notes from bidyut

June 27, 3:32 pm

Senduri aabhaare suruje …

Sujeet Chaubey… a man with no vices… a man whose life revolved around his music, his family and food– not necessarily in that order… a man who was at his prime, in the mid 40s… within a moment, was transformed into a photograph in the wall…

It was sometime in 2008, I think the beginning of 2008. ‘as the River flows’ is very much in the planning stage. Me and actor Sanjay Suri were to produce the film at that time. Suddenly got a call from Sanjay one morning – he got an appointment with a studio next day. And along with other projects, he also wants to pitch ‘as the River flow’ to them. But we were not exactly ready with our pitching materials – specially the audio/visual references. Sanjay enquired whether anything can be done about it – especially considering we have so less time… I hate to say no to a challenge; requested Pallavi (who happens to be my wife, besides editing most of my films) to start working on an av of the film and called up my friend music director Sujeet Chaubey to enquire whether it will be possible to record a scratch song for the film. Like me, Sujeet too was a die-hard optimist & immediately said yes. And that evening we ended up in a recording studio to record the Hindi song ‘Sinduri rango se Suraj bulataa hain andhera…’, inspired by the Assamese borgeet ‘Tejore Kamalapati..’(at that time, ‘as the River flows’ was planned not as a bi-lingual but only as a Hindi film). As usual, I was totally broke those days – Sujeet asked me not to worry and paid the studio charges, besides the remuneration of the musicians, from his pocket. And, did the soulful rendition of the song in his own voice…Later on Zubeen added his touch to the song with his musical arrangement and matchless, high pitched rendition in both Assamese and Hindi – but that was how the journey of that song had began…

Sujeet Chaubey , originally from Varanasi, was introduced to me by my actor friend late Sameer Sharma (yes, the same guy whose photograph is used to depict Sridhar Ranjan in the film ‘as the River flows’). After the untimely demise of Sameer, Sujeet also become my gateway to understanding of Hindi – whether to correct grammar on my attempted Hindi lyrics for the film or to find out correct meaning/pronunciation of a Hindi/Urdu words, Sujeet was my one stop shop. Why, even while recording the Hindi version of the title poem for ‘ as the River flows’, Bhupen mama (legendary Dr Bhupen Hazarika) had asked for someone with proper knowledge of Hindi diction to be present in the recording studio. My solution was simple – Sujeet Chaubey of course!

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Through Sujeet, I got the opportunity to have a glance at the loud, boisterous and yet big hearted North Indian culture from a close quarter. The fact that he shifted with his family –comprising of a homely wife and two cute, young daughters of 9 and 5 years- to our housing complex only helped in strengthening the bond… He was one guy who seems to be even more concerned than me regarding the release of the Hindi version of ‘as the River flows’, convinced that it will do wonders to both his and my career. And due to some strange reason, used to have un-fathomable trust on my ability as a director, trying to promote my name in every possible opportunity… dreaming of the day when both of us have made it ‘Big’ in the industry, in the real sense!

Suddenly, all these become a thing of the past…In the morning of 19th June, I wake up to a cruel message in my cell – ‘Sujeet is no more”!! It really took time to sink in … For a while, I keep on denying it, pretending I never received the message – till I was forced to accept the harsh reality… It was reconfirmed, on the night of 18th June, while performing in a stage show in Uttar Pradesh, Sujeet got a heart attack and breathed his last even before reaching the hospital …

As I am still fighting to accept the inevitable truth, few lines from ‘Senduri aabhaare suruje …’ is attacking my reminiscence -

with its crimson rays, the Sun
welcomes the darkness…
at the depth of the devouring dark night
the light loses its way…

Bidyut

June 14,8:40 pm

“Restaurant/ Shop cum Petrol/Diesel dealer”

“Any policies, any programs, project (of the central govt.) we want to apply, we always get nullified because we don’t meet up with the population criteria. Are you indirectly propagating population explosion? In the line of carbon credit we too should get something called population credit, because we are controlling the population of the country – we are just 17 persons per square km” – the young Parliamentary Secretary (Tourism) from Arunachal, Mr. Pasang Dorjee Sona, was telling me. Although generally I don’t have much to agree with politicians, here I didn’t have much option but to nod in agreement.

We were in the largest and the most mysterious states of the northeast – Arunachal Pradesh. Although I have been to the state many times, still am far from exploring the better part of this beautiful & isolated state, most of which has remained inaccessible by motor- able road till date. Why, even the road to Menchuka – the last town on India’s side in north Arunachal Pradesh is opened less than a decade back.DSC_1973

Till recently, Menchuka was connected to the rest of the country through the defense maintained small airfield. The youngsters still recalls fondly the adventurous track lasting two to three days that they used to make to reach the nearest boarding school in the district head Along, at a distance of some 180 kilometers (well ,by motor-able roads, not by the hiking trails!) as there was no proper high school in the Menchuka region till just a decade back. At times, it does make one wonder – what could be the secret behind the unquestioned patriotism of these simple people who on first glance seems to share so much more with the people from across the border – in culture, religion as well as racial features. I’m sure the people who matters would love to replicate this ‘secret formula’ across the country…

Even today, although there is a road for the vehicle, there is no petrol pump beyond Along. So in Menchuka if you want a refill for your vehicle, the only option is to visit the restaurant that proudly proclaims on the board outside – “Restaurant/ Shop cum Petrol/Diesel dealer”!!Once you reach the town after a challenging two days drive from the state capital Itanagar, you can’t help questioning whether James Hilton had this tiny township in mind when he wrote “Lost horizon” …Time indeed stops still here! As we roam around the place which seems to be straight out of a story book, at times to be chased by stray dogs in the army outpost (only to be told that these ‘patriotic’ dogs chased anybody who is not wearing the army’s olive-green outfit!) and giving lift to a bunch of school children from outskirt of the town (only to realize that they had given you a wrong address to be dropped off as they don’t want their parents to see them alighting from a vehicle, less their secret escapade from the school become known!!) or visiting the home of a legendary folk singer( to hear her sing of plaintive tales in a voice that quivers like the cold wind that blows against the mountain), we are left with no doubt that this is the best place where you can keep yourself busy doing nothing…

But as we try to glimpse into their life beyond this veil of happiness, at time we managed to catch a few sigh of grief –mainly when they talk of their centuries of bond with the from people across the border, erstwhile Tibet, and how it was cruelly stopped after the Chinese occupation of the country and after the Indo – China war of 62… We realized, the story is same everywhere – whether we are talking of the Indo – Pak situation, the division of Bengal which ultimately resulted in the creation of Bangladesh or about these much lesser known simple people of Arunachal … after all, as the American writer Marya Mannes had once famously said -‘borders are scratched across the hearts of men, by strangers with a calm, judicial pen, and when the borders bleed we watch with dread the lines of ink along the map turn red…”

Bidyut

March 29,8:20 pm

….And I started looking inward for the answer

“Every Naga can use a gun and everyone can also use a guitar” – says Dr. Nicky Kire, elected representative and the advisor to the Musical Task force, Nagaland. He was talking to us during our sojourn in beautiful Nagaland during the making of Guns and Guitars. Paradoxical although he may have sound, he was speaking the truth. After all we were in the land which has witnessed one of the oldest unsolved insurgency problems in the world. And it is also the only state of the country to have a wing of a ministry dedicated to music – viz., music task force.

In a place where it is not uncommon to find youngsters lured by gun for the alternative form of income & livelihood due to the absence of proper infrastructure to earn a honest living, the thought of dedicating a ministry to develop the music industry to provide that very alternative… quite a revolutionary idea indeed! And they do have abundance of local talent to make that idea a roaring success. For example, the examiners from UK who visited Dimapur’s music school ‘Hope centre for excellence’ ( affiliated to the Royal school of England) had observed that the centre is producing results which can be matched by only two music schools of London!Nagaland,,, guns and guitars

Nagaland is indeed a fascinating place – inhabited by the tribe known for their lore’s of fighting and valor. And at the same time, they are one of the most hospitable and welcoming lot of people that you can hope to find anywhere in the world… who perhaps thinks more with their heart rather than their head…you win their trust, and you are their friends for life!

The game of death had played a long innings in the hills and vales of this haunting land. And the natural question that came to my mind time and again during our sojourn was how the inhabitants have coped with the years old pains inflicted by the age old conflict… I knew that the question will not have any direct answers, yet I couldn’t help putting it to people we came across during our shoot. I will carry one particular answer, given by renowned social worker of Nagaland Mr. Niketu Iralu, in my heart for long. When Mr. Iralu was send to Madras (now Chennai) for higher studies by his family, he was most dejected- believing that there could be no future for the Nagas. And he had a valid reason to be upset – after all the govt. had put his innocent father, a retired doctor, behind bar ‘for raising war against the country’ just because he was related to Angami Zapu Phizo- the person who had started the secessionist movement in Nagaland. But his thought took a turn when in Madras he came into contact with the organistaion which is now known as ‘initiative of change’ and got attracted to their seemingly crazy philosophy of ‘remaking the world, starting with own-self.’ Inspired by this ‘crazy’ idea, when Mr. Iralu ‘started his journey inwards’, he remembered that as a young boy he used to mistreat a classmate of his. The fact that the classmate belonged to a community that is racially and linguistically a ‘hopeless minority in Nagaland’ used to provide Mr. Iralu and his other Naga friends a false sense of bravado and invincibility. As a first step towards his new journey, he wrote an apology letter to that classmate of his… and he realized that for the first time he is taking an action to deal with his hate. ‘And during this journey of looking inward, I started getting answers to a lot of my questions’ – he stated with a humble smile…

Bidyut

Jan 17, 3:07 pm

from the pages of diary- ‘Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic’

[originally appeared on the online magazine The Thumb Print, 6/8/2013]

Recently, during the question-answer session after the screening of our documentary ‘Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic’ when one person asked about the inspiration behind attempting the film, memories took a flight to an evening almost a decade back…

“So Bidyut, tell me about the theatre scene of Assam“ – Carl Miller, from UK’s famous Royal Court Theatre had asked me. It was a summer evening on 2003. I, along with couple of other friends, were sitting in the lawn of Jindal Guest mtHouse at the outskirt of Mumbai, sipping our evening tea. We were there as a part of a residential workshop call ‘Writers Block’ for ‘play writes’, organized by British Council of India in association with Royal Court, London. In fact, I was there more by fluke. Seeing an advertisement in the paper, I applied with the copy of a street play which I wrote while in college (simply because my association with drama ended along with my college) and was pleasantly surprised to be selected! More so, while after landing there I realized that many of the other participants in the workshop are like who’s who of Indian Theatre’s play writing scene! So, quietly thanking my stars, I was got busy in trying to soak in as much as possible of the experience. I was mostly a silent listener of the discussions that used to take place in the evening, once the sessions were over. Hence Carl’s question took me by surprise.

