artistic compulsion that brings the producers to the field. The works are individual efforts and acts of benevolence, sustained largely by family wealth and savings and contributions from friends and relatives.
Indramalati opened the door for shooting of the indoor locations of a film in Calcutta studio. Then onwards, such practices of the next 36 films until 1969 were done in several production houses of the city – Aurora, Indrapuri, New Theatres, Kali Film Studio, Technician Studio, Bharat Lakshmi Studio etc.
The Calcutta days
The Second World War brought a spurt of industrial activity in India that also paved the way for various kinds of illicit profits. The cinema halls became crowded. Migrated labourers from the rural areas to the city factories augmented the boom. Now, the film industry felt the pressure of making more and more films. The new money that becomes available to the industry included a huge portion of black market money. As a result, during the year of 1947, the year of independence of India, 280 films were produced where contribution of Hindi films alone was 183. It was also the time of growth of ‘star’ system and the omnipresent ‘formula’ of big stars, eight hit songs, and several dances. In the far east part of India, Assam remained cool, calm and collected from all these developments, no phenomenon called industrial growth occurred. It is not known if any black money percolated into making of Assamese films.
Nevertheless, the characteristics observed here were the reflections of Assameseness similar to the films of rest of India. While the other producers have opted a pan-Indian design, their counterparts in Assam choose to win the people versed in Assamese language. Taking queue of the stuffing of Bengali films, most searched their materials in Assamese literature. Agarwalla’s selection of Joymoti from a popular drama played a constant reminder. However, they rejected the notions of realism of the pioneer. For them it is alien in terms of their own understandings and as well as of audience perception. But novels, stories or dramas are not alien to the targets. Since the people are already familiar of the contents through literature or the proscenium version, in celluloid presentation they get the pleasure of co-relating the known threads of the stories with the recognised actors. The Assamese cinema’s homage to the legacy of modern Assamese proscenium theatre was thus complete. Along with it inherited the river of music through the unbroken tradition of folk and religious dramatic traditions. Thereby the films turned out to be definite and distinctive pieces of creation obsessed highly with music doing little justice to the contents. Rather music was a hazard to script values.
The first of the kind was tea planter Rohini Kumar Barua’s Monomoti (Monomoti, 1941), based on a popular novel by Rajanikanta Bordoloi of the same title. It’s a story of two descendant of two rich families of the early nineteenth century falling in love in the first sights but their sojourn is disrupted by the household quarrels and invasion of the Burmese army. Here family pride and prestige play an important role, and a foreign army devastates the peace loving Assamese people. Barua also acted in the film. Rupahi (Rupahi, 1946) by Parbati Prasad Barua, a legendary lyricist-composer, also bears the traces of nationalist viewpoint. Based on a short story of Padmadhar Chaliha, the protagonist after passing M.A. devotes him with a social organisation dedicated to illiteracy campaign and excellence of Assamese art, culture-literature.
The year of independence of the country, 1947, gave birth to a film underlining the nationalist independent struggle against the ruling class – Badan Barphukan. The director Kamal Narayan Choudhury worked as a location Assistant to Jean Renoir in India for the film, The River. The film is about an Ahom General of the same name who was responsible in bringing Burmese army to invade Assam during the early nineteen century. It is a path breaking work in terms opening the door to many other such historical films made until now like Joymoti (Joymoti, 2006) by Manju Borah, and Aeideu (Behind the scene, 2007) by Arup Manna.
Independence of India worked like a relief to budding aspirants to look at the themes beyond mere social concerns of barriers and bigotry. A group comprised of current and former associates of IPTA tried their hand with somewhat different social causes. The foremost among them was Siraj (Siraj, 1948) based on a famous stage play by Lakhidhar Sarma. Directed jointly by Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Phani Sharm it deals a theme of inter-communal harmony at the time of just subsided large-scale communal violence that occurred in the country on the wake of creation of Pakistan. Bhupen Hazarika, one of the most well-known music composers and singers of the latter-day made his debut here. The IPTA domain was responsible for another socio-political film, Biplobi (The Revolutionary, 1948), which narrates a story of a young radical who sacrifices his life for the country. It was the debut film by latter day renowned film director Asit Sen. “Ironically Sen went uncredited for the film following a dispute with the producers over its ending!”
One of the memorable pieces of the period was Lakhimi (Lakhimi, 1955) directed by Bhaben Das. Again, a simple family saga of a sister-in-law but what strikes is its depiction. Das made Calcutta his launching pad to work in film. Beginning as an assistant to the cameraman in Phani Sarma’s Siraj, he made Calcutta home and continued his vocation with Bengali films. Lakhimi is a synthesis of his encounter with the muse. He further made Upagraha (Satellite, 1972) which brought him laurels especially on technical quality. Dharmakai (Brother Dharma, 1977) and Ma (Mother, 1986) are his other works. But the most successful piece of his career is a hilarious comedy in Bengali, Kanamachi (Blind fly, 1961), made in Calcutta. Weekly ‘Desh’ appreciated Das in these words, “Sufficient success shows in the works of direction”. Das also had worked with several renowned directors like Mrinal Sen and Dev Anand. He served the roles of technical consultant and assistant director to several Assamese films of the time.
The IPTA domain set in motion of several films banking heavily on Bhupen Hazarika’s music compositions and singing skill. Piyoli Phukan (Piyoli Phukan, 1955), Dumuha (The Cyclone, 1957), Kecha Khun (My Love, 1959), and Puwati Nikhar Khaphun (A dream at the dawn, 1959), all directed by Phani Sarma were such calculated moves. Piyoli Phukan is a local prince of the same name, submissive and anti-colonial, hanged by the British. In Dhumuha an Assamese family living in Burma was forced to immigrate to their homeland by the Japanese during second world war. Kecha Khun made under the banner of INTUC, the labour wing of the Congress party, tells the life of tea garden labourers using their dialect. Puwati Nikhar Khaphun speaks about corruption in social life. The Hazarika-strategy worked fine, returned the producers that amount of currency notes making the promise alive for their next projects. In the second film, the scheme succeeded further while two renowned Bengali singers lent their voices to the tune of Hazarika. However, in Era batar sur (Melody of the abandoned road, 1956), Pratidhani (The echo, 1965), and Sakuntala (Sakuntala, 1961), Hazarika choose to put on the crown of the director to him, hitherto it was with Phani Sarma. Phani Sarma acted in a total of 15 films, mostly in lead roles, till his death in 1965.
Era batar sur is a celebration of cultural traditions and folk music of Assam’s tea garden labourers. A town-bred folklore researcher and a young flutist from the tea garden community fall in love with the same woman but finally the former detaches him by upholding the cause of the ‘flute’ that it must keep singing. Pratidhani (The echo, 1964) is a legend of Khasi tribe unfolding the tragic love of a young shepherd whose beloved is carried away for serving him as a concubine. Similarly, Sakuntala (Sakuntala, 1963) is also a love story based on the epic of the same name by the medieval poet Kalidasa. After this film, Hazarika settled on two films set in modern milieu. Latighati (Mix-up, 1966) is a satire about the situations of making of an Assamese film in a studio of Calcutta. Until now, it was a common practice of a film unit to travel to the city and stays there to complete the film in one go. Hazarika made fun by creating the character of a hired film director who carries a monkey on his shoulder and takes every decision of film making in consultation of the pet. As the story progresses the director-character and the hero of the film under making began clash over the leading lady, although one of the punch dialogues of the films is “we need price, not prize”. The next film, Chikmik Bijuli (Glimmering light, 1969) produced in support of a production company, Rajashri Production, famous for many social films, is a tale from a slum where a young couple is pitted against a host of bad elements such as smuggler’s gang. Here Hazarika brings in several other ingredients such as inter-communal harmony and tussle between ‘culture and anti-culture’, which have little relevance to the theme. Like wise, his films suffer by aggravation of other texts. Regardless of the deficiencies, the films are somehow rooted to the local milieu, and thereby brought fresh air in the film scene of the time. His previous films, Era Bator Sur and Pratidhani also deal the importance of harmony between Assamese and other communities. In the former it is with the tea garden labourers, and in the latter, the Khasis. All the four films could be said as honest attempts although with a pull of self-projection of the director.
