Jones Mahalia : Life and Work

In the late seventies, a promising young filmmaker burst into the scene with a movie that offered fascinating tableaux of images, quite unlike anything seen before in Assamese cinema. Equipped with solid skills and knowledge, this FTII alumnus made innovative use of the basic cinematic tools, without ever going overboard. He was one of those very few directors to make quite an impact at the time. The period also ushered in the second golden age of Assamese cinema.

Jones Mahalia with his wife Rita Mahalia, son Jerry Mahalia and daughter Jinny Mahalia

            Jones Mahalia’s ‘Duranir Rang’, released in 1979, with its socially relevant story, beautiful imagery and a stellar cast comprising of Nipon Goswami, Purnima Pathak, Tasadduk Yusuf, Biju Phukan, Rupjyoti Das, Arun Nath among others, was a breath of fresh air for many moviegoers and critics, unearthing in its wake a new creative talent. But now, it stands back as a much forgotten movie.

            After ‘Duranir Rang’, Mahalia directed his strength and energy on a different project, a commercial one that promised entertainment for the entire family. The 1985’s ‘Bohagor Duporia’, with a popular ensemble cast of Nipon Goswami, Biju Phukan, George Baker, Brajen Bora, Arun Nath, Runu Devi, Mridula Barua, Uday Sankar among others, became an enormous hit at the box-office. After a gap of almost six years, Mahalia made ‘Jugantarar Tezal Puwa’ in 2000, which didn’t quite lived up to his previous ventures in terms of box-office appeal. Despite being unwell, the filmmaker’s enthusiasm, his love for cinema, prompted him to make a cinematic comeback of sorts with a venture based on deforestation. It was to be his only fourth film in a 32-year directing career. ‘Mahasamar’, released in 2012, may have underperformed at the box-office, but Mahalia succeeded in creating social awareness and change. Interestingly, Mahalia also edited ‘Duranir Rang’ and ‘Bohagor Duporia’.

Jones Mahalia with wife Rita Mahalia

            The recent demise of this very talented filmmaker is undoubtedly an irreparable loss to Assamese cinema. Jones Mahalia was, furthermore, an exceptional human being – kind and caring. It was always a pleasure for the young and old alike, to have him around, to have his solid advice and support. However, the man never got his due – either from the government or from people from the film industry that he loved so dearly.

            An astute student of serious cinema, without being pretentious, Mahalia was well aware of the fact that audiences need to be constantly entertained. He was concerned with keeping up with the changing tastes and trends.

The creative process, when it is honest, leads to loneliness. It wasn’t different in the case of Jones Mahalia. But he faced everything with a lot of humility and patience.

            Born to Bhuyan Mahalia and Numali Mahalia at Diplonga village near Sootea in Sonitpur district on November 1, 1946, Jones Mahalia matriculated from the Sootea High School in 1964 and did his graduation from Arya Vidyapith College, Guwahati.

            But Mahalia was far too obsessed with cinema. He was awestruck by it’s far-reaching sphere of influence and appeal.

            Mahalia obtained his diploma in film direction from the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India in 1971.

            He also served in different capacities in the Films Division under the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. But he was far too determined to build a career out of filmmaking in his homeland. It may not be a wise decision at the time, but Mahalia always followed his heart in whatever he did. He left his steady job there at the Films Division to devote wholeheartedly to filmmaking. He was running with too many ideas and themes.

            While in the Films Division, he made nine departmental documentaries. In 1993, he produced and directed the popular Assamese serial, ‘Pratighat’, for Doordarshan, Guwahati. Some other serials produced and directed by him include ‘Anek Phular Surabhi’, ‘Kaalratna’, ‘Surangar Majere’, ‘Dasami’, ‘Operation Drugs’, ‘Ghat Pratighat’, ‘Dance Parade’, ‘Jivan Jonak’ and ‘Rhythm Time’. They were well received and praised for their exquisite plots, execution and the good performances of the actors and actresses.

Jones Mahalia with others on location during the shooting of 'Mahasamar'

            In 1997, he produced for PPC North-East, ‘Harmony North East’, a serial based on dance and music. The choreography was done by his daughter, well-known choreographer of Assamese cinema, Jinny Mahalia. He made a few video films as well. His son, Jerry Mahalia, is a popular music director. His wife Rita Mahalia is also a well-known actress of cinema and television.

            It’s not often that an individual can touch so many lives and influence them in such a positive manner. The state’s film community lost a great friend, a perpetually kind and generous artist who relished the roles of director, producer, film editor, writer and mentor.

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