After a brief pause, I told him that we don’t have much of a theatre movement in Assam of late, but we do have something called the mobile theatre. As I started narrating the concept of the mobile theatre, I could sense the growing interest amongst the listener and Carl’s eyes were lighting up! He started making plan for visiting Assam to experience mobile theatre first hand… and that was the first time I tried looking at the phenomenon of our ‘Bhraimoman Theatre’ from an outsider’s prospective. And perhaps it was then the realization hit me- it is indeed a unique phenomenon whose significance I was happily overlooking. A classic case of nearest from church, farthest from God!
Actually I had been shooting a bit and pieces of mobile theatre performances on my visits to Assam from 1998 onwards. The idea was just to make a short film of around 5 minute duration for the cultural magazine ‘Surabhi’ that used to be telecasted in DD and for which I used to work as one of the independent director. The interaction with Carl convinced me that a subject like mobile theatre deserved a much bigger platform…

Enter Mr. Srinivasan Narayanan, the present director of Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) into the scene. Bravely, he decided to invest the money that he had kept aside for renovating his house and got his company ‘in2infotainment’ to co-produce the documentary with us… and we were set for the journey…
And what a journey it turned out to be! During the next two years in particular and a total of 8 years in general (yes, the first shot of the film was taken is 1998 and the final shot in August 2005), we re-lived the 40 odd years history of Assam’s ‘Bhraimoman Theatre…’ and as it happens in any journey, there are many a memorable moment which stayed fresh in my memory till date…
For example, playwright (late) Mahendra Borthakur. When we met him for the first time in the end of 2003 as a part of our research trip, he was full of stories. However when we made our trip almost six months later for the shoot…. he had lost his vocal cord to cancer! But the dreaded disease couldn’t really pull him down – he gave us a memorable interview for our film by scribbling his answer on my notebook!! Unfortunately, another renowned playwright of mobile theatre, (late) Bhaben Baruah was not even there to give us the interview in our return trip – an untimely death robbed him from us at his peak…

Veteran actor Mahananda Sharma had shared some amazing anecdote with us regarding his experience with two of Assam’s cultural stalwarts – Bhishnu Rabha and Phani Sharma. It so happened that they were performing in a small village in lower Assam. Phani Sharma was performing the role of Emperor Shah Jahan in the play under the same name, directed by Bishnu Rabha. Mahananda Sharma himself was playing the role of Shah Jahan’s son Dara. The morning after the show, Mr. Sharma walk out to have a cup of tea in the temporary shop next to the pandal. The elderly shop keeper complimented Sharma on his performance, but said that Phani Sharma erred in his portrayal of Shah Jahan. Taken aback, Mahananda Sharma asked him what he meant? The shopkeeper, in turn, asked Mr. Sharma which side of Shah Jahan was paralysed. Recollecting Phani Sharma on stage, Mahananda Sharma told him that it must be left side. The shop keeper countered saying that Shah Jahan was alive for 14 months after his paralytic attack – if he had left side paralysed, he couldn’t have survived that long as our heart is at the left side. Hence he must have been paralyzed on the right side!

The Shopkeeper also told him that the actor playing the role of Aurangzeb- renowned Rudra Chodhury – made a mistake as well. He signed the Dara’s death warrant by writing left to right, whereas it should have been signed right to left as those days the court’s language must have been signed either in Pharsi or Urdu!! When a crestfallen Mahananda Sharma went to Bhisnu Rabha with the feedback, Rabha said, ‘ Aache…iyatu manuh aache!’ (yes, we do have people here too!) before turning to shout at Phani Sharma that his slip-up has been exposed… Phani Sharma also admitted that he took that liberty as he used to find it constraining to act with his right hand restricted! Later on, Mahanda Sharma came to know that the elderly shop keeper used to sell tea in Kolkata’s theatres -thus learning these nuances there. And yes, also that Bishnu Rabha and Phani Sharma felicitated him quietly for his minute observations…

The incident actually opened our eyes towards another often overlooked aspect of mobile theatre. It is well documented that mobile theatre provides the unique phenomenon of giving back to the places it perform some developments in kinds, besides entertaining its audience – viz., as most of these theatres are being invited for the benefit of a school/club/temple/library etc, the society in large benefits out of the money that the people spends in buying tickets for their entertainment. What more, these theatre companies also act as a window for outside worlds to many of its audience. Thanks to their plays, many illiterate or semi-literate viewers are introduced to world classics like Iliad and Odyssey, Hamlet or Crime & Punishment or to Hollywood blockbusters like Ben-Hur or Titanic!

Our encounter with yesteryears actress and wife of late playwright Bhaben Barua, Nalini Devi, was sad and inspiring at the same time. Sad because of the torture she had to undergo for being one of the pioneer girl in acting in mobile theatre. Society sort of ostracized her for that ‘crime’. While travelling to different places for performing, girls like her were not allowed to use the well or to eat with the other people… Even her father refused to give her off on marriage socially, asking her to take care of the marriage herself! However, she said with a defiant smile – ‘I’ve no regret for my actions… I was sure that the out-dated outlook of our society is going to change someday. Besides, I was really happy to have him as my husband – I definitely have no regret whatsoever!’

Unfortunately, our lack of respect towards history and preservation as a race is very much evident in mobile theatre movement as well. The people we interviewed, especially the old timers, were literally like treasure houses of anecdotes and fascinating stories of mobile theatre down the ages but ask them for some reference materials about the play, well, they draw a blank! There is simply no evidence or any kind of archival material at time, not even a simple ‘still photograph’ for reference of many of mobile theatre’s legendary plays – except in people memories!! This was also one of the major difficulties we faced while filming the documentary- a huge dearth of research material to fall back upon!! No, I am not ready to accept lack of finance as an excuse for the same – for example, how much money would it cost for a mobile theatre group today to video-graph their plays live? And how many theatre groups do this exercise even today??

However, what I personally think as the real danger that Mobile theatre facing today is the lack of playwright. The absence of stalwarts like (late) Dr. B.N. Saikia or Mahendra Borthakur is being felt terribly due to lack of young, talented replacements. For the 40 odd mobile theatre companies, the requirement is of some 150 to 200 plays every year. But we have just a handful of playwright to meet these demands. The end result is sub-standard plays, as being experienced by Assam’s theatre going public of late. This definitely doesn’t argue well for the future of the biggest entertainment industry of northeast.

Bidyut

October 6, 3:53 pm

The story of twin ‘birth’…

Mr. Murphy simply loves us. And constantly demands our attention. Whenever there is a deadline looming, he makes sure that we don’t ignore him one way or the other. This time also there was no exception –just as we were rushing against time to finish our film ‘Guns and Guitars’, Murphy’s Law made its presence felt loud and clear… and our editing computer crashed! Thankfully, we were under Apple’s extended warranty. Yet for a few days we could do nothing but to keep ourselves busy in achieving psychological satisfaction by calling up Apple’s customer care time and again, trying to speed up the repair process. Must say, we were successful to an extent in our efforts – the spare parts arrive in a week instead of the regular seven days duration and the editing computer was operational again…

The loss of that week was crucial. When one has a deadline to meet, the loss of a week is always crucial –yet, the loss of this week was really crucial. This time we were up against a natural deadline, which can’t be shifted. We were expecting our first child, and the due date of the baby’s arrival was looming large… and to make the situation little more interesting, my wife Pallavi also happen to be the editor of ‘Guns & Guitars’, handling the post production of the film almost single-handedly for close to two years… 1380163_10151734493887266_1610712684_n

What is a filmmaker’s life without a dose of drama? After an extended editing session till 2:30 am on the 17th of September, we returned home. Just as I was falling asleep, a SMS wakes me up and makes me return to the studio again- the sound guy has to collect a few audio files urgently. Finally I hit the bed well past 5 am, only to be woken up by Pallavi at around 8 am – time to rush to the hospital! The baby had decided that she is missing out on all the excitement of the edit of film’s climax and decided to pre-pone her arrival!! (On the hindsight, it shouldn’t have taken us by surprise – our friend actor Naved Aslam jokingly said onece- after nine months of listening to the sounds of ‘Guns & Guitars’ in the edit, the first question the baby will come up on its arrival will be ‘who is this Lou Majaw??’)

So by 8:30 am we were at the road, heading to the hospital … unsure of whether to curse our luck for the’ wrong timing’ as we were negotiating through the Mumbai’s slow-moving peak hour office traffic or to thank our stars for the ‘right timing’ as we were spared the nightmare of having to face the possible non- moving traffic of the Ganesh festival’s immersion route, had the baby decided to come the next day instead…

The car stereo was playing Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s one evergreen number- ‘Kahini eti likha’ (Write a tale)… and suddenly Pallavi started speaking – ‘ Bidyut, in case you have to send the film for mastering before I returned to the studio, remember to look at the four shots…’ I used to consider myself mad about movies, but at that moment I couldn’t help myself from bursting out – ‘just shut up…don’t think about film now!’ …And added, as a afterthought – ‘don’t worry, you can look after those shots yourself when you return to the studio next week…’

At around 4:30 pm that afternoon (after a few people around us breathe a sigh of relief that it was not exactly at 4:20…), our daughter Môu – ‘nectar’, in Assamese – came out of the operation theater & greeted me with a smile…Yes, with a SMILE, have photographic evidence to back my claim.

Looking at the youngest citizen of the world at that moment, I promised to myself that I’ll do my best to leave behind a better world to her than the one we welcomed her in – a world where the sounds from the strings of Guitars will be louder than the noises coming out from the barrels of the Guns …

P/s- one day after bringing mother and daughter home, my mom threatened to disown me. She had her reasons – I got Pallavi and Môu back at the studio… I had my compulsions – after a ‘pregnant pause’, we need to complete the film… for which Pallavi needed to revisit her editing table. And Môu insisted on coming along to oversee – guess she doesn’t trust us enough with the film…

Bidyut

September 7, 7:54 pm

a note from Pallavi : Siangore ga’hlong, lohitore khamti…

[It is not unusual to find director’s wife becoming a part of a film unit, mostly to kill time. But in our case, we are working together for close to 16 years. And we are married for the last 8 years.Whether it is to edit my documentaries or to do art direction/ costumes in my productions, time and again I use her. Both for the belief that she understand closest to what I have in mind and the fact that I can give vent to the frustration without thinking twice when things does not go according to my plan…Here she shares her experience of ‘Guns & Guitars’ ]

“Siangore Ga’hlong, lohitore Khamti, tirapore Wangchuwe muk kio matise..
Axhomire poduli, udulire moduli,
morom senehore haat bohi se…”

My mother is one of those many Assamese girls of her time, who grew up listening to Bhupen Hazarika’s song.. and who was God for them. My granduncle who knew Mr. Hazarika personally, once asked him- ‘what is it that you have in your voice that makes my niece throw every care to the wind and rush over to the radio when she hears your voice? God save the person who is in her way!’ To which Mr. Hazarika just gave a hearty laugh…

I grew up listening to his songs, mostly in her voice .. one of my favorite is when she sings ‘Siangore ga’hlong lohitore khamti…’ I don’t know if at that tender age I actually understood what the song was about. I think, it was the lilting melody of the song and the way the words seems to roll off her tongue as she sang, that attracted me more. One happy memory that I carry with me is of those ‘blackout’ summer evenings- us sitting on the veranda, ma singing to us happily.. as we joined her in our off key voices!

