Jahnu Barua: One Of The Most Important Proponents Of Modern Assamese Cinema
Legendary filmmaker Jahnu Barua celebrated his 67th birthday on 18th October last. His next Assamese feature film Bhoga Khirikee is due for its theatrical release in January next. The author pays a personal tribute to the great man.
• 1995: Watching the “correct” wrong film
The large poster stand in front of the hall had a poster which read “Xagoroloi Bahu dur” (It’s a Long Way to the Sea).
Apparently, I had miss-read the schedule in the newspaper and pulled my brother into watching an Assamese film which in those days was not on the top of our list. However, we had committed ourselves too much to the viewing to abandon it. Within moments of its beginning, the film had completely engulfed our senses. I was transfixed at the lyrical visual storytelling of Jahnu Barua which even appealed to a student of the 2nd standard that I was then. I was so engrossed in the life and human struggle of the protagonist, Powal played by Bishnu Kharghoria and his grandson, that I didn’t realize when I started taking sides with the old man.
The protagonist earned his living by ferrying people across a river in his boat. That was his lone source of income. I was pained when a bridge was completed across the river and it was apparent that the protagonist would lose his earnings. But, what hit me the most was the scene when his own grandchild, whom he loved more than life itself, chose to take the bridge instead of riding with him on the boat.
Jahnu Barua successfully bridges the gap between the screen and the audience, and makes them a party to the protagonist and his grandchild’s life. In doing so, he creates a motion picture that appealed to one and all, transcending the borders of language and milieu.
• 2007: “The Catastrophe” at the Film Appreciation course
The year was 2007 and I was attending a four-day film appreciation course. The rule for the fest was that every evening, after the day’s discussions, classes and screenings, they would show a film by a master and that would be followed by a panel discussion.
On the third day of the fest, they showed Jahnu Barua’s “Halodhiya Sorai Bao Dhan Khaye.” Years had passed since my tryst with ‘Xagoroloi Bahu dur’ and in these years, I had again forgotten the genius of the man and was once again, being skeptical about the screening. Moreover, the day of the screening wasn’t particularly an easy one and we had to face a lot of grilling from our teachers throughout that day. Hence I was looking for some light entertainer instead of the heavy hearted “Halodhiya Sorai Bao Dhan Khaye” which I had assumed it to be. I had no idea what it was about though.
Once again, I was in the spell of Jahnu Barua, a feat that he had pulled off in 1995 on a kid who went in to watch a masala potboiler. The simplicity of the tale, the overt casualness of the protagonist who was a simpleton and had to risk everything he has to try and safeguard a piece of land, was just heart wrenching for me. The film took me from one emotional roller-coaster to another and I couldn’t help but feel choked as I sat through scene after scene of warm emotional content.
Jahnu Barua in this film transcends genres by creating an essential drama that at many levels is so laced with thrills and tension that you can very easily call it a thriller. What will happen to the protagonist remains a surprise till the very end. Again, he makes wonderful use of the actors at hand and makes them perform beyond all expectations.
Like his previous film, “Halodhiya Sorai Bao Dhan Khaye” is visually stunning. The essence of rural Assamese life is brought out beautifully and it is done in a very cinematic manner. After this screening, I had re-discovered Jahnu Barua’s cinema for a second time. What’s amusing is to note the fact that “Halodhiya Sorai Bao Dhan Khaye” is christened as “The Catastrophe” in its English avatar.
• 2015: The thin line between comedy and tragedy
I buy my monthly stock of films from the wholesale DVD and VCD shops in Lakhtokia. It was during one of these shopping expeditions that I suddenly found a whole lot of Jahnu Barua films available on DVDs. Not to mention, I bought as many as I could find and the most prized possession of them all was Bandhon. Here was a film that was applauded by one and all, but one that I didn’t get a chance to watch in theaters.
Here was a film that started as a comedy and remains that way till atleast the interval. The chemistry between Bishnu Kharghoria and Bina Patangia playing an aged couple is an amusing affair. How snoring becomes an issue of conflict between a couple was hilarious to watch. The film then changes mood as the story shifts to Mumbai where the couple arrives, looking for their missing grandchild. From here on, it becomes an emotional rollercoaster that will make you go limp on your knees many times.
Through this film, Barua proved his mantle yet again and successfully portrayed how we can have a comedy metamorph into a tragedy without hurting the basic effects of both the ingredients within a runtime of two hours. There are few films that I have seen achieve such a feat with such ease and finesse.
2017: Why Jahnu Barua is one of the most important proponents of modern Assamese cinema
Through the above mentioned trysts with Jahnu Barua’s works, I have come to not only respect the man, but also appreciate his cinematic sense. I have practically grown with his films as the timelines mentioned above would suggest. His films are exactly what the Assamese film industry needs right now.
A lot has been said about how dwindling shows at cinema houses and lack of support from the government are the primary causes for the degradation of Assamese cinema. However, the fact of the matter is that the primary cause for degradation is the ever dwindling standard of Assamese cinema and what it believes is entertainment.
Barua has almost always worked with shoestring budgets, chose unconventional and not so massy subjects and kept his films free from jingoism and cheap thrills. Still, his films have always entertained and enthralled.
He has set examples of how we can take simple subjects that are rooted in reality and then treat them in a cinematic manner to extract wonderful result. Devoid of glitz, glam, fast cuts and editing tweaks, his films are unadulterated and pristine pieces of film-making which I dare say can be compared to the auteurs like Fellini, De Sica, Truffaut and our very own, Satyajit Ray.
His films show every sign of the neo-realistic style of film-making and reflect every quality that is at the heart of this style. But sadly enough, the master has been silent over the years. As he mentioned in his speech at a film festival, one has to see his films for him to be able to make them. It’s indeed a heartbreaking statement to hear from a man who has practically revolutionized Assamese film industry and has shaped the understanding of cinema of people like myself who have been watching his films since childhood. I have been skeptical of his works more than once but I have given his cinema a chance. I believe that’s something we all need to do or else we are poised to lose one of the greatest proponents of Assamese cinema.