Hazarika dubbed a popular Hindi film Bhagya (Luck, 1968) of Rajashri Production to Assamese which was a hit. They association with the company was supposed to continue with ten more such dub projects and two new ventures of Hazarika – remake of 1948 Siraj and a film called Miri jiyori. It remained unknown what happened with the agenda of the ten but Hazarika realised his dream projects long after. The remake of Siraj saw the day in 1988 but it failed to make any ripple as the audience found hard to digest the ‘slap-stick’ slogan of “Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai” in the changed political reality out of communal clashes occurred during Assam movement (1979-85). Miri jiyori (Miri maiden, 19??) made with Doordarshan’s money turned out to be a passable work, and so a film in between, Mon Projapati (Butterfly mind, 1979).
As against the films of IPTA’s sphere of influence, a drama group from Guwahati was engaged in filmmaking from late forties. Pioneer among them was dramatist Prabin Phukan and his film Parghat (The jetty, 1949) about nexus of opium traders. The other flag-bearer was Lakshyadhar Choudhury, a hearty theatre person, who made a film called Nimila Anka (Unsolved Sum, 1955), on day-to-day crisis of a middle class family. A legendary Ahom general who fled the Mughals away from the bank of the river Brahmaputra was the story of a film, Lachit Barphukan (Lachit Barphukan, 1961), under the duo’s joint direction. The most active of the drama fraternity was Nip Barua who made 13 films in his 33 years of film-career starting with Smitir Parash (Touch the past), on a simple theme of college life in 1956. Commercially it was not a success but it proved his ability to be a storyteller. He further made five films in a chain: three socials Mak aru Morom (Mother and Love, 1957), Ranga Police (The Police Force, 1958) and Amar Ghar (Our Home, 1959), and two mythologies, Bhakta Prahlad (Bhakta Prahlad, 1958) and Narakasur (Narakasur, 1962). Ranga Police, crisis of a police constable family, was a hit, and still it evokes fond memories to many an audience of the time.
Simple social contents about tussle between the haves and have-nots, the country and the city, and the tenant or peasant and the landlord or moneylender were the dominant themes of the period. Many of them were celluloid versions of already popular plays. Stylistically, they are characteristic turning to fares as models with constant renovation and update. They resolved the conflicts in a superficial level, punctuating with songs, dances, catch melodrama, comic relief etc. to facilitate easier and wider consumption. Largely they followed Calcutta mode of production. The producer takes the actors’ group by train to Calcutta and put them in camp there usually in a hotel, and complete the film in one go. The budgets were always at shoestring level with problem of wealth knocking the door. Sarapat (Fallen leaf, 1956, direction: Anowar Hussain), Saknoiya (The cyclone, 1959, Saila Barua), Matir Swarga (Clay Heaven, 1963, Anil Choudhoury), Maram Trisna (Craving for love, 1968, Abdul Mazid), and Sangram (Struggle, 1968, Amar Pathak) are such examples. Sarbeshwar Chakraborty’s Maniram Dewan (Maniram Dewan, 1963) about another historical figure hanged by the British in charge of treason is a work of drama. Noted dramatist-actor Utpal Dutta performed a British character in the film.
Yet these films were able to attract audience to a large extent. Parghat demanded advance ticket booking for a week ahead, Momomoti, Sarapat and Saknoiya also did well. A portion of Sakuntala was in colour and it ran for eight weeks. It was the first film to introduce colour. Sati Beula (Beula the Pure, 1954), the first film on mythological content directed by Sunil Gangopadhay, made 6 prints in one go at the time of release. The first Assamese film released simultaneously in two halls was Lakhimi. On the other hand, audiences’ response to Matir Swarga and Natun Prithivi were quite poor, the cinema hall denied screening of the latter after eighth day of its release. Runumi (Runumi, 1953) produced and directed by dancer Sursh Goswami also faced the similar fate when opened its fare to the public. It was based on a drama by Henrik Isben’s romantic-tragedy play ‘The Warriors of Helgeland’ (1857). The original play was a patriotic celebration in verse of ancient Norse Folklore. Goswami transformed the situation to the milieu of the tribal society of Nagaland. The print is reported to be off the mark. There is a hearsay that the film was banned from public screening by the then government but the information needs to be cross-checked.
A film crafted in the same production mode, attained a distinction as the first film of the land shown at an international film festival – Berlin. It is Puberun (The Twilight, 1959) directed by Prabhat Mukherjee. Based in Calcutta he was the lead actor of Prafulla Ray’s film Malancha (1953). Producer Paji Das and actress Jnanada Kakati were invited by the festival as guest. Another actress was Margaret Anderson from a drama school of London. That a child born anywhere in the world is just a child of universal-kind who speaks a common language of its own and the first word that comes out of the lips is ‘mother’ is the text of the film. The honour bestowed by Berlin is intact until now; no other work of the land has found a berth in this major festival.
Jyanada Kakati with Cary Grant (on her right) in Berlin
However, the cinemas of the time were victims of poor finance and bad management. The foremost example is Joymoti (1935), the very first work. Most critics blame the Faizi brothers of Lahore who cheated Jyotiprasad Agarwalla with a defective sound recording machine. On close examination, it becomes clear that the decision rested on the production team for engaging the novice technicians. Similar half-hearted production designs are also observed in several other productions. Rupahi (1946) was supposed to end in a sad note with sinking of a boat carrying the heroine and her baby in the river Brahmaputra for sudden bank erosion. The shootings were done accordingly with a camera unit chartered from Calcutta. When exposed the reels were found to be blank without any picture. The director-producer Prabati Prasad Barua digested the mishap and re-shoot the whole film in a Calcutta studio. In absence of a river in the studio, and due to financial crunch to take the unit again to the location, now the film ended in a happy note. Suresh Goswami, in shooting Runumi (1953), did engage another film unit of Calcutta and suffered the same fate of Rupahi although with slight alteration. The exposed reels were not totally blank but full of underexposed hazy images. He shot parts of the film again and mixed with already exposed portions. Seeing the release print, Atul Chandra Hazarika remarked, ‘Sad to say the photography of the film was not satisfactory’. A critic of Monomoti observed a particular fault in a scene where the characters were wearing cotton loin clothes, ‘uprising of under pant is unmistakable’. In Lachit Barphukan (1961), a few Mughal soldiers acted with Hawaiian scandals in their feet. Piyoli Phukan (1955) and Maniram Dewan (1964) debarred from showing the hanging of the patriot protagonists sentenced to death by the colonial British. That made the films drab at the endings.
By the end of late sixties, the umbilical cord of logistics appeared to have severed with the availability of a camera in Guwahati. The noted theatre actor Girish Choudhury calls to mind, “It will not be that exaggerating if the Calcutta is said to be the ‘backbone’ of the then Assamese film productions” …. “… still I remember respectfully the heartfelt cooperation of the artists and technicians of Bengal. I can not forget their intimacy.” He further recalls the days of starvation when producers were absconding from paying hotel bill, and getting third class train ticket to home while the outbound was by a seat in Dakota plane costing 62.00 rupees.