Many moons have passed since.. I left home for higher studies, started working, got married.. for more than fifteen years I have been away from my homeland, and for the last ten years Bombay has been my home. Last year the shooting of our film ‘Guns & Guitars’ took me to Northeast and I got the wonderful opportunity to travel all the eight states together – i.e. now ‘seven sisters and a brother’! me n bidyt - Version 2
For almost a month our team was traveling from one state to another… meeting musical bands along with people from various walks of life. The film gave us the chance to interact with them from a much close quarter. Such amazing voices, songs unheard yet.. but gunshot is all we hear! I saw the land like I had not seen it before. At every step humbled by the land and the people who crossed my path. Many a time I was amazed at my own ignorance. Just to think, we are neighboring lands and yet I knew so little of them .. we are similar in so many aspect and yet with such strong independent identities; that made us distinctively different and beautiful. We are one of the most varied confluences of races, custom and culture; not to say that we all live in one of the most bio -diversified place of the world!

One of my most memorable moment was – we were already half way through our journey.. after a long bus ride from Imphal we reached Kohima. Due to some miscommunication we missed our stop and the bus left us stranded at the outskirt of the town. We were waiting for a vehicle to take us back to our hotel in the town. Our team must have made a sight! Tired and haggard and kind of lost. … I was sitting atop one of my bag, in front of a small road side shop, waiting- I was startled by a soft voice that spoke to me- tonhot Axhomot pora ahiso? (you have come from Assam?) It was, I think, one of the most beautiful sentence I have heard in some time; spoken in a language I remember only from my mother’s childhood stories… ‘Nagamese’. I turned around and there was the sweetest looking old lady.. the shopkeeper. She smiled at me as if she already knew me. We got to chatting- me in Assamese and she in Nagamese. Soon our taxi arrived and we bid the old lady bye.. but she stayed with me. That one sentence like magic made everything clear to me… right from the the song – Siangore ga’hlong…, to my father stories from his student days in Shillong, to the conversation with the Vice Chancellor of Itanagar University, who spontaneously started speaking to us in ‘Nefamesse’ the moment he knew we were from Assam; just the way most elderly person spoke to us in Arunachal Pradesh. ‘…Ubhotiye sai dekhun aahisey xhinhotu, ringniai kole muk kisu beli robi, ubhoti goi toi Axhomike kobi, aaji pahare voiyamore kolija sinise…’ roughly translated – ‘looking back, I saw.. they have followed me, they shouted out – wait a moment, go back and tell Assam- today the hills have been touched by the heart of the valley.’

Back in Bombay, I am at my editing room- along with other projects, edit on ‘ Guns and Guitars’ is on. Working on the film has been emotional and psychological upheaval for most of the team members… who are mostly from the northeast but working and staying away from their homeland for quite some time now… Wanted to hear that song again.

After searching desperately on the net for some time, I could finally find the link. Played it- something is wrong, I couldn’t feel the childhood glee that used to envelope me when my mother sang it.. a choking feeling and tears rolled down… I shook myself out of the stupor- of course it was the romantic fool in me, those are but songs of past..

What happened to this land.. our land, our people? How did we grow apart, how did we become strangers amongst our own …
This journey became the proverbial homecoming for me. And I am hoping against hope that I am not too late!

‘Siangore ga’hlong lohitore khamti tirapore Wangchuwe muk kio matise.. Axhomire poduli, udulire moduli,
morom senehore haat bohi se…
O’ pahorore tolitey, voiyamore xhimate sinakee, sinakee ki xhobaah bohi se
Monpa kokaiti dhorilu xhaboti binimoiot teu’n diley buddha’re muroti, koley jug jugor mitiralir dhwaja urisey… ‘

(This song figuratively speaks of various Indigenous peoples from the hills of Arunachal coming down to celebrate their brotherhood with the people from the valley of Assam- together celebrating their unity in their diversity. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika in his songs often spoke longingly of the tread that traditionally binds the various tribes of northeast in a chain of solidarity)
~Pallavi

August 15, 2:47 pm

from the pages of diary -Making of a Music Video that stood the test of time (Unfortunately!)

[originally written for the online blog ‘Passion for Cinema’, August 16, 2010]
As the nation is celebrating yet another independence day, I remember a music video we had made for the NGO Action Aid India on 2003.

The NGO was launching a donor card called ‘Karma Mitra’ and Mr. Jerry Almedia, then CEO of Action Aid India, had the idea of promoting it with a music video -an innovative idea at that time in India. They had obtained the rights of a beautiful song called ‘Khushi’ from a band named ‘Vedic Chants’ (now disband, two of its member -Suhash & Sidhart- had turned composer for films with ‘Hangman’) and approached us for making of the video. They wanted us to shoot the video in 16mm. No doubt, an exciting prospect! But there was a catch – the total budget for the project was all of Rs. 100,000/-!

But the idea was too good to say no. And we started working backward. First, started approaching technician friends for being a part of this project in a price much lesser then their market rate. And we requested Action Aid for some of their archival project footage. We made a rough cut and put it at the edit time line, to know exactly how much (or rather how less!) we need to shoot the band for filling up the blanks.

Enters Action Aid’s western India resource mobilization officer Bosco Fernandes into the picture. Through him we started approaching different people and organization for charity on kind. And we were surprised with the result! Right from getting camera, shooting floor, raw stock and other shooting equipments either free of charge or at a much discounted rate reinforced our belief in basic human goodness that lies in all of us…

However, what takes the cake is undoubtedly the Trans FX studio of Worli. Our graphics artist Nicholas Washington had given an estimate of some three shifts of work in SMOKE machine and accordingly we were promised a few grave yard shifts (starting from close to midnight) by its owner Hussain Lakhani as a gesture. But when Nicholas actually get down to working, the actual time taken was more than double of what he had estimated…And during those days, SMOKE machines used to cost Rs 3000/- an hour on hire…

To cut the long story short, we did manage to make the music video within the stipulated budget…and we would like to believe, we made it without compromising at its look in any way… As for whether the video had the desired result, Action Aid India will be in a better place to answer. They even had planned to release the video in different cinema halls across the country as a social service film and had tied up with Prime Focus Ltd and Kodak for the same – but somehow, the idea fizzled out…

When I revisited the video recently, I found it relevant even after 10 years of its making… but the eternal optimist in me would love to believe that this music video will loose its relevance soon!

Bidyut

July 16, 10:40 pm

so that they can play their music….

As we were waiting for our vehicle to arrive to take us to the shooting location for ‘Guns and Guitars’ in Imphal, capital of Manipur, I was surprised to see the almost kilometer long queue across our hotel at around 7 am… Agreed, 7 am in northeast is not exactly as ‘early’ as the rest of India, yet it is early enough to raise my curiosity about the long queue – especially since the line is formed to enter an ATM! On enquiring, was told that ATM in Manipur generally operates between 9 am to 5 pm… and these people don’t want to take a chance with the frequent break-down of the ATM operation during the ‘operating hour’ and hence are standing in queue to withdraw their own money after couple of hours! So much for the Any Time Money!! The irony of this culturally richest state of the northeast doesn’t end here…manipur

Manipur has the dubious distinction of having the highest no of insurgent groups in the northeast. I was once told that the govt. employees, including the police, often has to pay ‘tax’ to 29 different extremist organizations once they got their salary… Last heard, the no of insurgency organizations have risen to 40 plus…
This tiny state did manage to capture the nation’s attention albeit briefly through boxer Marry Kom. But not many of us have heard about the bodybuilder Pradipkumar who won the bronze in the 4th World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship held in Bangkok last year besides finishing in the top 5 of Mr. India championship for a no of year. Well this at first may not appear quite extraordinary but for the fact that Pradipkumar is a HIV positive sportsman. More than a decade back, when he was bed ridden in the hospital with no strength to get up of his own, doctors had given him a couple of months to live at the most. And he had started bodybuilding after that verdict…

Today, comparatively a bit more is known about the poetess and the social activist Irom Sharmila – the girl who went on to create a record for being in the ‘world’s longest hunger strike’, refusing food or water since 2nd November 2000, demanding the repeal of Armed Force Special Power Act, AFSPA. This act is based on a British 1942 ordinance which was originally introduced to curb the ‘quit India’ movement. United Nations has repeatedly asking India to repeal AFSPA, saying “it had no role to play in a democracy” and is “dated and colonial-era law, that breach international human rights standards”. As of now, Indian govt. is refusing to budge and Irom Sharmila is continues to be behind the bar for ‘trying to commit suicide’. As per Indian Panel Code, for this crime one can’t be held in jail for more than a year – hence Sharmila is ‘released’ for couple of hours after every 364 days before being re-arrested, so that the govt. doesn’t break any ‘law’!!

Amidst these, we met the rock band from Imphal, ‘Cleave’, for our film ‘Guns and Guitars’. We found them jamming with a popular Bollywood number. ‘But isn’t Hindi supposed to be banned in Manipur’? Yes, it is – they replied. So what will happen if an insurgent group finds out that they are playing a Hindi number? ‘Well, we could be shot’ – was their matter of fact reply!
‘Cleave’ is a ‘death metal’ group. In a place where you ‘get’ electricity for an average of three hours on a good day, how they manage to practice with all their plugged in instruments? This is a problem, they agreed. For practice, they have to depend on generators. And in a state where ‘economic blockade’ is a way of life (often they are cut off from the rest of the countries for months due to the blockade of the connecting highways by different groups of the neighboring state on one pretext or the other – and there is no railway connectivity of the state yet!), besides other essential commodities getting a regular supply of fuel also create unusual challenges. Often petrol and diesel is sold on four times the price of the rest of the country on black market. And if you want to buy it from the govt. designated petrol pump, it is not unusual to have to stand in queue overnight for getting ‘rationed’ one or two litres of fuel during the ‘blockade’…

The group members of ‘Cleave’ told me that many a time they wait on the line overnight for getting that one or two litres of diesel…and they used that fuel to start the generator, so that they can play their music…

Bidyut

June 11, 2:13 pm

from the pages of diary -as the River flows : a prologue

[originally written for the inaugural issue of the online magazine ‘Fried Eye’, January 1, 2010]

‘I do not enjoy writing at all. If I can turn my back on an idea, out there in the dark, if I can avoid opening the door to it, I won‘t even reach for a pencil.‘

-Richard Bach

I completely identify with these lines. Honestly, I hate to write…So when Pramathesh mailed to me requesting for a write up, my first instinct was to look for an excuse and say no. But then,something inside told me that if I have demanded from these guys their support for my film ̳as the River flows‘, they also have a right over me to demand a write up from me for their noble venture…

So here I am. He had given me complete freedom on the subject I want to deal with in my write up, thus making it even more difficult for me! I end up asking myself, ̳’why would anybody approach me today for a write up?‘ I still remember the day less than two years ago, when I got to read on the net that I was honoured with other dignitaries in Rabindra Bhawan Guwahati by the govt. of Assam for winning a special mention in the 53rd national film award for my documentary ‘Bhraimoman Theatre –where Othello sails with Titanic‘ . The only glitch –I was very much in Mumbai when the supposed facilitation was happening! 30x40 2 Final

Latter on, I was told that I could not be contacted by the organizer because nobody knew where to look for me….So if today somebody want me to write an article as a guest, it is only for one reason ‘as the River flows‘. I don‘t have an identity today beyond that film and it is only natural that if anybody want to read any of my writing (which I still doubt), it will be mainly because of that film…So perhaps at least till the time the film is out and hopefully, not rejected by people..

