National Award-winning film critic and acclaimed documentary director, Utpal Borpujari’s debut feature film ‘Ishu’, which deals with the demonic custom of witch-hunting prevalent in tribal areas of the country, has won the Special Jury Award in Indian film competition section of the 10th Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES), which was held from 22 February to 1 March.
“The award has been given for a vivid portrayal of how indigenous communities confront and overcome their barbaric practices from within. The film also looks at the interface of tradition and modernity avoiding hierarchical categories,” the jury in its citation wrote.
The inhuman practice of ‘witch hunting’, prevalent in parts of Assam as well as some other parts of India, has been depicted through the eyes of an innocent child, whose favourite aunt is branded as a witch by an evil village quack, and thrown out of the village, and her house burnt down. The extraordinary situation brings out the hero in him. It’s his rationality – and that of a few others – that makes the village face up to its own superstitious ways.
Produced by the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), ‘Ishu’, set in a remote tribal Rabha village in Lower Assam area bordering Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, is based on noted writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel of the same name.
It’s cast include Kapil Garo, two-time National Award (Special Jury Mention)-winning actor Bishnu Khargoria, Manipuri actress Leishangthem Devi, Chetana Das, Pratibha Choudhury among others. The film has been edited by the legendary A Sreekar Prasad, while its sound design is by Amrit Pritam Dutta and music is by Anurag Saikia, all National Award winners. The film has dealt with violence inherent to the issue in a subtle manner through indicative sound techniques. The film was earlier nominated for Best Director and Best Film in the Indian languages competition in the 23rd Kolkata International Film Festival.
It has also been screened in the Canada Kids Film Festival (Toronto), International Children’s Film Festival Bangladesh (Dhaka, International Competition), 3rd Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFFCY, New Delhi), 3rd Eye Asian Film Festival Mumbai, 10th International Guwahati Film Festival, organized by Gauhati Cine Club and the first Assam International Rural Film Festival, Meleng Phesual, Jorhat.
It has also been selected for competition in the Toulouse Indian Film Festival, France, to be held in April.