Back to Assam
In 1961, several film and theatre persons lead by Bhupen Hazarika in support of Bishnuprasad Rabha, the noted singer, dancer, writer and communist put forward a demand for a film studio in Guwahati. During the year, the output of Assamese cinema was 1.04 on the average, 28 films in 27 years starting from 1935. The government agreed and the studio, in a make-shift form up, set up in Shillong in 1963 bearing the name of ‘Assam Govt. Film Studio’ under the Directorate of Information and Public Relation. A section of public in 1973 felt that the studio be renamed after the pioneer Jyotiprasad Agarwalla. The govt. accepted the demand by changing it to ‘Jyoti Chitraban Film Studio’. It comprised of a studio floor, sound studio, and a black and white film laboratory. For better autonomy, the administrative structure was converted to a registered society. In 1965, the government announced a set of relief to the indigenous films. Return of amusement tax, five weeks of compulsory run of the films by every cinema hall, etc. These measures appeared to be unique; no other government in India was thinking of such novel initiatives. The studio was later shifted to Guwahati due to change of capital and now housed in a permanent complex in Kahilipara.
In the other parts of India, there were one-big-family studios from the 1930’s that were functioning as a self-contained organization with every single service available under one roof including salaried actors. From the mid 1940’s the set-ups became extinct species because of rise of independent producers who used rented studio and free-lance talents. The fall and decline started since the availability of new money to the film industry from the black profits of the second world war. The new producer might be a complete outsider of family studio, or an actor or director who had found a backer. Many an existing studio owners rented out his establishment to these new producers gradually dependent on them. Thereby the owners themselves helped to grow the new system by destroying the old.
In Assam the studio is not one-big-family type but a support organization under the government family. The theory was to increase the number of production by cutting down the costs and burdens of filming in Calcutta. As the years passed, however, it became apparent that the government was much ahead of time; the ground realities were not that favourable to run the studio comfortably. Production figures began moving upward with very slow pace; the filmmaking community took another 15 years just to touch a double digit. In 1979, 10 films were released. The studio might have lent a hand to the producers by extending the facilities at home and relieved them with tax and crisis of screening rooms but films are big money that demands a smooth union of the economic and cultural to shape and determine one another. Yet the hired camera set-up of the studio dragged one of the budding talents of the cinemas of Assam to the forefront. He was Brajen Barua.
Brajen Barua did some down-to-earth arithmetic. Apart from the camera he hired a house for the indoors as yet were done in Calcutta studio. He designed a script infusing a few elements from Bombay cinema like dual role of the protagonist, one saint and the other evil, enacted by him, and a near-rape scene. The remaining stuffing was business as usual of a crime thriller, a la potboiler, death of the bad with the hand of the good, chase and fight, fun and happy ending etc. Nonetheless, the freshness imparted by the song and dance numbers took the film to a height far above. Braua himself was a singer-composer and had assisted his elder brother Nip in acting and music since the latter’s first film in 1956. Dr. Bezbarua (Dr. Bezbarua, 1969) ran for months together throughout the state, for the first time people formed long queue in cinema halls. Brajen’s innovations in the script are interesting to analyse, for example, the near-rape scene. The evil Bezbarua shuts in the heroine to dishonour her. She grabs the shaving razor from the villain’s table. Holding the razor near her Adam’s apple, she threatens of slashing it he moves further. The evil gets spellbound and lets her go. This way the director solved a critical problem of a must-have event following the footprints of Bombay films, otherwise the commercial equations are not complete. He made a balance between the traditional societies of Assam and the common audience. The audience gets the feel of the ‘rape’ without disturbing the ‘honour’ of woman and the society.
Prior to this, Brajen Barua had already tried his skill as director in a comedy called Ito Situ Bahuto (This that many, 1963) in Calcutta production mode. After Dr. Bezbarua he made another three films – Mukuta (the Gem, 1970), Lalaita (Lalita, 1972), and Opaja Khunar Mati (Golden land of my birth, 1972) enriching both the producers’ treasury and the treasured mind of the viewers. The senior most brother, Nip Barua who was already active made several films like Baruar Sangkhar (The Barua family, 1970), Sontora (Sontora, 1973), and Sonma (Sonma, 1977). His Ajali Nabou (The naïve sister-in-law, 1980), broke all the previous records of the box office. Added to the list were three films, Jog Biyug (Plus minus, 1971), Taramai (Taramai, 1976), and Moram (Love) all by Dwibon Barua, the brother between Nip and Brajen. Ajali Nabou is a direct copy of a popular Bengali film and the others are filled with materials of similar films. The audience seemed to be happy with the adaptations and crowded the cinema halls. During the period, a sense of belief began breeding that for Assamese cinema to gain health, every nationalist should buy a ticket at the counter. Villagers used to charter bus to the nearest town to see the latest films.
Touring cinema circuit, eventually, had to multiply their screenings to comply the demand in remote areas. Nip Barua further made Kakadeuta hati aru nati (Grandfather, elephant and the grandson, 1983), Sakuntala aru Sankar Joseph Ali (Sakuntala and Sankar Joseph Ali, 1984), Antony mur naam (My name is Antony, 1986). Dwibon Barua came out with Aai mur janame janame (My mother for ever, 1989); Raja Harishchandra (King Harischandra, 1980), Mon aru morom (Mind and love, 1980), Uttar sunya (The answer is zero, 1981), and Ajala kakai (The down-to-earth elder brother, 1989). In the meantime Brajen Barua met his untimely death in 1972. It might be interesting to note that although the three Barua brothers directed 34 films but they worked as different individuals. Brajen Barua did not tie-up with Nip Barua after the latter’s Narakasur, and Dwibon Barua worked alone in his films.
The other notable films of the period were Bhaiti (Brother, 1972, Kamal Narayan Choudhury); Abhijan (The expedition, 1973, Sujit Singha); Momota (Affection, 1973, Nalin Duwara); Ganesh (Ganesh, 1973, AK Films Unit); Rashmirekha (Rashmirekha, 1973, Prafulla Baruah); Dharmakai (Dharma the brother, 1977, Bhaben Das); Moromi (Moromi, 1978, Dwijendra Narayan Dev); Megh Mukti (Freedom of the cloud, 1979, Bandhu), Puja, (Prayer 1985, Dara Ahmed); Buwari (Daughter-in-law, 1982), Ghar Sansar (Household, 1983), Sun Moina (The little one, 1984), and Man Mandir (Prayer from heart, 1985) all four by Shiva Prasad Thakur, Sendur (Vermilion, 1984), and Suruj (The sun 1985) by Pulak Gogoi etc. Yet the most commercial venture of the time was a meticulous film by a Bombay group. Naresh Kumar, the brother of actor Rajendra Kumar, devised Jiban surabhi (Fragrance of life, 1984), with the cannons of typical Bombay ingredients and reported to make huge profit at the booking counter itself. Further taking the advantage of entertainment tax return policy of the government, they made the profit doubled. The policy did not specify the co-ordinates of the producer to fit the bill of calling the product as ‘Assamese film’. That way the policy worked extremely well in favour of Naresh Kumar.
And the films which failed to impress the audience were Upar mohola (The first floor, 1971 by Jiten Sarma), Sesh bichar (The last verdict, 1971, Dev Kumar Basu), Morichika, (Mirage, 1972, Amulya Manna), Upagraha, (The satellite, 1972) and Ma (Mother, 1986) both by Bhaben Das, Anutap (Repentance, 1973, Atul Bordoloi), Black money (1974, Achyut Lahkar), Parinam (The result, 1974, Prabin Bora), Kanch ghar (The glass door, 1975, Bijoy Choudhury and Pijush Kanti Roy), Ratanlal (Ratanlal, 1975, Nalin Duwara), Putola ghar (Doll house, 1976, Samarendra Narayan Dev), Adalat (The court, 1976, Dilip Deka), Palashar rang (Colour of the yellow flower, 1976, Jibon Bora), Pran ganga (Pran Ganga, 1976, Robin Chetia), Pap aru prayachitta (Sin and recompense, 1977, Anowar Hussain), Natun asha (New hope, 1977, Prabir Mitra), Moromi (Moromi, 1978, Dwijendra Narayan Dev), Bishesh Erati (One special night, 1979, Dr. Upen Kakati), Nishar Chokulu (Never-ending night, 1979, Deva Kumar Baruah,
Sunar Harin (Golden deer, 1979, Samarendra Naryan Dev, Ashroy (Shelter, 1979, Dulal Roy), Megh (Cloud, 1979, Atul Bordoloi), Rangdhali (The spirited girl, 1979, Dwijendra Narayan Dev), Upapat (The other way, 1980, Hemanta Dutta), Moinajan (Mainajan, 1980, Deva Kumar Basu), Manashi (Manashi, 1981, Bolai Sen), Rajani gandha (The evening flower, 1981, Prafulla Baruah), Raja (Raja, 1981, Samarendra Narayan Dev), Kajirangar Kahini (Story of Kaziranga, 1982, Samarendra Narayan Dev), Sri Sri Ma Kamakhya (Mother Goddess Kamakhya, 1983, Nirupam), Devi (The goddess, 1984, Shambhu Gupta & Dara Ahmed), Angikar (The Vow, 1985, Prabin Bora), Sarabjan (The man who knows all, 1985, Suprabha Devi & Hiren Choudhury), Dipjyoti (Dipjyoti, 1986, Pradyut Chakraborty), Arati (Arati, 1986, Ashim Das), Nijora (Nijora, 1986, Amarendra Bordoloi) etc.