How it all started? In the late 90s, I had got a few opportunities to visit the river island of Majuli to shoot a couple of documentaries. And somehow, I developed a strange attraction for the place…something which cannot be easily explained in words…something I never experience till then or since, with any other place… That was just after the time the tragic disappearance of Sanjoy Ghose had taken place from Majuli. And like any other visitor, many a time I used to talk to different people of Majuli about him. Unofficially, and without any agenda– just plain curiosity. What people had to say about Mr. Sanjoy Ghose–a person I never met, left a strong impression on my subconscious mind.

Almost half a decade later, when I sat down to write my first feature film, I realised that the research for the same has already been done…unknowingly. Let me clarify one thing right here– ̳as the River flows‘ have nothing to do with the disappearance of Sanjoy Ghose. The film is NOT based on his life. I hardly know anything about him to even think of attempting a film on his life. I met his wife Sumita Ghose in Delhi before starting the film to clarify the same thing. My take on this is simple –if a person like Sanjoy Ghose existed, then somebody like Sridhar Ranjan –the protagonist of my film –could also have existed in Majuli. True, the film is inspired by the unfortunate disappearance of Sanjoy Ghose.–but inspiration ends there. The entire story is totally fictitious–having no connection to any person dead or alive…

So what is the film is about? The film is about people like you and me. The people who are caught in the crossfire…Whenever we talk of terrorism, we know the point of view of the terrorists. After all, they survive on propaganda. The people opposing them also have no option but to counter those propagandas, so we know about their point of view as well. But what gets lost in this crossfire of propagandas is the point of view of the common man –in spite of being the vast majority, they have long lost their voices. This, unfortunately, is true in any place that faces the problem of terrorism –whether it is Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kashmir or Assam. Yes, in this film I‘m talking about Assam as I know her better than any other place. But the story of ̳as the River flows‘could very well have been a story in any part of this world. The story of my films protagonist Sudakshina could very well have been my story. Or yours.

The film is an attempt to ask a few questions which has been bothering me for quite some time. After all, if we don‘t ask those questions, then who will? We may not have answers to these questions, but does it mean that we are not even entitled to ask the questions?? As long as my questions reaches a few likeminded people forcing them to think, I would consider that my journey has started on the right direction…

As any first time film maker will vouch, the process of churning out your first film is much, much more difficult than one imagined. ̳as the River flows‘ is no different…after countless rejection by producers who had found the subject matter interesting but too volatile to commit themselves, National Film Development Corporation(NFDC) had stepped in. First they wanted to come as co-producer, with Kerala Film Development Corporation (KFDC). However, at the last moment I realized that KFDC‘s participation comes with a rider. As they will participate by providing mostly contribution in kind rather than cash, the film required to be shot in Kerala rather than Assam… Well, I was desperate to make my first film, but not that desperate…. Finally, after yet another wait, NFDC decided to come in as sole producer and it was decided that the film will be made on two languages – ‘as the River flows‘ in Hindi and ‘ekhon nedekha nadir xhipare‘ in Assamese. Looking back, it appears that the wait was worth it…

However, I will be only sure once the film is released and the audience gives their acknowledgements…

Bidyut

May 18,9:34pm

as the River flows : this time, that year…

As I am still trying to comprehend the good show of ‘ekhon nedekha nadir xipare’ (Assamese version of ‘as the River flows’) in the recently concluded Washington DC South Asian film festival, where it won the award for best script & best actor (for Sanjay Suri), I couldn’t help taking a trip down the memory lane, towards similar time zone in another year… No, it is not about the unfortunate controversy during this time last year …

(http://www.madaboutmoviez.com/2012/04/the-national-film-awards-and-the-controversy-around-ekhon-nedekha-nodir-xhipare/)

… Yes, there will be a time to look back at that episode too – and I strongly believe that someday time will tell the tale – but that ‘time’ is not now… Today I’m remembering the tale of a different ‘time’ here…

21st or 22nd April, 2009. The last day of our films’ shoot in Assam. We had to shoot round the clock in order to finish before the general election, the voting for which was scheduled for April 23rd in Assam. And we have kept the shots in the bosom of river Brahmaputra towards the end. Because, we wanted to capture the vastness of the great river on camera – and only towards the second half of April, with the pre-monsoon showers, the level of the river starts rising thus forcing the wintry sand bars to disappear. Whoever has experienced Brahmaputra during monsoon will tell you that the great river resembles a sea during those times – where you can’t see the other side standing on a bank. That is the affect we wanted to capture on camera.poster1

On the preceding night, while shooting the sequence where the extremist drops the protagonist of our film Abhijit on the river bank after sailing through the river at night, we got a small demonstration of what the river is capable off in its rage. The shooting involved 3 boats – the actors were in one boat whereas two boats were tied together to make a platform for the shooting crew. The boat with the actors was sailing by the bank whereas ours’ was further in the middle of the river, to capture the actors’ boat along with the river…it was pitch dark and late in the night and suddenly a storm blew in … The boatmen in the actors’ boat managed to take it to the bank, but ours being a little more deeper side of the river, the boat broke free of the experience boatmen’s control … they just couldn’t control it from being dashed against the bank … yes, the planks and bamboos joining our boats were smashed to pieces… We thanked our stars as no one got injured…

But we had a film to shoot. So we were back on the river the next day, to shoot the crucial beginning and the ending sequences. In the late afternoon, as we finished taking the last shot, suddenly we realized that our boat was ‘struck’ there in the middle of the river! On enquiring, we realized what had happened – due to the rise in the water level, the sand bars in the middle of river had got submerged. But water had not risen enough to float the boat – so our boat, being a big one (yes, we ensured on a proper bigger boat for the crew, wiser by the previous night’s experience!) got stuck in the sands below whereas the actors’ boat, being a much lighter one, could easily sail back…

As we waited for help to arrive, suddenly I had a surreal vision… I saw a person walking towards us on the water, in the middle of the river!! Well, it took a while for the logical side of the brain to come up with an explanation – that guy must have had his farm house in the recently sub-merged sand bar, and seeing a boat getting stuck he is merely coming for a closer look, fully aware that the water level is not more than a feet high in the sand bar….

As darkness fell, after what seems like an endless wait, help arrived in the form of another boat. And as we unburden half the load in the new arrival, the old boat – much lighter now – also floats and start moving…

The journey back in the bosom of the great river on that pitch dark night was truly a memorable one. The boatmen were warning us to look out for the herd of wild elephant that swims across the river during those time… our cinematographer Madhu Ambat sir requested the boatmen to shut off the lamp so that we can enjoy the journey in the darkness … few of the crew members were singing songs to make the darkness more colorful… and finally relieved and happy seeing the light on the approaching bank (those were the lights lit up for our next shot on the river bank)…

Looking back today, the whole experience comes across as such a beautiful analogy to our existence itself… in life, at times, we had to face storms… our boats gets stuck in the mid river… things seems to get all dark and gloomy… but if we continue our journey with a smile in our lips and a song in our heart, we are bound to reach the lighted shore to continue our journey, as the life flows…as the River flows…

Bidyut

March 7, 7:11 pm

The last of the ‘Red Bastion’ in India – Tripura

‘How many people have lost their live?’ – was my question. ‘I don’t have the accurate no, but not less than 8 to 10 thousand people’ – he answered. ‘In how many days these lives were lost?’ – I asked again. ‘Not more than 15 day’s time’ – he had answered.

I was talking to Mr. Vijay Rankhal, the ex supremo of the extremist organization Tripura National Volounteer, as a part of the shoot of Guns and Guitars. It was really difficult for me to believe that the soft-spoken, mild mannered man who is sitting next to me serving me tea could be responsible for one of the worst massacre in Tripura’s history…guns&guitars 4.JPG...Tripura, band Swaraijak

Presently the third smallest state of the country, the princely state of Tripura had joined the Indian Union on 15 October, 1949. Tripura was heavily affected by the partition of the country – not only the road distance between Kolkata and Tripura’s capital Agartala has increased from less than 350 km to the present 1,700 km (so as to avoid the present Bangladesh), but also it changes the population pattern of the state, majorly due to the huge influx of Bengali refugees from former East Pakistan- firstly at the time of partition, than again at the time of Bangladesh Liberation in 1971. In 1947, 56% of Tripura’s population consisted of tribal or indigenous population, which was reduced to mere 29 % by 1971.And that had ultimately led to the genocide in June 1980 – the one Mr. Rankhal had spoken about…

However, as generally is the case, the forces that sustained the insurgencies were political parties and individuals who had their own agenda to fulfill. And the majority of the life that was lost was obviously of the common man, who just got caught in the crossfire …

The man made border… there is always a conflict in my mind about the justification of the same … Yes, there could be no denying the relevance of a border which can’t be breach without proper protocol in today’s world…But there is always another side to the argument.   In the late 90’s, I had visited one of Tripura’s border village Kasba Kalibari – named after its revered Kali temple.   In that village, the demarcation line between India and Bangladesh was a mere stone post.  There was a group of kids playing nearby, with whom I started interacting.  These kids were amongst those many other kids and grownups who often walked over this side (Indian territory) illegally, for the ‘all important’ purpose of playing and gossiping with their Indian friends … and in some instances even for smuggling, by bringing fresh fish from Bangladesh – which fetched better price in India, and taking back cigarettes- which fetched higher price in Bangladesh.  A border security force jawan had done his ‘duty’ by shooing away three Bangladeshi kids of around 5 to 7 years, back to Bangladesh… and that of course, only after he realized that I’m shooting them on camera…

This time when I re-visited Kasba kalibari, there were no such romantic stories. There is this recently erected  massive barb-wire fence separating the two countries…. I couldn’t help imagining John Lenon’s world!

Tripura also happen to be the last remaining ‘Red Bastion’ of India. Generally I always take the words of politicians with a pinch of salt, but I must confess that I was more than a little impressed when Tripura’s then cultural minister Mr. Anil Sarkar had said on camera - ‘ politics divide; culture unites’ – as a reason behind his different cultural initiatives to bridge the gaps between communities, away from politics…  Well, the images of those 3 Bangladeshi kids running from the BSF jawan, more than a decade ago , came flashing back to my mind!

When I was interacting with the band members of the ‘Swraijak’ – the band selected by Lou Majaw that year to represent Tripura in his annual Bob Dylan concert – it was almost impossible to take out words from the mouths of the shy Tripuri guys… but that was due to their pure introvert nature. When I asked them why they had chosen the name of their band ‘Swaraijak’, which in Tripuri language means ‘curse’, they were quick to reply – the name  symbolize the fight against all the curses of evil in our life…  Of course, once you give them a guitar on their hand, you realize that they don’t really need to speak to communicate to you…

Bidyut

December 26, 8:56 pm

Mizoram – ‘… it is all about music’

How does it feel to return to a place after 21 years – a place which used to be your second home in your growing up years? …I was trying to figure out the feeling as our Jeep had started to climb the Mizo hills on the afternoon of 7th of May, 2011. The memories were playing hide and seek with me… my father was posted in Aizawl, the capital town of Mizoram, for 5 years or so starting 1985. And by default, the place was our   vacation home on our school holidays.  We created many a memories in   various nooks and corners of this hilly city – not exactly by design. And now, I’m returning to this very place more than two decades later – for the shoot of our documentary ‘Guns and Guitars…a musical travelogue’.

