November 25, 2017

Lights, Camera, Action ! : An Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker Shankar Borua

Independent filmmaker Shankar Borua was born and raised in Duliajan (Upper Assam, North-East India). Borua holds a Ph.D. in Mass Communications from Texas Tech University, USA. His dissertation is titled American Political Documentaries: Structure, Agency, and Communication of Meaning. As an actor, he goes by the screen/stage name Upamanyu Boruwa and has played the lead in both his recent films ‘Grief on a Sunday Morning’ and ‘The Curiosity Shop’. Borua's filmography includes ‘Angst at Large’, ‘If God be With Us: The Naga Nation’, ‘Hepaah’ (All those longings...), ‘Center Mass’, ‘Hope is a Good Thing’, and ‘Beleaguered’.

Winner of the Golden Camera award at the 1st Guwahati International Film Festival for his movie ‘Grief on a Sunday Morning’, writer-director Shankar Borua talked about his new movie ‘The Curiosity Shop’. Among many others, the movie stars Upamanyu Boruwa, Debasmita Borgohain (as Hope, the adopted daughter in the movie), Anupjyoti Choudhury, Krishna Sarma, Ribhu Ranjan Baruah, Stuti Choudhury, Imtinaro Longkumer, Bidisha Kashyap, and Dipak Boruah.

Senior Film Journalist Prantik Deka talks to this brilliant writer-director from Assam about his films and future projects.

What is the central message of your movie?

Shankar Borua (SB): The central message of The Curiosity Shop is loud and clear and is visible on all posters and publicity material associated with the film - "Adopt a girl child, give her a life."

Additionally the movie asks the people of Assam to pause and pay homage to the work of American Baptist missionaries Miles Bronson and Nathan Brown. They truly were the pioneers who contributed immensely towards saving the Assamese language at a difficult time in our history beginning the 1830s.

How did you end up making a movie about a father-daughter relationship?

SB: The Curiosity Shop, a two and a half hours long full-length dramatic feature, is a fictional depiction of a father-daughter relationship with a book store called 'The Curiosity Shop' as the metaphorical theater where a lot of the drama unfolds. I had this movie in mind, about a father, an adopted daughter, and a book store. As I was writing the screenplay, it so happened that Hope, the protagonist Rontu's adopted daughter, took center stage in the narrative; she symbolized all that is beautiful in children and I do feel Hope will touch people deep inside in a very fundamental way.

I really hope that folks contemplating adoption of a child will actively consider adopting a girl child after watching the movie. What is amply shown in The Curiosity Shop is the strong bond that Rontu and Hope share, a bond that defies the usual notions of people related by blood alone.

Now, the challenge was to create the foil, the contrasting other end, the dark sub-plot, that would make the beauty of this father-daughter relationship stand out. That was the real challenge, to portray human deviousness within the narrative to an extreme extent, something that will make us shudder, kind of Dickensian if I can call it that, very dark.

How does the movie reflect our times?

SB: The Curiosity Shop is an urban narrative set in contemporary Guwahati. Anyone living in Guwahati or for that matter any other urban center in South Asia will immediately identify with the characters of The Curiosity Shop and the predicaments that they find themselves in; alongside of course are myriad joys to be experienced as well that are fundamentally human, it doesn't quite matter where one lives.

Guwahati, a cosmopolitan urban space is India’s gateway to South-East Asia. The population in the city reflects the multi-ethnic fabric of this part of South Asia. Esther Zhimomi, a young Naga lady and manager of the book store ‘The Curiosity Shop’, mirrors that cosmopolitanism.

Where was The Curiosity Shop shot?

SB: The movie was shot entirely in Bombay and Guwahati.

Why is the film called The Curiosity Shop?

SB: It is my own little tribute to Charles Dickens actually. ‘The Curiosity Shop’ is a vintage bookstore set up in 1965 by the paternal uncle of the film’s protagonist, in loving memory of his favourite Dickens novel 'The Old Curiosity Shop'. Thirty-eight year old Rontu Bezboruah is the store’s present custodian. The name of the movie is the name of the book store.

How do you feel now that The Curiosity Shop opened on November 3 last but did not have enough movie-goers watching it in movie theaters?

SB: It would have been wonderful if independent movies like The Curiosity Shop garnered the kind of attention in the media and elsewhere that would make them more visible in Assam's public space. More importantly, that attention would get people talking about a cultural product that represents them and their lives in a truly authentic way. I only wish people had the time, the inclination, and the opportunity to watch The Curiosity Shop in movie theaters.

Can you tell us about your next movie?

SB: My next movie, Rongeen (Colourful), to be shot early next year, will feature actor Biju Phukan in a unique performance. To be shot entirely in Upper Assam, it is a musical that I hope will enrapture Assam's movie-goers.