In the above list, we find a first venture of pen to camera like Jiten Sarma, Amulya Manna, Achyut Lahkar, Bijoy Choudhury, Pijush Kanti Roy, Dilip Deka, Jibon Bora, Prabir Mitra, Dr. Upen Kakati, Shambhu Gupta, Hiren Choudhury, Bolai Sen, et al. Agreed that their works lack the perceptive of the commercial framework. Yet one fails to understand the films of a number of directors who began their careers with promise but could not make the grades alive in their later films. Abdul Mazid (Bonjui / Wild fire, 1978, Bonohongha / Wild duck, 1977 and Punakon / The infant, 1981), Gauri Barman (Okon / Okon, 1980 and Juge juge Sangram / Struggles fore ever, 1986), Pulak Gogoi (Khuj / The quest, 1975, Srimati Mohimamoyi / Lady of substance, 1979, Sadari / The gracious, 1982 and Suruj / The sun, 1985), Indukalpa Hazarika (Niyoti, The unforeseen, 1978), Shiva Prasad Thakur (Phaguni, Phaguni, 1978), Jones Moholia (Bohagar Duparia, Noon in the spring, 1985), et al fall in that category. Even the veteran Dwibon Barua was unsuccessful with his, Raja Harishchandra (1980) and Uttar sunya (1981). The same is also true with Bhupen Hazarika with his films made after Chikmik Bijuli (1969).
The ground prepared by Bhupen Hazarika and Brajen Barua finally contributed to 13 films in 1986 alone. Politically the particular year is significant as for the first time a nationalist political party, Asom Gana Parishad, formed the government. They came to power after six years of Assam movement (1979-85) for deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from the state. It was feared that due to
large scale immigration the demographic pattern of the state is changing thereby the culture of the land and the Assamese language are in threat. It is yet to ascertain if the cabinet of ministers of the nationalist party rescues the culture and language of Assam out but in the field of cinema, the outcome was noteworthy. In 1986, Assam produced a record number of films since 1935. The issues behind the student led agitation in Assam got translated in three films. Of them Hem Bora’s Sankalpa (Line of Conviction) was whole-heartedly dedicated to the political issues of the movement. Mridul Gupta’s Sutrapat (The Beginning, 1987) and Kuntala Deka’s Kanaklata (Kanaklata, 1989) made implicit reference of the movement. Gupta showed promise in this first work of his but lost the steam in his subsequent works. Mention might be made here that before Kultala Deka, Suprava Devi was the first woman director to make a film, Nayan Moni (Nayan Moni, 1983).
“Uttaran is a serious blow on conventional trend of Assamese film”, wrote Dainik Asom, the only daily of the 1970’s Assam. Publicity literature of the film describes it as, “Cruelty of the neo-rich section of the post-independent India, greed of the middle class, escapism of the self-styled intellectual”. Manoranjan Sur, writer-director-producer of the film, and a government service holder, told the story with three living characters, an industrialist, an office clerk, and a painter, the latter two under protégé of the former, and a dead character by suicide, the paramour of the industrialist. Finally, ‘the new form of protest in rhythm influences Benu (the painter) – he rushes towards the sun shedding all threads from his body. Like the uncovered sun (the symbol of ultimate power) he made himself nude, thus from the stage of protest he transits himself to the stage of submission’. The film failed to attract the common filmgoers due to its didactic imagery. Sur made a second film, Mrityuhin jibon (Immortal life) in 2000.
However, the first attempt of independent thinking free from the shackles of Calcutta-films was a small group of writers and painter comprised of Phani Talukdar, Gauri Barman, Atul Bordoloi and Munin Bayan. The four made a film, Aparajeya (Undefeated, 1970), under a joint direction banner, ‘Chaturanaga’, about the plight of the fisherman community. Rakhi Biswas, the later-day Bombay actress made her debut here. Thereafter they made several individual efforts like Bibhrat (Confusion, 1972) and Manash Kanya (Maiden of the soul, 1985) by Phani Talukdar), Hridyor Proyujan (For heart’s sake, 1972) by Gouri Barman, Bonoria Phul (Wild flower, 1973) and Kallol (The Uproar, 1978) both by Atul Bordoloi etc. Three passed-outs from film institute also made some-what different films, like Manab aru danab (Man and demon, 1971, Direction: Indukalpa Hazarika), Duranir Rang (The distant colour, 1979, Jones Moholia), Alokar Ahwan (Call of the light, Charukamal Hazarika, 1982). Aryanya (The forest, 1971) by Samarendra Narayan Dev) is also a work of worth mentioning. During the period, Abdul Muzid made his second film, Chameli Memsahab, (Chameli Madam, 1975) which swept the audience away, mainly due to its fine melodies. These films engaged with contemporary Assamese life on the level of content and directorial purpose, and succeeded in telling the stories smoothly. They adhered to the popular actors of the period with the convention of deglamorising them. Structurally the films accepted the basic ground rules of commercial cinema with modifications within its frameworks. “Thus the lead performers of a film might burst into song at several key points, but if the story was set in Assam, for instance, the music directors would feel obliged to provide Assamese rhythms and tunes and be congratulated for being realistic.” The finest example of the category was Deuti Barua’s Bristi (Rain, 1975), on industrial enterprise versus unemployment. The unemployed drunkard hero sings a song in the dead hour of the night by embracing a street dog – ‘the dreaded night is tipsy with booze and silent chaos, our days are like curves of dead dear’.
The year 1976 saw a film that was true and sincere even today – Ganga Chilonir Pakhi (Wings of the Tern, 1976) by Padum Barua, a government servant with commendable sense of film history and western music. The film narrates story of a young village woman pitted against two men. After the death of her husband, she starts dreaming of a new life with her former lover. He fails to respond, and the woman remains alone within a widow’s bondage. Barua deals the theme in human terms by discarding the style and structure that are prevalent until now and that makes the film a characteristic work embedded in local milieu. “The heroin’s face, a mask of stoic apathy, only occasionally torn by longing and despair, stirs us out of smug adjustment to the world. The unhappiness that strikes her, her husband, her former lover, is a direct consequence of her original betrayal of her heart, which had surrendered to the old gods of authority and family loyalty.” Due to budgetary constraints, Braua took ten years to complete the film. But except widespread critical acclaim the film succeed to return just the investments. Ganga Chilonir Pakhi remained his only work of feature till his death in 2007. Film producer B.N. Siracar’s these words find an
approximation with Padum Barua, “Film production, even in the days of peace, is like going through a state of war, so increasingly heavy are the odds”.
