January 3, 2018

Flashback : Assamese Film Industry in 2017

The year 2017 saw the release of 25 Assamese films, including a ground-breaking blockbuster. A good deal of these releases explored diverse stories that grappled with the social upheavals and fundamentals of contemporary thought and feeling. Kangkan Rajkhowa’s ‘Dur’, Himanshu Prasad Das’s ‘Shakira Ahibo Bokultolor Bihuloi’, Kangkan Deka’s ‘Beautiful Lives’, Hemanta Kumar Das’s ‘Othello’, Monjul Baruah’s ‘Antareen’, Nava Kumar Nath’s ‘Chaaknoiya’, Dhruv J Bordoloi’s ‘Dooronir Nirola Poja’, Santwana Bardoloi’s ‘Maj Rati Keteki’, Sankar Baruah’s ‘The Curiosity Shop’, Prashant Saikia’s ‘Rum Vodka Whisky’, Bobby Sarma Barua’s ‘Sonar Baran Pakhi’, Prerana Barbarooah’s ‘Tumi Aahibaane’ and Sitanath Lahkar’s ‘Aei Maatite’ resonated with the critics and a niche audience, with their limited distributions. Along with the established filmmakers, a new pantheon of free spirited and intrepid directorial talents, with a desire to experiment and challenge the prevailing modes of expression, hit the scene, which in turn, also augurs well for the film industry.

It's hard to believe that despite their themes and ideas, even evoking robust discussions among cinephiles, the movies failed to garner a favourable reception with the audiences. However, the industry needed a break out movie, a commercially successful film, not just a critically lauded one. In a twist of fate, ‘Shakira Ahibo Bokultolor Bihuloi’, which was doing well, was unceremoniously removed to make way for Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Raees’ and Hrithik Roshan's ‘Kaabil’. Kenny Basumatary’s ‘Local Kung Fu 2’, which opened at the top of the charts, had a head-on collision with the biggest blockbuster of the year - ‘Bahubali 2’, and not surprisingly, was booted out from most theatres - a woeful reminder of the film industry's fragility and helplessness.

Just when it seemed that everyone, including the pundits were anticipating more failures, comes along a movie that became not just a Box-Office phenomenon, but breathed new life into a beleaguered industry. Emerging from a massive publicity drive, Zubeen Garg’s ‘Mission China’, released on September 8, became the biggest blockbuster hit ever in the history of Assamese cinema. Riding on the singer’s popularity wave, the film not only recouped its huge investment of over Rs 2 crore, but grossed a stupendous figure of around 3 crore, 80 lakhs! The film was also released in major metropolitan cities across the country, and has outstripped big Bollywood productions by quite a distance in terms of footfalls, even grabbing national headlines, and ironically reversing the same fate often met with by Assamese films.

The film provided a window of opportunity for the upcoming releases. Riding on a new-found confidence, the industry expected the films to do well. However, the films that followed didn’t quite measure up to the expectations.

Veteran filmmaker Munin Barua, who has been, beyong his own films, a crucial figure in the development of the Assamese film industry, made a comeback with ‘Priyaar Priyo’. Despite the presence of Zubeen Garg, the much-anticipated movie could well be described as a middling success.

The year saw an emerging crop of independent new-age filmmakers, who broke through with some of the best films, occasionally relying on crowdfunding, and defying popular convention and the daunting challenge of financial constraints. The films were distinctive in terms of restrained acting style, treatment, nuanced character psychology, and integration of story and style among other aspects. Overall, the filmmakers have endeavoured to produce films with topical subjects, offering grace to cinematography through their imagination and commitment.

Prantik Deka