More the things changes, more they remains the same…the zigzag hilly routes were still as pretty to travel. Time and again, we crossed the famous ‘Lunglei express’ – a wonderful innovation of ingenious thinking, where a piece of wood is modified to a motor-less vehicle having steering and break, ideal for travelling downhill in a hilly region… I was keeping my eyes open looking for those ‘shopkeepers less shops’ – where the families keep the vegetables for sell in a plank of woods by the road-side, with a pricelist for different produce and piggy bank to put the money for the things you have taken… sounds unbelievable, I know, in today’s age and time – but then 100_6077we are talking here about northeast India, a place where in places -time has stood still. Unfortunately, that afternoon we couldn’t spot any – our travel timing was wrong, I was told.

As I tried to re-discover the Aizawl of my childhood that evening, the first thing that hit me was the rampant misuse of medicated cough-syrup as a substitute for the banned alcohol by the average youth in the street. It is a state under prohibition – thanks to the all powerful church, which many claim to be even more powerful than the govt. Although am a teetotaler myself, I still can’t figure out the logic behind the ‘total prohibition’ in a tribal society where the drinking of homemade liquor is traditionally a part of the culture… Besides, total prohibition has proved to be a total failure anywhere in the world…

Now don’t get me wrong –no way am I supporting the drinking of alcoholic beverages by anybody. In fact, I strongly believe that the drinking of liquor to be the root of many problems, especially amongst the youths of northeast India. Still, am not quite sure that the way out is total prohibition – which results in rampant misuse of medicated drugs amongst other things, which is actually worst!!

Another feeling floating in the atmosphere is the sense of rootlessness mostly prevalent amongst the Mizo youths – which is obvious to even to the traveler who is sensitive to the surrounding vibes. What could be the reason behind it? Some blame it on the Mizo National Front (MNF) led insurgency … true, the insurgency ended way back in 1985 in one of the few instances where the lasting peace was brought in with the stroke of a pen, yet many believes that the vibrations of two decades long insurgency could still be felt in the unseen depth of the psyche of the Mizo people till date. Many still vividly recollects with pent up bitterness the unprecedented occurring of Indian Air force bombing its own citizens in and around Aizawl on 5th & 6th of March 1966 even today… Besides, there is also the matter of two decades long event of ‘night curfew’ because of the insurgency, forcing the people to stay indoors, and its effects on a society that “was based on working on the field during the day and young men singing and wooing their womenfolk at night”…   How much these occurrences are actually responsible for the present condition of the Mizo society could be an interesting study for the sociologists…

It was surprisingly easy to meet up with Mizoram’s chief minister Mr. Lalthanhawala, one of the chief architect of the Mizo peace accord. He had recounted how he was also behind bars as a result of the ‘mass arrest’ at the peak of insurgency led by Mizo National Front and how he had to share his cell with a complete lunatic. ‘Both of us were charged under the same section of the law – sedition, IPC 121’ – he added with a sarcastic smile!

Meeting with my father’s old driver was an emotional moment. Mr. Lalhmingliana, whom we fondly address as ‘Kapu’ (uncle, in Mizo language) was almost like our family member. And as an ex-rebel of Mizo National Front, he does have an interesting past.  When we interviewed him for our film, he recollects how in the late 1960s they used to fight the Indian army during the day and used to sing Jim Reev’s  ‘this world is not my home…’ once back in their hideout!

That is Mizoram! As Dr Cherie Chhangte, Assistant Professor at Mizoram University, pointed out, “from the olden times, somebody dies, we sing. Somebody gets married, we sing. Somebody born, we sing… it is all about music!”

As we were climbing down the hills in our vehicle, I was hoping that this melodious affair of Mizo people with their lives will continue… and the few missing notes in the existence of the Mizo youth will be but a fleeting pause… harmony will soon return to reclaim their lives…

http://www.wishberry.in/Guns-Guitars-15046

Bidyut

December 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Why Guns & Guitars?

The idea of ‘Guns and Guitars’ came to me on a casual monsoon morning in Mumbai, while I was accompanying Lou Majaw, legendary rock artist of Northeast India to a shop selling musical instruments. That shop owner happened to mention that a very large percentage of his customers belong to the music loving Northeast region of the country and hence he has a soft corner for the musicians of that region. This set me thinking and I wondered aloud to Lou about this paradox – while the best of alcoholic beverages from across the country and indeed the world are easily available in the neighborhood wine shop in the Northeast, for something as basic as guitar strings the large number of musicians are dependent on music shops from outside the region! Maybe there’s another story hidden here, but that for some other time…

For past 40 years now, Lou has been organizing an annual concert with louon Bob Dylan’s birthday and now this has become somewhat of an occasion in itself. During our drive back, as we were discussing the music scenario in the Northeast region, I asked Lou about this concert and his thoughts behind this unique way of paying respect to his idol. He said that one day way back in the 1970s he felt a strong urge to thank Mr. Dylan for the way his songs had touched Lou’s life, and rather than writing him a postcard, thought of thanking him with a birthday concert. Since the concert was very popular with the local audience, he was requested to repeat it the next year and the year after and the trend continues till date…

Lou told me that that on May 24, 2011, he is planning to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday in a different manner. He is planning a massive concert in a large vacant plot, near the Umiam Lake in Shillong, Meghalaya. Visitors and audience will be invited to come in their tents by paying a nominal entry fee. Local food and brew will be available at very reasonable rates and some of the best bands of northeast will be playing music all day long. I will not blame you if you were reminded of Woodstock ’69, I know I was! … Instantly I knew that this is a film I have to make!

More often than not, the Northeast finds a mention in the national media for all the wrong reasons – when there is bomb blast, ambush, economic blockade, drug haul, so on and so forth. With no mention or focus on the positive energies in the region, the default focus has been on the negative energies….For years, I have been troubled by this and have tried to bring out various, lesser known aspects of the region through my films. The above mentioned discussion with Lou, the upcoming concert and the unusual proliferation of music and bands in the region triggered a thought process in me and ‘Guns and Guitars’ was born.

The aim of this film is to track the journey of 8 rock groups from eight different states that make up the Northeast region in India – one each from seven sisters (Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland), and one brother (Sikkim) – till it culminates in the grand finale on the night of 24th of May with Bob Dylan’s birthday concert. The film will try to bring to light how these youngsters arise out of the negative energies that surround their environment with the guitars in their hand and songs of life and dreams in their lips……

And it would be difficult – if not impossible – for them to find a better role model than Lou. Here is a 64 years ‘young’ man, who never says ‘never’… Popular legend has it that the arrival of winter in Shillong is signified by Lou changing to full pants from his favourite pair of shorts… A man who has refused to get tempted to make the millions that a musician of his caliber can easily make and leave his hometown,only because he believes that the youngsters of the region need him more… a man, who still can’t afford a house of his own, yet completely at peace with himself and his surroundings. When I asked him whether he has ever missed the possible ‘limelight’ a bigger city could have provided, he answered with a laugh ‘every morning when I see the sun, I know that is the light!’, before adding on a serious tone – ‘if I can make a difference to one person’s life through my song, that means more to me…’

This film uses the concert as a vista to walk into the one of the most beautiful regions of the country, where music seems to be just another way of life! A region of unparalleled beauty and beautiful people, the northeast always has been that place of ‘the unknown’ even for the rest of India. It will provide a surprise discovery for viewers that in a region which otherwise is mostly shrouded in talks of internal strife and unrest, somehow always had music playing and growing in its midst. Indeed, music itself seems to be the ‘leitmotif’ of life here. Through the film, we plan to take the viewers through a journey into this land of fables and tales and unveil, how over the decades, children of the same land have alternately taken up Guns and Guitars to vent their woes and carve their dreams!

http://www.wishberry.in/Guns-Guitars-15046

Bidyut

November 19,2012 at 5:24pm

as the River flows, Guns & Guitars, crowd funding etc…

Finally, after what seemed like an endless wait, ‘ekhon nedekha nadir xipare’ – the Assamese version of ‘as the River flows’- was released in Assam in Sept last. And I got a firsthand experience of what it was like to experience the unfolding of your labor of love, in a big screen, inside a dark hall, with people who have voluntarily paid money to experience it…

What it was like? Well, certain things in life can’t be described adequately in words – you need to experience it…suffice to say that it created memories which I will carry till my last breath…

Not to say that all the memories were pleasant…there were a few not so rosy encounters too. Like journalist coming to you wanting to discuss the film without even watching it. Like media persons telling you in a press meet that they are not reviewing the film as they were not invited for a show by the producer…and not having an answer when I questioned them back whether they would have refrained from criticizing the film just because they have not been invited for a show, had the film shown something which present the culture of the land in a wrong light…  But for every such experience, there are one or more instances of complete stranger coming up/ writing to me saying how the film had touched their life. A daughter writing a mail about her father who had gone missing. A student writing a mail about how the film helped her in deciding her career choice of pursuing a life as a social worker. Yes, the positive have far outweigh the negatives…

Now the time has come to move on.  Yes, the all India release of the Hindi version of the film, ‘as the River flows’, is very much in the agenda – but the time has come to not keep it as full time obsession & to move on to other films which are waiting to be made, other stories which are waiting to be told… Enters ‘Guns and Guitars – a musical travelogue’ into the sphere. Rather, into the centre stage.

Guns and Guitars. A feature length documentary film which is in the making for last year and a half. A journey that we undertook through the land of ‘seven sisters and one brother’ – the northeast India. The land which more often than not is in the news for all the wrong reasons – when there is bomb blast, ambush, economic blockade, drug haul… so on and so forth.

Yes, with this film, we traveled through all the 8 north eastern states, as an attempt to understand the land & her people. This journey gives us an excuse to glance at what gave shape to the voice and music of the land; its cultural and socio- political milieu …talking to the kid singing in the local pub and the budding rock bands from in and around… catching up with the man on the street… sharing a few thoughts with music fans young and old… trying to understand how times have changed or not at all!

But that journey did change a lot in us. It was indeed an eye opening and enriching experience to know about the rare and shocking instance in the world history where a country (India) air bombed its own citizen (1966 IAF bombing of Aizwal, Mizoram)… about how the govt. is trying to fight  one of oldest insurgency in the world  (insurgency of Nagaland) literally with guitars, via the formation of the only ministry in our country that is dedicated to music (‘music task force’)…about the music band members who spend overnight in the queue in Manipur to buy petrol so that they can run the generator – they require the generator to use their plug in instruments to practice music ; because, on an average, they don’t get more than 3 hours electricity in their area… about the village in the midst of nowhere in Meghalaya, that practices an wonderful custom of dedicating an individual ‘tune’ to every child instead of giving them a pet name… Yes, certain things in life can’t be described adequately in words – you need to experience it…

After spending all our savings and with the help of well wishers who chipped in cash or kind, we have reached a stage with this film where a final push is required to complete it. Yes, we did try to reach out to international funding agencies… but their feedback was ‘the project looks interesting, but complex’ and they wanted to have a look ‘at the final product’ before committing financial assistance. Can’t really blame them – here we are indeed talking about a complex region, that is connected with the rest of India by a narrow corridor of just  21 km to 40 km, but shares more than 4500km as borders  (not 2000km as mentioned in the AV, sorry for the mistake!) with 5 neighboring countries.  The land that is one of the most diversified regions in the world and is notably ethnically and linguistically different from the rest of India…

But this ‘complex story’ needs to be told. And we are going to tell this story… with your help, that is. That’s why we are approaching you with the ‘crowd funding proposal’ for the film. Do take out the time to go through the link & join us in our mission – but ONLY IF YOU BELIEVE IN IT.

