Assamese feature film ‘Ishu’, premiered at the 23rd Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) as part of the Competition section in Indian Language films, brings into focus the medieval practice of witch hunting in the country.
Director Utpal Borpujari, who makes his feature film debut with this film, said, “Ishu is a children’s feature film which deals with the subject purely from a child’s point of view. In Assam, it usually happens in rural areas. Either they beat up people and throw them out or they just kill, many a times by beheading.”
In most cases, when a woman is branded a witch, she is evicted from her land – being told that she no longer have the right to remain on land that she had lived on for years, and if she happens to be a young widow, then there is sexual assault as well. “Also many people in these communities don’t have access to basic healthcare. So whenever they fall ill, vested interests find it very easy to call someone a witch,” Borpujari said.
‘Ishu’, produced by Children’s Film Society, has been shot in remote tribal hamlets of the state. Borpujari, who is also a film critic and former journalist having worked with different media organizations also said that the government, different political parties and student bodies were creating awareness about the social evil constantly.
Referring to the story line, Borpujari said, the film centres around the world of young Ishu, his pet dog Bhalu, his friends and ‘Ambika aunty’.
However, Ishu’s world turns topsy turvy when Ambika is branded a witch, 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.
“My film like the literary work sees the happenings from the child’s point of view. And if you see from a child’s point of view, you can get an unbiased view,” he said.
‘Ishu’ is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel of the same name and was screened in the Indian Language section. Its cast include Kapil Garo, Bishnu Khargoria, Leishangthem Devi, Chetana Das among others. Much of the film’s unvarnished beauty lies in the off-the-cuff performance of young Kapil Garo as Ishu.
It’s a straightforward film without stylistic flourishes, its rootedness and its organic and unschooled texture shining through the frugal frames.
Recipient of the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Awards of India in 2003, Borpujari has clocked over two decades in journalism, and has to his credit documentaries such as ‘Mayong: Myth/Reality’ (2012), ‘Songs of the Blue Hills’ (2013) and ‘Memories of a Forgotten War’ (2016). Borpujari also complimented the KIFF authorities for introducing the ‘Rare Language Indian Films’ category where eight films in Garo, Boro, Chakma, Dogri, Konkani, Kodava, Maithili and Khasi were screened.
The films from different Northeastern states in their own dialects wonderfully project the unique lifestyle and culture of the people of the region and should reach out to bigger audiences.