At about the same time Bhabendra Nath Saikia, one of the region’s most acclaimed writer made his first film, Sandhyarag (Cry of The Twilight, 1977), exploring the values of urban-rural divide through the eyes of a young housemaid. Stylistically it was a departure from the common fares of the period that made the film hit. Thereafter Saikia made seven films, six in Assamese and one in Hindi. The most interesting phenomenon of Saikia’s films is they are cinematic compositions of his literary work. Agnisnan (The ordeal, 1986) is his most didactic work. Set in the late thirties, it deals with a woman taking revenge on her husband and his second marriage by conceiving a child outside of her wedlock. His other films are also underlined by sympathetic yet paradoxical portrayal of women of different social status yearning for personal freedom. Anirban (Vigil, 1981), Kolahol (The Turmoil, 1988), Sarothi (The Shelter, 1991), Itihas (Exploration, 1995) and Kalsandhya (Twilight of Death, Hindi, 1997) comprise his oeuvre.
It was in the eighties that the cinema of Assam started winning international prizes for the first time with Jahnu Barua’s Halodhiya Charaye Baodhan Khai (The Catastrophe, 1988). It depicted the struggle of a poor peasant with a landlord. His other films are, Aparoopa (Aparoopa, 1982), Papori (Papori, 1986), Banani (The Forest, 1990), Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door (It’s a Long Way To The Sea, 1994) and Kuhkhal (Kuhkhal, 1998), Pakhi (And the river flows, 1999), Kanikar Ramdhenu (Ride on the rainbow, 2002), Tora (Butterfly chase, 2003). Of them, Hkhagoroloi, speaking of the conflict between tradition and modernity as seen throughout the eyes of an ordinary boatman, was much a dearer showpiece for many an international film festivals. Barua’s interest lies in relating his protagonists in the larger socio-political backdrop to arouse collective consciousness of the audience about an issue that is crippling the society.
A new crop of directors of appeared on the scene from the nineties. The pioneer among them was Hemanata Das with his film, Tahtapio Nadi (Still the river, 1990) about the loss of livelihood of the boating community in wake of construction of the first bridge on the river Brahmaputra. However, the most notable has been Sanjeev Hazarika whose maiden venture, Haladhar (The Yeoman, 1991) sets it apart from other films in its sense of humour and its little vignettes about rural life in Assam. Hazarika’s second
film Mimanxa (The Verdict, 1994) deals with a young widow’s legal battle against an attempted rape by a rich man. His third film is Matshyaganha (The fish-smelling maiden, 2000) dealing the plight of the fishing community. Bidyut Chakravarty’s Rag Birag (Vacation of a Sanyasi) is also a noteworthy work that deals sarcastic situations of a family of a young Hindu monk, his three nephews and the women in their lives. However, Santwana Bordoloi through her only film hitherto called, Adajya (The Flight, 1997), made the discern eye captivated by depicting the fate of three high caste widows of the 1940’s belonging to a tradition-bound aristocratic family. It was screened in many film festivals in the country and abroad. Another woman director, Manju Borah, began working in the film scene from 1999. Her first work, Baibhav (A scam in verse, 1999), deals the tragedy of an upper middle class man having a flair for writing poetry. The film earned her reputation of an independent filmmaker of different kind. She maintained similar notion in her third film Laaj (Shame, 2004) but failed in the other three films,
Annya Ek Yatra (Another journey, 2001), Akashitorar Kothare (A tale told thousand times, 2003), and Joymoti (Joymoti, 2006). Other films made under this category which seek to contest the supremacy of commercially-based profit-driven popular cinema were Pratham Ragini (Opening melody, 1987) by Dhiru Bhuyan, Juuj (Fight, 1990), and Garakhiya (The shepherd, 1992) both by Hemen Das; Pratyabartan (The return, 1993), and Sananskar (The assessment, 1997) by Ranjit Das; Relor Alir Dubori Bon (Small grass on the railroad, 1993) and Patni (Wife, 1993) by Pulak Gogoi; Nishidhha Nadi (Forbidden river, 2000) by Bidyut Chakravorty, Juye Poora Xoon (The ‘self triumphs, 2003) and Jaatinga Ityadi (Jaatinga et al, 2006) by Sanjib Sabhapandit; Muhamukti (Return to the reality, 1998) by Dhiraj Kashyap, Hepah (Yearning, 2003), by Shankar Barua, The sixth days of creation (The sixth days of creation, 2005) by Deepa Bhattacharyya etc. The latest work of pure personal passion is Aeideu (Behind the screen, 2007) by Arup Manna. It encompasses the life of the first lady of Assamese film, Aeideu Khondikoi, whom Jyotiprasad Agarwalla cast for the role of Joymoti in Joymoti (1935). It took Manna five years to bring the
work to the public, mostly due to budgetary limitations. It is interesting to note the parallels of Joymoti and Aeideu. While Agarwalla had to face difficulty in finding a female artist due to social bindings, Manna went through similar phase, as the society is not ready to back his project on the ill-fated legendary artist. Yet he is still privileged compared to Padum Barua, whose pioneering Ganga silonir pakhi (1976), had to wait ten years for its release for the identical money matters.
These films could be termed as special projects of the filmmakers in the role of architects of progressive Assamese consciousness. They tried to place the films as agents of political change. The filmmakers belong, for the most part, to a middle-class upbringing, a few having Marxist leanings and wished to reach the audience at large. Their depictions of life, nevertheless, fall short to strike the root of the masses. “The conventions of realism are generally absent in India’s oral story telling traditions (which the Bombay cinema partly draws upon) . . . this style of story telling is actually quite sophisticated when placed besides any straightforward notion of naturalism or illusionism in art.”
At the end of Assam movement, a film in Bodo language finds a place in the cinema map of Assam. Bodos are one of the earliest ethnic communities to settle in the Northeast of India. The Assam movement
gave offshoot to Bodoland Movement (1987-93) that demanded a separate state for protection of enthno-culural identity of the Bodo tribal peoples of Assam. The film, Aloyaran (Sunrise, 1986), directed by Jwangdao Bodosa, a film institute passed-out, tales a tale of a poor young man who by virtue of hard labour and perseverance becomes a wealthy being. Bodosa further made two films. Khwmsini Lama (Road of darkness, 1991) is about crisis of a second marriage, and Hagramayau Zinahari (Rape in the Virgin Forest, 1995) laments the destruction of forest and the rape of nature in Kokrajhar district. Ziuni Simang (Dream of life, 1987) by Amar Hazarika and Songali (Spy, 2002) by Khanindra Bodusa are two other Bodo films.
Karbis, like the Bodos, are another ethnic community to settle in this land. Among the four films made in their language, Wosobipo (The Cuckoo’s Call, 1989) by Gautam Bora, another film-institute pass-out, is the most prominent among other Karbi works. It is an essay on the picturesque hills of the land within whose folds a struggle for survival of a son of the soil, an indigene. Zir Chong (Bachelor dormitory, 1987) by Prafulla Saikia is about a pre-literate village level traditional institution for boys to get expertise in agriculture and keep a ready labour for social service and village defence. His other film, Rit Amtong (Echo from the hill, 1988), tries to refrain the villagers from using the shift and burn cultivation process, and adopt the practice of the plain people. Saikia made ‘The untold story of Blue Hills’, in another tribal language called Dimasa spoken by a tribe similar to the Bodo and Karbi. Saikia’s all the films are in the form of documentary-feature funded by the local councils under the patronage of the government. The fourth Karbi film is Rongbin (Illusion, 2003) directed by Gautam Chatterji. It may be noted that the lone Dimasa and all the Karbi films are the works formulated by non-tribal.
The only film made in Mising language of the Mising tribe of east Assam is Panai Jonki (Panai Jonki, 2002) is the most sincere endeavour among the films of the category. It has themed the love between two rebellious youth, Panai and Jonki, who refused to abide the rule of the clan but paid the price by embracing tortured death following the verdict of the village council. Dilip Doley, a missing, and Narayan Seel, a non-mising, direct the film jointly.