Yes, together we are not alone…

http://www.wishberry.in/Guns-Guitars-15046

Bidyut

July 28,2012 at6:07 pm

When was the last time you experience something for the first time?

Suddenly developed a high fever…103 degree… Doctor said, ‘rest at home, no traveling’. Obviously, I overruled him. I am not going to miss this experience for anything in the world! And now, I’m in Delhi – weak in health but strong in spirit!

For those who are born on July 1987 or before, I have a question –when was the last time that you experience something for the first time’? I bet, you can count those moments on your finger tips! Yes, by the time we are 25, we have experienced most of what had to be experienced in this life… and, should I dare say, we start the process of getting old. But it is totally up to us whether or not we decide to grow up. And more we keep on experiencing things for the first time, more are the chances that we may not grow up – that easily…

The day has finally arrived.  ‘Ekhon nedekha nadir xipare’ (as the River flows, in Hindi) is going to have the first public screening on 29th of July, 2012. Am I nervous? Can’t say really… After all, my parents and friends were always more worried than me about my appearing in exams – right from school to college to university days. And on the day of my marriage, my sister was extremely worried… and had asked my close friend Bhargab to ensure that video camera is well taken care off.  Reason for her worry? In the middle of my marriage ceremony, I might just get pre-occupied with the angle of the video camera…

Really can’t say that I’m nervous. Anxious? Yes, definitely. Anxious with the prospect of experiencing my film first time with you – the audience to whom it is meant for. Would definitely hope that you love her… and would be heartbroken if you don’t.  Heartbroken…but not shattered. Will try to make a better film next time which can win your heart and soul…

But I do believe, at the end of the film you will agree with me – this is a film straight from the heart.  And regardless of what a ‘few individuals’ has to say, Ekhon nedekha nadir xipare  is an Assamese film. Willbe shattered if there is any question mark still left on these aspects…

After all,

I know

long ago

the River used to speak.

But when he realized

every drops of pain

rises over the horizon of words

he surrendered into silence…

Bidyut

January 22,2012 at 10:11 pm

Eitu dekhun aamaar manuh!

‘Bidyut, can I show one scene from as the River flows to a director from US? We are in talk for a role and he wants to see some of my performances…’ I was a little surprised by this request from actor Raj Zutshi some time back. Why would one of the most prolific actors of Hindi film want to share a scene from an under-production film to his prospective director? ‘I feel that of late I have given my best performance in as the River flows’ – he answered.

I met Raj for the first time some 7 years back, when he agreed to do the narration for my documentary ‘Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic’. Courtesy Mr. Rajesh Parmar – who was a co-editor of the documentary (and the editor of as the River flows).  Parmar and Raj goes back a long way… I was first time exposed to the generosity of Raj as an artist when we had to re-record the narration of the documentary due to some technical snags as well as incompetency of the sound recordist. Naturally we were a little hesitant wondering how Raj will react to the situation, especially because we could strictly pay him what one could describe a pure ‘honorarium’. And thanks to our shoe-string budget, there was no provision of even that when we decided to re-record the same! Well, Raj being the artist that he is, he never even mentioned anything relating to money. He only wanted to ensure that we get a good job done…

When I started working on the script of as the River flows, Raj was the first actor I had finalized. The character of a person from the Missing community, Jayanta Dole, was written with him in mind. And he was really excited about the role. He insisted on going to Majuli in advance to prepare for the role. Due to the budgetary constrains when we expressed our inability, he was even ready to spend from his pocket for the same!  However, due to logistical issues, we ended up having a workshop in Mumbai instead.

During the workshop, and even during the shoot, we used to find Raj a little aloof. As he himself explained later, it was because he was constantly studying the body language and mannerism of the Assamese people around him… And the result was there for everybody to see in the screen! As he was getting ready for a shot in a Missing village with his full traditional attire, many villagers had exclaimed ‘eitu dekhun aamaar manuh’ (Hey’he is one of us)!

About his performance, let me rather not mention anything – soon you can judge for yourself once you experience it on screen. But I must say, ‘it was indeed a pleasure working with you Raj!’

Bidyut        

  

November 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm

and Brahmaputra cried…

Wanting to write for the last few days… but was not able to access the proper words… it seemed that the emperor of words had taken his treasure along when he had departed…

The other day, while going through a book came across an interesting anecdote – narrated by Professor Narayan Parashuram of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He was supposedly told by Rock legend Bob Dylan that Dylan was inspired by an artist called Bhupen Hazarika in the early 60s… ‘but very unfortunately he hails from a country like India and more unfortunately, he decided to return to that country… had he stayed back here ( in the US), a lot of people around the world would have introduced themselves as Bhupenites…’

‘Unfortunately return to the country’? Not quite, Mr. Dylan! You should have been in Assam this week to understand how we pay respect our artist … too bad the national media had not covered it the way they should have to make the people of rest of India experience it first-hand! (On second thought, why should they? After all, this time it was not a serial bomb blasts or discovering of a mass grave in the north-east of India we were talking about! How can the media think of any other reason to feature Assam/ Northeast in the front page??)

According of Wikipedia, with over 600,000 thousand attendances, the funeral of ‘the bard of Brahmaputra’ Dr Bhupen Hazarika hold the record of being the most watched funeral ever (just to understand the magnitude, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was attended by 17,500)… However, the statistics reveals only a small part of the complete story. What Bhupen mama means to us, the people of Assam in particular, is impossible to explain in words… As a friend was suggesting the other day, perhaps the nearest analogy could be the influence of Rabindranath Tagore on the people of Bengal – when Tagore was alive, that is…

When we received the news of Bhupen mama’s demise after a prolonged illness, we were on our way for a hike to a fort near the hill station of Lonavala. Below the starlight sky up atop the fort, as we were chatting and re-living the moments we had shared with the master weaver of words and melody, one of our ‘honorary Assamese’ friend commented –‘right now we are doing something he would have surely approved off… he was so full of life!’

‘Lust for life’ perhaps will be a phrase that describes Bhupen mama the best… Even in 85 years of age, he would discuss with us about making a film together… And to live till he is 100, to complete his unfinished work…

Remember vividly the day he came to record the title poem of our bi-lingual film, ‘as the River flows’/ ‘Ekhon nedheka nadir xhipare…’ After recording the Assamese version of the poem, initially he was not exactly happy with how his recitation of the Hindi version was shaping up… and like a small child, was requesting us to give him a little more time to prepare…promising, ‘soon you will find my Hindi to be even better than that of Raj Kapoor…’

Remember vividly the time when we went to meet him on his last birthday at the ICU section of the hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for the past few months. He was too weak even to open his eyes, but when we requested him to come over to our home to have another meal with fish tenga, he nodded with a smile… one promise which he couldn’t keep…

Money never featured in Bhupen mama’s sphere. People close to him jokes about Bhupen mama giving his domestic help Rs 50/- to get 2 kg of fish till recently, unmindful of the fact that was the price of fish more than two decades ago… Mr. Kamal Kataky, who played guitar with him in his public performances for last three decades or so besides doubling as his de-facto manager, had narrated an incident when we went to pay our respect to the departed maestro in Mumbai’s Kokilaben Ambani Hospital. Sometime in the beginning of this century, Bhupen mama was invited for performing in a function almost at the India- Myanmar border, organised by a minister of the Assam govt. At the end of the function, the minister handed over some money in an envelope to Kamal Kataky. As it appeared like a bad manner to count the money right in front of the minister, Kamal kept the envelope with him – only to discover latter that it amounts to just Rs 10,000/-! The sum was not enough even to cover their vehicle hiring costs!! When Bhupen Mama got to know of the amount, his first reaction was whether the minister paid them more or less – so clueless he was about financial dealings!! And his immediate next reaction was, ‘let’s consider it to be another free performance that we have done Kamal…we won’t discuss about it ever again.’

‘Mriyuo tu eta xilpa,

Jibonor kathin xilat kota ek nirllubh bhaskarya!’

- couplet penned by one of Assam’s premier poet, Hiren Bhattacharya. Roughly translated, ‘death is also an art, a stark sculpture carved on the hard rock of life…’ It would be difficult to find an Assamese youth who has not quoted this couplet sometime during his/her romantic college life. I was no exception… However, I understood the true meanings of the lines only on the night of 7th November. I was awake till the wee hours of morning watching TV, looking at the endless emergence of people on the streets of Guwahati. They had come to visit the departed magician, whose body was kept in Guwahati’s historic Judges Field for the people to pay their homage… Initially the body was to be kept there for 12 hours before the funeral pyre scheduled for next morning. But, one could have never imagined what was to follow! People from all walks of life cutting across the barrier of cast, creed and age- came over from all across the country (and abroad) to pay their reverence…the queue stretched up to 10 kms and more, continued throughout the night… the govt. was forced to push back the funeral by a day…Yet, after more than 36 hours when the body was finally taken out for the last rites, countless number of people were still pouring in to pay their respect to the departing soul of Bhupen mama …Doubt whether any artists at any corner of the world had experience such a spontaneous outburst of public adoration! At his death, Bhupen mama succeeded in bringing people from all walks of life together, cutting across all the man made boundaries… a dream which he dreamt of throughout his musical life, which was spread over 7 decades …Truly, can there be a greater ‘art’??

On the title poem of ‘as the River flows’, which has been one of his last work, he spoke as the voice of the river Brahmaputra –

I know

long ago

the River used to speak.

but when he realised

every drop of pain

flows above horizon of words

he surrendered to silence…

- as the funeral fire was embracing the body of Bhupen mama, I could almost hear the great River weep, silently… I told him not to. Because, legends never die…they just turn into folklore…

Bidyut

August 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm

More the things change, more they remain the same!

Second half 1980s. We were student at the oldest high school of Assam, Cotton Collegiate H.S., Guwahati. And in the school’s annual day we wanted to perform a play. Tried writing & directing for the first time, but due to lack of exposure and guidance, the ‘play’ could not move beyond the rehearsal stage… One of my batch mates who tried to make his acting debut through that ‘play’ was Jyoti Narayan Nath. After finishing our schools, Jyoti and I did our XI & XII together from Guwahati’s B. Barooah College. And then we lost touch, as I proceeded to Pune for my graduation…

It was not until 2002 I heard of Jyoti again. While shooting for a couple of tele- films in New Delhi, my lead actress Purva Parag informed me that she had a boy from Assam as her batch mate in the National School of Drama , a very good actor. His name? Jyoti Narayan Nath! Although now he is based in Guwahati, we re-connected via sporadic phone calls.

While starting the work for ‘as the River flows’, I called for Jyoti. To start with, I wanted him to take a workshop. It was quite a challenge to morph  a bunch of actors from Mumbai – many of whom has not been to Assam in their life – into natives from Majuli…not only from the point of view of their language, but also from perspective of their body language et al.  Looking back, I must confess, both the teacher and the students rose to this challenge beautifully!

However, the workshop was just the beginning of Jyoti’s association with ‘as the River flows’. Being out of Assam for almost two decades, I was not having any contact with the Assam’s cultural field in the grass root level. Naturally, I was depending on Jyoti for inputs regarding the assembled cast of the film – and with his frequent drama workshops in the different nooks and corners of Assam, he was just the right guy for the job! I sincerely believed on involving the local people of the area we are shooting at to the maximum level possible in the film. Having Jyoti as an encyclopedia of student network across the state, the task became that much simpler. And we ended up getting a wonderful lot of actors from in and around Majuli for our film. Once you see the film ‘as the River flows’ and (hopefully) enjoy the good casting for each and every role – even the actors who have a single scene appearance – you know who can demand the lion’s share of the credit!

