Friday, 10 February 2017

Assamese Film and the Portrayal of Women

                                                            Dr. Brian Mendonça


A survey of films emerging from the North East shows an abiding preoccupation with themes concerning women. From Bhupen Hazarika’s trailblazer Shakuntala (1961) in Assamese to Santwana Bardoloi’s Adajya (1996) also in Assamese directors have provided keen insights into the psyche of a woman. The themes have been bold. Adjaya, for instance, is about Giribala a young attractive widow who has to confront her needs when an American scholar comes visiting.  The film is based on a novel by Indira Goswami and is set in the 1940’s in Assam.  Widowhood has also been the theme of Padum Borah’s Gonga Silonir Pakhi/ Wings of the Tern (1976).  This is a compelling story of Basanti who thinks of her freedom after her husband’s death and of a new life with her lover Dhananjay. Adomya (2014) by Bobby Sarma Baruah tells the story of Juri infected by her AIDS-stricken husband who dies later. Juri has to bring up her daughter in these circumstances.

The latest poetic offering Dau Huduni Methai/ Song of the Horned Owl (2016) by Manju Borah catalogues the human cost of insurgency seen through the eyes of a rape victim Raimili. Mention must be made of Aparoopa (1982) by Jahnu Baruah. Aparoopa is forced to give up her University education to marry a rich tea estate. She later realises she was a pawn to repay her father’s debts. She begins a dalliance with an old classmate. Agnisaan (1985) by Bhabendranath Saikila dwells on the theme of the revenge of the first wife who has been discarded.  In Kothanodi / River of Tales (2015) Bhaskar Hazarika has taken recourse to Assamese folktales weaving in witchcraft, infanticide and snake worship – practised by women and endemic to Assam. Woman as destroyer is seen in her terrible forms. He gives us four stories instead of one and disrupts the linearity of the traditional film length.

With more sensitive films from the North East being made, recognition has been global. Though all the films discussed so far have been Assamese films from the rest of the seven states do make their contribution as well. These films seek to map the territory of a woman’s destiny. While empowering their women characters they offer role models to a society caught up in conflict. The field is yet fertile and these gallant efforts have still to reach a wider audience – given the sway of Bollywood. 
International Interdisciplinary Conference on Indian Cinema and Women, Mallikarjun College of Arts and Commerce, Delem, Canacona, Goa,  3-4 February 2017

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