To be continued
After 1986, the figures of film production took a downward slide. In 1988 it stumble to just a couple of works. It went up suddenly in 1990 to 10. After wards, it remained swinging between 3 to 9 until 2000, when it again touched a double digit of 11. The trend continued up to 2004, 2002 and 2003 contributing 19 and 20 films respectively. Now in the last three years another descending phase is continuing. The figure refused to cross the digit of six in 2007. Without a detail examination, it is hard to explain the cause and effects of these worrying developments yet two things are clear. The cinema, in general, transformed itself to an imitating piece of Hindi cinema, and the explosions of new forms of electronic communication and exchange like cable and pay channels, computer games, internet etc. have posed threat to this mimic cinema.
During the period, we also come across several try-outs on the screen. Nipon Goswami, the most popular actor of the land, tried his hand for the first and the last time, to direct a film jointly with Munin Barua, one of the celebrated director of later time. The film Pratima (Pratima, 1987) narrates story of sacrifice of an elder sister for the cause of their family. Another actor Biju Phukan made a remake of Saknoiya (1959) under the title, Bhai Bhai (Brothers, 1989). That was also the first and the last attempt of Phukan as director. Timothy Das Hanse in his Ronga madar (Red flower, 1990) depicted a story of tea garden labourers, and so is Padma Koiri in Budhu-Arjun (Budhu Arjun, 1997). Both the films were much a realistic portrayal of the community living in margin. Dinish Gogoi in Surjya tejor aan nam (Sun the other name of blood, 1991) tried to give a lift to the cause of a banned militant group by popularising their symbol of the Sun, and the cause of independent Assam. Gogoi remained active with three more film, Agni (Fire, 1992), Sanghat, sanghat, sanghat (Conflict always, 1999), and Hitlist (Hitlist, 2003) akin to the contents of his debut work. Abuj Bedona (Agonizing sorrow, 1993) is a film directed by Gunasindhu Hazarika, who lost his eyesight from some illness during the course of shooting. Still producer Bipul Barua chooses not to replace him. It narrates a simple story of a young girl’s discontent about her changing life style after attaining puberty. In Prijajan (My dear, 1993), Waise Kurni Borah concluded his film, a love story, in a unique way by crushing down a huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling of a mansion to mark the climax of the anecdotes. This lone work of Bora appears to be honest in it attempt and that made the film a pleasant viewing. Ektrish June (31st June, 1994) by Bhaskar Bora, tells a witty love story of a middle-aged professor that manifested on a day of the calendar that could never occur in the orbit of the earth. Jadav Das’s Prem janame janame (Love for ever, 1991) and Hridayar aree aree (Rooms in the heart, 1994) were two likeable films. Prafulla Saikia, until now who was engaged with Karbi films, crafted Pani (Water, 1995) about floods of Assam, and proved that he keeps his command on his materials. Pradip Gogoi’s did not choose a separate Assamese title for his only film as of now – I killed him Sir (1995). In Deutar biya (Father’s marriage, 1997), Dipak Bhuyan wished to entertain the audience with a set of humours sequences that have already run dry. Paramananda Rajbongshi made an effort to translate the historical peasants uprising of the British rule to cinema screen in Anal (Revolution continued, 1999). Bani Das in his first attempt, Maharathi (The big players, 1999), made a moderately successful film. His other two works are Man (Mind, 2002) and Kadambari (Kadambari, 2004). Producer of Abhishapta prem (Cursed love, 1997) made the film in two languages, Assamese and Bengali, for seeking wider audience to his fare directed by Manoj Sen.
Munin Barua, after his moderate success of his first film with Nipon Goswami, continued to work alone in 10 more films until now. Prabhati pakhir gaan (Song of the morning bird, 1992), based on a moderate theme of disillusioned youth brought him laurels. Afterwards he chooses to embrace stories having immediate fascination relying heavily on the singing skills of Jubin Garg like Hiya diya niya (Exchange of love, 2000), Daag (Trace, 2001), Nayaka (The hero, 2001), Kanyadan (Daughter’s marriage, 2002), Bidhata (The providence, 2003), Barud (Gunpowder, 2004), and Rong (Colour, 2004). In Dinabandhu (A friend in need, 2004) he tried to return in his early phase of subtle films like Pita-putra (Father and son, 1988) and Pahari kanya (Daughter of the hills, 1991) but the audience did not respond whole-heartedly when weighed against his mass-appealing films. Dara Ahmed is another director who remained engaged in similar kinds of films like Pratidan (Return, 1987), Bordoisila (Great storm, 1989), Dhrubatora (Pole star, 1990), Jokhini (The witch, 1991), Rickshawaal (The rickshaw puller, 1991), Urbaskhi (Urbakhi, 1995) and Debota (The god, 1998). Another Ahmed, having a surname of Munna, made 6 likewise films in a span of just three years – Jone joyley kapalat (Moon on the forehead, 2000), Jakham (The wound, 2002), Jiban nadir duti paar (Two banks of the river of life, 2002), Priya Milan (Lover’s union, 2003), Eaiye junakbihin jiban (This moonless night, 2003), Ma tumi ananya (Unique mother, 2003). He also tried to win the art house lobby with a film called Antahin jatra (Endless road, 2005) with little success. His latest film is Aghari atma (The houseless soul, 2006). Mridul Gupta, who showed promise in his Sutrapat (1987), preferred not to follow the art-house sign further and made himself content with two normal films, Abhiman (Ego, 1990) and Krishnasura (Red flower,1998). Correspondingly, Bidyut Chakraborty, after his acclaimed work Nishidhha Nadi (2000), did not pursue to make further personal film but continued his journey with Goon goon gane gane (In tune with melody, 2002) and Anuradha (Anuradha, 2004).
