The Barua Brothers: the Pioneers and Movers of  Assamese Mainstream Movies

Few will deny it was the Barua brothers---Nip Barua, Brojen Barua and D’bon Barua---who ushered in the era of commercially viable mainstream filmmaking in Assam. Although two of them( Nip Barua’s ‘Mak Aru Maram’ and ‘Ranga Police’, Brajen Barua’s ‘Dr  Bezbarua” and ‘Opaja Sonar Mati’) grabbed quite a few  National Awards, they predominantly and deliberately  made typical mainstream potboilers  intended to entertain the public and make money. Brajen Barua’s ‘Dr Bezbarua’ (1969)was the first film from Assam to have been awarded the Best Regional Film(The Silver Lotus).The film,  a crime thriller in line with the contemporary Bollywood mainstream traditions ,paved the way for commercial filmmaking in Assam in a true sense. Aesthetically and artistically, most of their films were  average in cinematic quality and lacked refinement.

1970s—A  Leap forward towards Quality Filmmaking

Four decades years after ‘Joymoti’, Padum Borua finally tried to break the jinx. His ‘Ganga Silonir Pakhi’ (1975) was a serious attempt  to make a socially meaningful and aesthetically successful film. A  visually rich and evocative  film  bearing testimony to its director’s sound knowledge of cinematic language and grammar, it still remains one of the finest Assamese films in terms of aesthetic and cinematic values. Three more attempts were made to churn out socially meaningful films in the decade---Pulak Gogoi’s ‘Khoj’, Deuti Barua’s ‘Bristi’,and Atul Bordoloi’s ‘Kallol’( The Best Regional Film,1978). Abdul Majid’s ‘Chameli Memshab’(1975) was another remarkable film which brought the cinema of Assam its first prestigious National award in the form of the  Best Music Direction(Dr. Bhupen Hazarika). Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia made his debut as a filmmaker with  ‘Sandhyaraag’(1977) heralding the advent of a luscious phase of  quality filmmaking in the history of the cinema of Assam. Dr Bhabendranath Saikia strove for artistic excellence in a realistic paradigm with a fair degree of success. His cinema defied the otherwise dominant mainstream mediocrity  and asserted itself through visuals which drew blood from images inspired by life’s realistic essence. Worthwhile to mention, barring ‘Sarothi’ and ‘Kalasandhya’, all
his films are essentially woman-centric . But it is Jahnu Barua, one of the most revered filmmakers of the country, to whom the contemporary quality and meaningful cinema of Assam owes most. The first filmmaker from Assam who consciously conceived, contrived and ventured to relate individual predicaments in a larger socio-political, cultural, socio-economic  and even somewhat global backdrop. His films, specially ‘Halodhiya Charaye Baodhan Khai’(1987), ‘Hkharoloi Bahu Dur’(1995), ‘Firingoti’(1991) brought many a national /international award.  
Films of Assam in Non-scheduled Languages

Assam is a multicultural mosaic which is an abode to hundreds of ethnic communities with their own vibrant cultures and rich linguistic identities. While the Assamese language film continued its roller coaster ride, the cinematic experiments in  Non-scheduled languages also were fast gearing up. Gautam Bora’s ‘Woshobipo’(Karbi,1989) is a  multi award winning, socially meaningful and aesthetically admirable film which is a veracious portrayal of a tribal society
in the throes of transition struggling to withstand the onslaught of modernity and adapt to the changing times and values. Jwangdo Bodosa’s ‘Alayaron’(1986) and ‘Hagramayao Jinahari’(1993) are two socially relevant, award winning films in Bodo. ‘Panei –Janki’(Mishing,2002) and Manju Borah’s ‘Koyad’(2013) are two significant award winning films in Mishing.  Sural Dowreh’s ‘Orong’(Rabha,2014) and Jaising Jai Dahotia’s “Handook’(Moran, 2017) are two recent much acclaimed films on the list.  
The Late 90s and Beyond 2000

While the cinema of Assam continues to teeter on the edges of viability from a commercial perspective,  the tryst of young filmmakers as well as doyens like Jahnu Barua with meaningful cinema also continues amidst constraints. Assam raved over the emergence of sensitive filmmakers like Bidyut Chakravarty (‘Raag Biraag’ and ‘Dwar’),Manju Borah (Baibhav, Akashi Torar Kothare), Sanjib Sabhapandit (Juye Pora Sone, Jatinga Ityadi, Jangfai Jonak, Diksou Banat Polash) ,Dr Santwana Bardoloi  (Adajya),M. Maniram (‘Mon Jai’),Jadumoni Dutta (Jetuka Pator Dore and Paani) Hiren Borah (Vasundhara)---filmmakers who endeavoured to make quality , meaningful films. While commercial success eluded them, many of them brought laurels to the cinema of Assam.


The cinephiles in Assam now seem to be marvelling at the emergence of a young breed of filmmakers who are bent on churning out rich, diverse and often experimental cinematic narratives in structure and content hitherto unknown to the cine buffs of  this territory. The socio-political, economic  and cultural milieus often creep into their narratives as a readily tangible leitmotif.(Suraj Dowerah’s “Orong”, Jaising Jai Dahotia’s “Handook”) Most of these young filmmakers seem to have well defined film sense and fairly well defined film perspective. They often show an innovative and tight sense of scripting that paves the way for highly suggestive story telling in an acceptable film language.( Bhaskar Hazarika’s Kothanadi, Reema Das’s Village Rocstar). They have a penchant for acquisition of good command over film aesthetics and language. Consequently their works are often fortified with suggestive and evocative cinematography, content n essence driven editing styles, spiffy and meaningful sound design, adroit application of highly effective ellipsis, and quality acting. More than evident in them is a readily palpable tendency to weave a cinematic narrative which is minimalist in gimmicks but rich in cinematic beauty. At times, a few of them seem to resort to a conscious endeavour to bring in a flavour of fusion cinema to be commerciable viable . (Keny Basumotary’s “Local Kungfu”).Most of them seem to show allegiance to Independent Film Movement in their own ways. The fact that these new filmmakers are fast looming large as a glimmer of hope has provoked the discerning film buffs to envisage a Renaissance which is in the offing….!

The Road Ahead……

Despite the much hyped and much eulogized advent of a Renaissance and a consistent dream run of the quality works in the festival circuit , the grim reality is film environment in this part of the nation is still marred by a stagnation that seems stubborn at this juncture. Lack of  viable film policy, lack of theatres for language films, highly range bound market dynamics continue to deter and threaten the cinema of Assam. Strengthening of Film Society Movement , adaptability to new technology and aesthetics that enable the filmmakers to make quality films on shoestring budgets, exploring alternative mode of screening, marketing and distribution could be some of the survival strategy to tide over the impasse.

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