In the midst of all this, Jyoti used to tell me time and again-‘Bidyut, don’t forget that I’m an actor first!’…Not that I needed a reminder! I had to give him a good role -after all, I had an ‘unfinished business’ of more than two decades old ‘school play’, to take care of…

Bidyut

July 29, 2011 at 8:26pm

and miles to go, before you sleep…

The monsoon has different effects on different people. Assam seems to have got a really wet monsoon, making her voice feel feverish… Yes, he is in the hospital, under the watchful eyes of the doctors…

For last month or so, the voice of Assam, Dr Bhupen Hazarika, is in the ICU of Mumbai’s Kokilaben Ambani hospital. I am sure it is but just a pause in the tireless journey of evergreen Dr Hazarika. Can’t help to recollect the few memorable moments we spend on his company last year, around the time he recorded the title poem of ‘as the River flows…’

Along with Ms Kalpana Lazmi, Dr Hazarika had dropped in for dinner in our residence one memorable evening. During our chat Kalpana told me, ‘Bidyut, since you are making a film inspired by the life of Sanjay Ghose, I must share this with you…’

The year was 1997. Month of July, Sanjay Ghose had just disappeared from Majuli. Kalpana Lazmi and Bhupen Hazarika were returning to Guwahati from Tezpur when the cell phone rang. The voice on the other end had told Kalpana that he wished to talk to Bhupen Hazarika, claiming he is his brother. As Kalpana had experienced countless such ‘brothers’, she insisted on the name. ‘Tell him I am PB online’, said the voice. Only when Bhupen Hazarika took the phone, Kalpana realised that the person in line could be self-styled commander in chief of ULFA, Paresh Barua. That was the time when Sanjay Ghose’s family, with whom they share a very cordial relation, had requested Dr Hazarika to intervene in the crisis. And ‘PB’ had made that call requesting Bhupen Hazarika not to get involved in the incident! On Dr Hazarika’s insistence, ‘PB’ however had given him his word that ‘no harm will come to Sanjay Ghosh’ and Dr Hazarika could inform Sanjay Ghosh’s family accordingly… Much later, when Bhupen Hazarika got to know that ‘PB’ had misled him completely, he was heartbroken! ‘That was the time when Bhupenda had his first major attack of depression’ – Kalpana had concluded…

On another day when we were spending an evening with himat his Lokhandwala residence, Bhupen Hazarika was generally sharing his dreams for the future. ‘With the company of youngsters like you all, I am confident of living till I’m 100’ – he had stated. And as he was commenting on something, the lines he had uttered sounded like poetry…not surprising from the poet who had penned some of the greatest line in the history of Assamese literature. ‘Why don’t you write it down?’ – I had requested, handing over the book I was carrying. Picking up a pen, he had started scribbling…his hand was shivering, but the glimpses of that famous handwriting was very much there as wrote down a beautiful poem…one of my most prized procession….

Get well soon, Bhupen mama…you have miles to go before you can even dream of sleeping…Remember the promise you made to me – that we are going to work together in my proposed bi-lingual feature film ‘Moi…aru mur saa’ (My shadow …my companion) – a film inspired by your songs?

Bidyut

June 10, 2011 at 12:27pm

The name of the actor is Naved Aslam

The year was 2002. Almost by fluke I had got selected for the script writing workshop organized by British Council Mumbai and Royal Theatre of London.  Hold on idyllic guest house of Jindal Group of companies at the outskirt of Mumbai, I had as my roommate Naved Aslam.

We shared many a wonderful moment during that two weeks long workshop. He told me about his stint as a Cameraman, TV producer and his acting background. But for me, he remained primarily Naved Aslam the writer- who loves Opera music & his cup of black Darjeeling  tea (will make him a Assam Tea convert by the end of our next film together, promise!) before going to bed.

Neither of us completed the plays we were supposed to write in the weeks following the workshops – using our day to day struggle to survive in Mumbai as an excuse. We lost touch – yet kept in touch. Due to our common interest in theatres & films, many a time we used to bump into each other in Prithivi Theatre or in some cinema hall while catching a film like ‘Across the Universe’…and promised, time & again, to keep in touch. Well, promises are meant to be broken…

In between, read rave reviews about his performance as a cop in the films ‘Sehar’ & ‘Chhal’ …quite liked his performance when I accidentally got the chance to catch ‘Chhal’ on a TV channel one day. But, first impression is often the last impression – refused to remember him as Naved Aslam ‘the actor’ in spite of all these!

The shooting date of ‘as the River flows’ is coming closer. The actor who was to play the role of the police officer had to drop out at the last minute due to some familyengagements …We didn’t have enough time to look for replacements. Situation was getting little panicky…

Necessity is the mother of remembrance. ..   made a SOS call to Naved Aslam the actor! As expected, he agreed to stand by me, breaking his self-imposed ban on playing a police officer yet again on screen… (Latter he told me about the reasoning behind that ban – ‘if you are offering me similar role of police officer time and again, that means you don’t trust me enough as an actor…’)

Was I happy that he lifted that ban for us? A leopard never changes his spots…although according to Naved ‘it was the greedy actor in him’ which forced him to make few suggestions regarding his character of SDPO Sameer Agarwal, for me it was really refreshing to have another writer’s perspective while evaluating a character…It definitely had given another dimension to that character in particular, and the film in general…

Naved’s probing questions to me had a lot to do with the final outburst of Sameer Agarwal in the film –

 ‘ What do you know about compulsion?? During the Assam agitation, our shop was burned down. Because my forefathers were from Rajasthan , I was considered an outsider! But I am born here – where am I supposed to go? My own brother is one of the extremist whom I am chasing with a gun in my hand. I may have to kill him someday. Compulsion! This extremist organization was born out of the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. But today, the top leaders of the same organization take shelter in the same Bangladesh. They can call themselves patriot….so who am I? Just a policeman on duty??’

Bidyut

March 27, 2011 at 9:04

a note from Nakul Vaid…

I knew I was going on for a little too long talking about my experiences of making of ‘as the River flows’, not giving much scope to others to share how they might have ‘suffered’ in that period. Nakul claims that for long he wanted to share it too…the only problem was for him to sit down and put his thought on paper – or keyboard, to be factually correct! Finally I got a call from him this evening, complaining that I made him sit down with a paper and pen for the longest in his life – including the exam times of his student life ( yes, he is still amongst the last of those romantics who can’t put their emotions to words without feeling a pen and paper in his hand…)

Over to Nakul -

I am lucky not only because I got what I wanted but because I got it at the time I wanted it. ‘As The River Flows’ is an Experience I got when I wanted it.

I remember it was the time when I was in the phase of watching a lot of movies. Movies of various genres, languages, countries at home and also at various film festivals. As a result of this enriching experience I felt highly motivated followed by a natural desire to do an interesting story (movie).It was precisely during this time that a common friend of Bidyut and me called me saying that a friend of his had an interesting script which had received a lot of acclaim at various script forums at many different film festivals by eminent film greats.

It seemed a perfect opportunity. Without wasting any time I immediately called up Bidyut and requested a meeting. Subsequently we met at Bandra along with Pallavi (our costume designer, editor, adviser and whose husband Bidyut is) with whom I share a lovely bond and great friendship separately.

I remember feeling insecure when I first saw Bidyut as he is a very handsome man and hoped he did not realise it otherwise he would cast himself in the role for me!

Anyway he gave me a narration of the story and my character. Correct is what I instinctively felt and brilliant as I had rightly heard. We were doing the film together. Now came the challenge…

Bidyut wanted my character ‘Jyoti’ to speak in Assamese as he is a local. I am not very good with languages (to put it mildly…am pathetic) so I tried to explain to Bidyut with all the logic I could to let my character speak in Hindi. But all my logic had a counter and bigger logic from him and of course I lost my battle and knew I had to start preparing for a big war (learning my lines in Assamese).

We had a workshop and a lovely teacher Jyoti (my character’s name is his real name) to help us with Assamese. On the first day of my experience with Assamese I felt that it would be easier to jump from the top of the Eiffel Tower and walk back home than it would be to learn my lines in Assamese. That evening was depressing with passing thoughts of wriggling out of the situation. But inherently I knew it was wrong and was not an option. The night spent in drawing and looking for inspiration. The script of course was one and then finally the morning was used up for making a plan of how I was going to achieve it. So a full night’s sleep was sacrificed. What followed since was an obsessive behavior.

I patiently (it appeared that way) heard Jyoti and absorbed all I could. No reaction from me. Bidyut at one point thought I wasn’t taking it seriously. Didn’t blame him as he was reacting to what he saw. As far as I’m concerned it was all being processed. I would go home, make points on different walls, learn my lines and keep practicing them saying it to those points with different expressions each time at various modulations and volumes. While talking to people the lines would keep playing at the back of my mind maybe not giving them(my director included) as much attention as I ought to have given them. I take this platform to apologize.

It was an effort to learn and then unlearn my lines. And learn and unlearned I did. It was an exhilarating feeling and a great little achievement for me.

Shooting was fun then. I particularly remember an incident while shooting. During one scene I remember being really charged as I had a lot of lines to speak and of course I knew them really well. In my enthusiasm I was improvising and Bidyut was incorporating all my moves and encouraging me to go on. Along with the movements there was a lot of interaction with my many co-actors that I had planned and rehearsed. Finally the shot was taken and it felt great. There was a smile on my face which wouldn’t go…till the time Bidyut showed me the shot. Well after that it never came back and with good reason….During the entire shot with all the movements I did, the interaction with co-actors my expressions… the camera… was never on my face!

In all seriousness it turned out to be a great experience and came at a time when I wanted it most. As I said I’m lucky…

February 16,2011 at 1:18

we will be reborn as what we want to be and could not

As I was mentioning about our Kaziranga Safari in the previous post, a not so funny incident had come to my mind. We were taking a Jeep Safari on the 15th of April morning before returning to the shoot of ‘as the River flows’. The team was divided into two groups, with me, Pallavi, the lead actress Bidita and the assistant sound recordist Sanjib Saha on the second vehicle. In the middle of Jungle, we came across a majestic Rhino grazing at hardly 150 meters from our route. I insisted on stopping the Jeep for taking some snaps. Just than, someone pointed out to a huge wild buffalo on the other side of the ‘road’. He was observing us curiously from an even closer spot, making the girls nervous. And to make the situation even more interesting, the engine of our rickety Jeep had to shut down just at that very moment, refusing to come to life! Of course, there was no other option but for me & Sanjib to get down and to push start the vehicle, with Kaziranga’s ‘Big Two’ gives us a not so very friendly look from a sneezing distance…

In our life, we don’t remember time – we remember moments… As I was taking a trip down the memory line stealing an excuse from that moment, a sms jolted me back to reality. It says Sanjib Saha is no more…he passed away in Kolkata on the 14th of February!