The producers of the time tried to win the heart of the audience with certain essentialities in show business. For example, Ashok Kumar Bishoya titled his films as Joubane amani kare (Sufferings of youthful love, 1998) and Bukur majat jwale (Blaze between the breasts, 1999) that carried double meaning. Interestingly, the audience picked up the phrases and returned his investments handsomely. The first film is reported to be the most successful film in the cinema theatre circuit of Assam. His other films are I love you (2001) and Manat birinar joui (Fire in the mind, 2004). Chandra Mudoi, after his first film, Khatur (The swim, 1998), decided to christen his all other films with catchy titles such as Maghat Mamonir biya (Marriage of Mamoni in the fall, 2002), Ujanir dujani ghabharu (Two maidens of the east, 2003), Suren surar putek (Son of Suren the thief, 2005), Chenai mur dhuliya (My love is a drummer, 2005) and Joonda iman gunda (Brother Joon is such a naughty, 2007). Suman Haripriya also picked up the same tradition by naming her films as Koina mur dhuniya (My bride is beautiful, 2001), Kokadeutar ghar jowain (Grand father’s home-bred son-in-law, 2002), and Kadam tale Krishna nache (The Krishna dances around Kadam tree, 2005). Touching titles appeared to be the rule of the day, such as Tumi Mur Mathu Mur, (You are mine only mine, 2000, directed by Zubin Garg), Asene Kunuba Hiyat, (Any one in the heart, 2000, Baharul Islam), Jugantoror Tezal puwa (Red dawn of the decade, 2000, Jones Moholia), Xeuji Dhoroni Dhunia (How green is my valley, 2001, Rajiv Bhattacharya, Gorom Botah, (Hot wind, 2001,
Brojen Bora), Ei Morom Tumar Baabe (This love for you, 2001, Toufik Rahman), Iman Morom Kiyo Lage (Why you are so lovely, 2002, Alok Nath), Prem Aru Prem (Love and love, 2002, Shambhu gupta), Tumiye Mur Kolponar (You are in my imagination, 2002, Bipul Kumar Barua), Priya O Priya (O’ love, 2002, Anjan Kalita), Moromi Hobane Logori (Love, will you accompany me, 2002, Isha Khan), Mitha Mitha Logonot (In moments of sweet memories, 2002, Achyut Kumar Bhagoboti and Sushanta Majindar Barua), Premgeet (Love song, Ashish Saikia), Prem Bhora Chokulu (Tears of love, 2003, Prabin Bora), Hridoy Kopunwa Gaan (Brave song from the heart, 2004, Jayanta Nath), Xunar Kharu Nalage Muk (No need of gold bangle, 2005, Rajani Barman), Hiyar Dapunot Tumarei Sobi (Your face on the heart of my mirror, 2005, Sibanon Baruah) etc. Yet there were several films without any loaded headings – Ahankar (Self-image, 2000 by Pradip Hazarika), Bhumiputra (Son of the soil, 2000, Jayanta Das), Shesh Upohar (Last gift, 2001, Gupal Borthakur), Junaki Mon (A subtle mind, 2002, Jivaraj Barman), Arpon (The gift, 2003, Krishna Phukan), Agnishakshi (Vow with the fire, 2003, Jadumoni Dutta, Ma (Mother, 2003, Padma Koiri, Kharu Buwari (Youngest daughter-in-law, 2003, Chakradhar Deka), Zuman Suman (Zuman Suman, 2003, Mohibul Haque, Satyam Shivam Sundaram (Truth, god and beauty, 2003, Brojen Bora), Bandhan (The confinement, 2003, Toufik Rahman), Eti Koli Duti Paat (Two leaves and a bud, 2003, Nayanmoni Baruah) Rongmon (The cheerful mind, 2004, Amal Baruah), Chakrabuyaha (The vicious circle, 2004, Pranjal Saikia), Jivan Trishna (Thirst of life, 2005, Arup Manna), Snehbandhan (Knot of love, 2005, Devajit Adhikari), Adhinayak (The leader, 2006, Jatin Bora), Deuta diya biday (Bade me bye father, Ramesh Modi), Nilakantha (The Shiva, 2007, Rajani Barman) etc. However, Tyaag (Sacrifice, 2002), a bi-lingual
Assamese-Bengali film by Narayan Seel, applied a unique trick to sale the shows. It offered a pearl with each ticket purchased. Despite the offer, it failed to draw the estimated pearl-seekers. An astrologer called Kero Young was the producer of the film.
As of now, Abdul Muzid, the veteran made only one film, Uttarkaal (Future tense, 1990, but Shiva Prasad Thakur continued his works till 2005 with Astaraag (Melody of the bygone days). The other two films that he made were Sewali (Sewali, 1989) and Ashanata prahar (Tensed time, 1994). Another veteran Chandra Talukdar, though associated with the film community for a long time, was capable of making only one film in 1987 called Jetuki (Jetuki).
Chandra Mudoi and Manju Borah happened to be most active directors in the film scene of Assam in the year 2007.
At the end of seven decades of life, the developments in cinemas of Assam are still irregular and random. In 2003, the number of productions rose to 20, the highest in its history, but in 2007, it fell to just 6. It is true that the inherent dilemma of the cinemas is that it is capitalist in structure and functioning but socialist in its aim and rhetoric. That might be a cause of the swings. Since the beginning, this cinema has suffered from honourable finance and a film language rooted to the soil. At the beginning, the filmmakers were successful in presenting the products honourably that were largely Assamese in their fundamental natures within the financial constrains. As the time passes, they fall prey to the images of other filmmaking regions, firstly of Calcutta and Madras then to Bombay. The personal cinemas from Manoranjan Sur to Arup Manna are ahead of their times, the general audience are still not ready to embrace realistic works. Again, these films were, and still, are not promoted the way they deserve by widening their circulations outside the domestic circuit.
The state government appears have taken keen interest in the cinemas of the land which are unique in many a ways when compared to other state governments. When the output of was just 1.04 numbers of cinema they installed a full fledged a film studio and a film laboratory way back in 1963, further declaring amusement tax relief and compulsory run of Assamese film by cinema halls. By passing of the days when equipments of the studio went outdated, they started purchasing latest gadgets for further benefit of the film community, besides establishing a sound studio that they claim to be the second in Asia. The studio as a whole is growing day by day, at least in terms of more appointment, equipment and building. The last two phases are happening with the grace of Central Government who is releasing large sum of money as
per an official accord. Parallel to that the government is running a film technician school called Jyotichitraban Film and Television Institute, and a subsidiary body under the name of Assam Film Finance and Development Corporation Limited. Besides that different government departments and the Directorate of Cultural Affairs are also involved in making films from time to time, although mostly propaganda documentaries. The Cultural Affairs had even financed a feature film, Khukhal (Khukhal), on a project proposal of Jahnu Barua. Despite the best interests of the government, the output has remained just above 1.04, roughly 4.5. Now, while regular cinema houses are closing their shutters down making room for high breed theatres like multiplexes, the filmmakers are in demand of more traditional houses in form of mini cinema hall. The government still appears to be sensitive to the cause of cinema and formulating a possible project for extending subsidy to the entrepreneurs.
Of several socio-political-economical causes of dampen growth of this cinema, one perception, in general, is clear that the filmmakers have turned to be over dependent on the government. Since the amusement tax relief benefits in 1965, they tend to make films that are consumed by more and more audiences. As a result, quality was forced to sit in the backbench. Further, for the last few years the Home Ministry is pumping huge sum of money into the local Doordarshan stations for production of programme under commissioned category in video. Most filmmakers and even the actors, and the technicians have overtly occupied themselves in getting a slice of it. Consequently, making of feature film in celluloid has suffered. It is difficult to arrive in pre-1965 situation now but one thing is clear that the cinemas of Assam have to create a niche of its own by isolating its bond with the other cinemas of India. The cinemas have to stand out on its feet in terms of language, culture and design akin to an independent filmmaking region such as Iran.
The author is not a historian and thus makes no pretence of writing the history of the cinemas of Assam. The immediate concern was to present reconstruct the materials garnered mostly from popular journalism, published books and interviews with several noted personalities in a chronological manner. An in depth proper historical account of these cinemas demand much more time, probably years, to develop given the lack of the habit of preservation of documents, correspondences, film scripts, film prints, photographs etc. on the part of most filmmakers and the fact that so much business is conducted orally.
Several areas of concern have been left untouched or unfinished for lack of more research. They are the documentary film-scene, inception of film societies and the roles played by them in shaping the filmmakers, role of the film distributors and theatre exhibitors, history of film criticism, environment of film culture, approach of the critics and the intellectuals towards cinema etc. Further philosophical and aesthetic tradition of the cinema, its naive, refreshing and exhilarating visual qualities, the trend of construction of somewhat natural imagery, the relationship between the real and the cinematic might also demands discussion. Furthermore, the role of the government, both the state and the central, and the film studio setup calls for a separate through discourse.
A caution – one might find errors in the English titles of the cinemas. Very few English titles are original, especially of the personal films, as they were sent for circulation in non-Assamese areas. This author does for all other films.
 November 2011.
 Nagaland and Meghalaya were craved out of Assam in 1963 and 1971-72 respectively. Mizoram became a union territory in 1971 and a state in 1986.
 S.B. Medhi, Transport System and Economic Development of Assam, pp 135, Publication Board, Assam, Guwahati, 1978.
 One of the earliest showmen was Jamshetji Nusswerwanji Tata, the founder of Tata Group. Another such showman was M/s B. Mehta with the name ‘America India’. See Indian Cinema Colonial Contours by Someswar Bhowmik, pp 16-17, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1995.
 Someswar Bhowmik, Indian Cinema Colonial Contours, pp 11, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1995
 Parasuram (Funu) Barua, ‘Jyotir Lagat’, in ‘Jyotir Sannidhat’ (Assamese), editing / compilation: Babul Das, pp 77, Kamala Prakash, Guwahati, first edition, 1989. English translation of the quote is by this writer.
 Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, Asamor film silpa garhat asomor darshakar dayitta (incomplete), Jyotiprasad Rachanibali (Assamese), pp 479, Asom Prakashan Parishad, Guwahati, 1981.
 Bibekananda Agarwalla, The Agarwalla Family of Tezpur, pp 14, Dibrugarh, 1998 as quoted in Uriba para hole akou jujiloheten (Assamese), Gitasri Tamuli and Akhil Gogoi, pp 6, Banalata, Guwahati, 2003.
 Himansu Rai was of the comparable genetics that of Jyotiprasad. He also studied law in London yet he made the course complete. Both hailed from affluent families, and both died young, co-incidentally at the age of 42.
 Aideu Handique, the lead actress of the film was outcaste by her villagers for addressing a man (the husband on the screen) as “Bongohordeu” (my flesh) in the film. She never got a suitor for her marriage. She died recently at the age of 87.
 ‘. . . I am employing Russian method of directing through all the pictures’, Jyotiprasad Agarwalla in a letter to one Krishen Deb Mehra dated 11.11.1934. Quote from Uriba para hole akou jujiloheten (Assamese), Gitasri Tamuli and Akhil Gogoi, pp 71, Banalata, Guwahati, 2003.
 The studio of Lahore kept the negative of the film as surety till payment of the studio rentals. But Jyotiprasad could not make the negative available by clearing the dues. In 1972, only seven reels of the lone release print of the film were discovered in a garage, which was incorporated in a long documentary Rupkuwar Jyotoprasad aru Joymoti (1976) by Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, dedicated to Jyotiprasad. There the footage was spliced in as-they-were-found condition, and several portions of it were made freeze in order to describe particular characters, scenes, actors etc. with various freshly added background narrations. That made the footage an uncomfortable viewing. In 2004, this writer reconstructed the footage in video from a tele-cine copy of the documentary, removed the additional voices besides adding English sub-titles. The reconstructed version turned out to be 58 minutes long as against the original length of 14,400 feet. It was premiered internationally in the film festival of Bollywood and Beyond held in Stuutgart in July 2006. Further, the film was invited for screen in the Asiaticafilmmediale (Encounters with Asian cinema) of Rome in November 2006, and the Munich Film Festival 2007 respectively.
 As stated before the lone cinema hall in Guwahati lacked the sound system for screening a talkie. Moreover the hall was some kind of a warehouse.
 Although several write-ups had appeared in newspapers and magazines but most are of eulogise-type. The only critical piece was written by Umesh Barua about which could not satisfy. For full text of the piece refer, Silpir Alokjatra edited by Akhil Gogoi and Gitashri Tamuly, pp 333-338, Jyoti Prakashan , Guwahati, 2002.
 50,000 rupees during the period is a ‘fortune’ if we take the words of Erik Barnouw and S. Krishnaswamy, ‘Indian Film’, pp 95, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1980 – ‘Himansu Rai ‘raised an unusually large sum – eventually about Rs. 90,000 – for production outlay’ for his film, The Light of Asia (1925).
 Around ten minutes of footage of ‘Indramalati’ has been incorporated in Rupkuwar Jyotoprasad aru Joymoti (1976). The footage is reported to be ‘NG’ (not good for the final film). The complete print of the film is lost.
 Ankiya Nat is a religious theatre created in medieval Assam by Shankardeva (1449 -1568), an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu in his earthly manifestation of Krishna. The form is inseparable from song, dance and music.
 Arunlochan Das, ‘Rupahir Kahini’, in ‘Ebar Ubhoti Chaon’ (Assamese), pp 28, Sishu-sakhi Prakashan, Guwahati, 2001.
 His films include Chalachal (1956), Deep Jweley Jai (1959), Swaralipi (1961) and Uttar Falguni (1963) in Bengali and Mamta (1966), Anokhi Raat (1968), Khamoshi (1969) and Safar (1970) in Hindi.
 Hridayananda Agarwalla, the youngest brother of Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, produced both Dhumuha and Kecha Khun.
 They were Ila Chakraborty and Mantu Ghosh. Bombay singers like Lata Mangeskar, Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur, Mohd. Rafi, Talat Mahmood and Mukesh sang for Bhupen Hazarika’s films.
 Phani Sarma was an average actor but a well-organized director. Interview with Kulada Kumar Bhattacharyya.
 Remake of Siraj and Miri jiyori were well on the pipeline but Tarachand Barjatya of Rajashri Production disagreed to proceed further because of complete scripts. Chikmik bijuli was made on the basis of some notes prepared by Nirode Choudhury and Kulada Kumar Bhattacharyya, and incurred more expenditure over the budget. Interviews with Kulada Kumar Bhattacharyya.
 DVD of the film is recently released in the market. Prints and negatives of other films are reported to be lost.
 Interview with film historian Prafulla Kumar Dutta described from his collection of newspapers and periodicals.
 Atul Chandra Hazarika, ‘Runumi’, in ‘Manchalekha’ (Assamese), pp 310, Lawyers Book Stall, Guwahati, second edition, 1995.
 Interview Dolly Barpujari, and Suresh Goswami’s private papers.
 It was the last production of Debki Bose’s legendary film studio New Theatres. Interview with Manoranjan Sur.
 Arunlochan Das, ‘Rupahir Kahini’, in ‘Ebar Ubhoti Chaon’ (Assamese), pp 26-27, Sishu-sakhi Prakashan, Guwahati, 2001.
 ‘Manchalekha’ (Assamese), pp 310, Lawyers Book Stall, Guwahati, second edition, 1995.
 ‘Underpantar andolon sabologia’, quoted from a write-up published in Assamese weekly, Banhee, by Paziruddin Ahmed (1941 edition). Interview with Prafulla Kumar Dutta.
 In Ebar Ubhoti Chaon, (Assamese), pp 10-11, Arunlochan Das, Sishu-sakhi Prakashan, Guwahati, 2001.
 The then capital of Assam.
 The legendary director-actor Pramathes Barua (1903-51) was a salaried staff of the studio New Theatres.
 The apprehension that the natives of Assam would be very soon overwhelmed economically, outnumbered politically and over swamped culturally can be traced from the early days of the formation the Assamese identity in the nineteenth century. This feeling got percolated through the collective unconsciousness of the Assamese middle class and the manifestation of this apprehension is seen in the various movements rocking the state such as language movement in 1960 and education medium movement in 1972.
 Written by Arun Sarma, date of publication unknown.
 Publicity literature of the film.
 For example Udayer Pathe (Awakening, Bengali, 1944), and its remake, Humrahi (Fellow Travellers, Hindi, 1945), and Do Bigha Zamin (Two Acres of Land, Hindi, 1953) all three by Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (World down below, Hindi, 1945), and K.A. Abbas’s Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth, 1946).
 Sumita S. Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 1947-1987, pp 97-98, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998.
 ‘Surat magan bhayal rati, mouna kolahal / dinbur amar mrita harinor beak sinh jen houl’ translation ours.
 Dr. Hiren Gohain, The Cinema in Eastern India and its Social Significance, reprint, pp 30, Chitra Chinta, Guwahati Cine Club, Guwahati, 2006.
 Sumita S. Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 1947-1987, pp 55, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998. B.N. Sircar was the owner of the most successful film studio, New Theatres, of Calcutta. Pramathes Barua, a paid actor-director of the studio made the classic, Devdas (Devdas, 1935) for Sirkar.
 The film could not be termed as a ‘feature’ as per the guideline of central government. The length was one minute short of the prescribed duration of 72 minutes. The censor certificate states the film as ‘short-feature’. Information by the filmmaker himself.
 Salman Rushdie in a television interview in Sumita S. Chakravarty, National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 1947-1987, pp 85, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998.
 The Assam Accord that ended the Assam Movement (1979-85).
All photos are taken from the net. The author has taken the liberty to use them on the faith that copy right holders will grant him the required immunity.