I would be lying if I say that I was a good friend of Sanjib. This SRFTI sound graduate, working as an assistant to Nakul Kamte, used to irritated me time and again during the post production of ‘as the River flows’ – mostly because of his disorderly nature. Whether it was turning up late for dubbing shifts or his inability to communicate in a coherent way some technical issues with the editing or direction department thus creating confusion, there were times when he actually used to get in my nerve… But in spite of everything, we remain in touch because I knew that he had his heart at the right place… And, his intentions were always good!

I vividly remember the discussion he had with one of the production guy, Nitin, during the post production of our film. When he had enquired Nitin about something regarding the film, Nitin informed him that he is concerned only with the production aspects of the film and doesn’t care much about its creative aspects. Sanjib retorted that in that case they will make a nice team, as he is only concerned with the creative aspects of the film…

While trying to convince myself that Sanjib is actually no more, I visited his facebook page. The last entry on Sanjib’s wall by himself was on December 5, 2010. There thanking his friends for their birthday wishes, he had written – ‘Thanks friends, hope we remember each other all the way. We will be reborn as what we want to be and could not…’

Yes Sanjib, we will be reborn as what we want to be and could not…

For once, I wish you were late in your departure…

Bidyut

February 14,2011 at 4:59 pm

I have a feeling, Terminator was born here

We were taking a break from the shoot of ‘as the River flows ‘ on 14th of April, the occasion of Rongali Bihu- the Assamese New Year, and visiting the Kaziranga National Park. In the middle of the safari, Nakul asked the jeep to stop. He then takes out his cell and tells his mom in Mumbai that he wanted to have a word with her before he moves deeper into the jungle…

Nakul Vaid. I remembered him for his fantastic portrayal of a rookie cop in the hard hitting ‘Ab tak chappan’. And that was my reference point when I decided to cast him in the role of Sudakshina’s brother Jyoti in ‘as the River flows’. But I had no idea how to approach him.

It was month of February, 2008. Me, along with Pallavi and an acquaintance Pratik were moving towards Mumbai’s NCPA to attend Mumbai International Film Festival, discussing how to approach actors like Nakul Vaid . And as we parked our car, we saw Nakul coming out of NCPA with renowned director Gautam Ghosh! Thankfully, unlike me Pratik didn’t have any mental block in approaching an unknown person. He went and talked to Nakul on our behalf…

That was the beginning of our association with happy go lucky Nakul. And over the time, our bonding has become stronger. As time goes by, I also happen to discover the intense actor and human being who hide behind that happy go lucky facade; the guy who takes his jobs pretty seriously… and who stands by his commitments.

I still remember the day when another lucrative project where he had a better financial deal had got postponed and clashed with the shooting schedule of our film. Nakul was in a dilemma and had confided in me with his problem. I told him honestly that had I been in his place, probably I would have got tempted to go with the other offer… The next morning I got a call from Nakul saying that he have decided to do our film instead!

While we were doing the workshop for the film, few people were misled by his facade into thinking that he is not taking the workshop seriously enough. I decided to have a word with him in private to take care of the doubts. He told me, ‘Bidyut, let’s talk after the dubbing of the film is done – I approach a role in a little different way than others. But I have a feeling, once the film is over you will agree with my interpretation of the character.’

During the shoot, I realised how much Nakul had internalized the character of Jyoti. After one particular confrontational sequence with his sister, where he unsuccessfully tries stopping her from being with the film’s protagonist Abhijit, Nakul has to look into the camera. He had suggested that he will have a shifting look instead. His reasoning? – ‘Mistakes usually occur when you are pretending to be convinced of something you are not actually sure of. When left with oneself, the character is more likely to have a self-questioning, shifting look …’

That’s Nakul for you! A person who keeps his intensity for himself and portrays the happy go lucky charm to people around and come up with some deadly one liner with a straight face…like the instance when somebody was complaining about high iron contain in the water of a particular location during our shoot, he remarked, ‘I have a feeling, Terminator was born here…’

Bidyut

December 8,2010 at 1:50 pm

a note from Victor Banerjee

It is much easier to get Mr. Victor Banerjee to agree to do my film than to make him re-live the time he spend with us during the making of the film. After all, here is a man who believes in moving ahead in life, without ever looking back. Once the shoot & dubbing of a film is over, it is curtain for him regarding that film. So much so that except Satyajit Ray’s ‘Ghare Baire’, he has not seen any of the film where he has acted in! A story goes that legendary David Lean had made this compulsory for his cast & crew to attend the premier of ‘Passage to India’. As soon as the opening credit of the film had started, one figure was seen to leave the auditorium. And that person was Victor Banerjee…

So when I was after him to re-live the time of making of ‘as the River flows’, he threatened to black out my no in his cell phone. I started calling him in his land lines. Finally, yesterday night received a mail from Victor sir with the heading – Dam (n) the river flow!

Now, over to Victor sir –

Every afternoon, at one o’clock, Ruskin Bond used to stand in the middle of the road waiting for the postman to deliver the mail and hopefully a cheque. One day a lorry carrying limestone from illegal quarries, on its way to Delhi to whitewash the writing on the walls, hit the postman and killed him. So now, Ruskin sits at a window and cranes his neck around the hill to spot the new postman. I feel a bit like that in my association with Asom.  I am waiting for the deliverance of a people and there is no sign of a deliverer.

The Northeast States of India are the playful pastime of India’s hindi-belt politicians. South Indians are, geographically speaking, simply too far away. Go hatya bandh karo and animal rights activists like Maneka Gandhi stay miles away from the peoples of the hills and valleys of the region. The truth is everybody is a little scared of the unknown and six decades after we became an independent country, the northeast remains “unknown”, a scary appendage almost. Like an inflamed appendix in our abdomens that we remove with aplomb for its utter uselessness and the fear of it bursting and killing us with peritonitis or the hills act like tonsils we cut off because all they do and serve as is some human shield of protection to our nation’s chicken’s neck above Bangladesh, from germs that may enter from China and Myanmar.

And midst all that, a river flows. From Tibet. The Yarlung Tsangpo River, from the sacred feet of Mt. Kailash and Mansarovar. It meets the Lohit and the Dibang and cascades into India from the peaks of Arunachal and legend transforms it into the Brahmaputra. The only river in India that is “masculine”: powerful and ruthless.

Nestled within its banks is the island of Majuli. In India, we brag and boast about sizes of pools, stadia, lakes, mastiffs, cricket ball-guards, banyan trees and everything large is worshipped as great. Thus everything sacred, historical, cultural and socially relevant about Majuli is secondary and hidden behind the statistic of it being the largest inhabited fresh water mid-river deltaic island  – in the world.

In a country where Abhishek Bachchan plays the great and fearless freedom fighter Surjya Sen in Gowarikar’s “period” farce ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey'; walks away with a best actor award (with his plasticdollybird spouse winning the best actress award) for a bankrupt Mani Ratnam’s “Ravana” and where the Gujju Glitz of Bollyturd converts Sarat Chandra’s “Devdas” into a magnus opus like a remake of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” on the sets of Tinto Brass’ pukey “Caligula”, Bidyut Kotoky’s “as the River flows”, the little and uncluttered painting of a story and history, on celluloid, is likely to drift downstream, un-noticed, un-proclaimed, un-recognized.

The people of Assam have been sitting on the eroding banks of that mysterious island, contemplating the mysterious intrigues of our Government’s funding agency that has cleverly orchestrated the demise of Bidyut’s film. Friends in power have not wished to rile a government whom they find convenient to suck up to and, if it weren’t for the undying efforts of Bidyut, inspired by a loving and efficient wife Pallavi who has fought shoulder to shoulder beside him, a lesser person would have walked away from this film a very long time ago.

I am hoping Bidyut’s perseverance pays. I think it will. He has the staying power and the guts to confront harsh truths and bitter realities.

“as the River Flows” is not a film that will create an unprecedented tsunami in critical circles and nor will money machines clatter and jingle at the box-office. But it will touch hearts and create a consciousness that Assam and we, the people of Assam, have been looking at the rest of you for, with no demands other than brotherhood, love and compassion, for decades.

My memories of the making of the film and my association with the Director, his team and the bunch of honest actors and technicians I had the privilege to interact with, will remain a matter of personal pride and simple joy for as long as I can hold on to precious memories.

Meanwhile, I crane my neck around the bend in the river waiting to see the Sonar Tari sail into view. A new dawn: a new awakening. Ruskin will receive a cheque in the mail tomorrow and Rusty will fly his kite across the Himalaya, above the swirling waters of the Tsangpo.

October 14,2010 at 6:14 pm

…then they came for me

“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew,Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

-Pastor Martin Niemoller

Yesterday night, someone forwarded me a sms – ‘a tiger killed a Bangladeshi in Kaziranga national park in Assam last week… Save Bangladeshis…only 6602197300298 left in Assam!’ Liking the black humor, I forwarded the same to a few friends… and one of them replied – ‘it is not a joke – fact. We are the responsible one.’ And that set me thinking.

For the uninitiated, a little background is needed to understand the black humor in that sms. In the Indo-Pak war of 1971, a huge mass from East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) had started a migration to Assam. And the migration continues till date, albeit in a different scale– almost 40 years after it was first noticed. This resulted in a major increase of illegal entrants in land of Assam, threatening the very existence of the identity of Assamese people. Enters the politicians, and through their vote bank politics refused to tackle the problem heads on…The situation sparked off Assam agitation (1979-85), which has no parallel in the history of independent India. The Assam accord was signed in 15/8/1985. And it had failed in controlling the migration. The accord, however, had resulted in the rise of a regional political party, consisting mainly of the leaders who had spearheaded the Assam agitation. They came to power all right, but failed to fulfill the aspirations of the millions – getting entangled in corruption and vote bank politics like their predecessor… The common people started feeling betrayed… and around the same time the extremist group ULFA started gaining ground…

But, once the gun starts to talk, the voice of logic, sensibility and compassion gets muffled. Assam was no exception. Over the last two decades, the bomb blasts and killings have started dominating the agenda, taking the focus away from the core issue. And we the middle class, who had backed the Assam agitation to the hilt, decided that the heat has become too much to handle. And withdrew into a shell, -convincing ourselves that it is not our problem anymore…Yes, we do share a sms joke once in a while!

In this inflation driven time, the cost of human life has become surprisingly cheaper in Assam by the day…more than 30,000 people lost their life in the last three decades…and along the way we started accepting it as a part of life!

I am talking about Assam because I have seen from close quarter  the shimmering of the fire in her bosom, which today have become the all consuming flame…I am sure, the story is more or less the same in most part of the world where guns are engaged in conversation. The ammo  used might be different, but the objects used for target practice are the same – you and me.

I remember visiting Bihar’s (now Jharkhand) Gumla district in the late 90s for a documentary shoot. Although the area was not grabbed by Naxal activities like today, one could feel that the fire was very much shimmering even then. I enquired with social activist whether there is lot of provocative forces at work. His reply still rings in my ears, ‘without negligence, no amount of provocation would succeed…’

In this game of deciding whether the chicken came first or the egg, where do we – you and me- stand?  It reminded me of the words of sub divisional police officer Sameer Agarwal – a character of our film ‘as the River flows’ .When someone had told that Sameer that he won’t understand what compulsion is,he retorted-

‘ What do you know about compulsion?? During the Assam agitation, our shop was burned down. Because my forefathers were from Rajasthan , I was considered an outsider! But I am born here – where am I supposed to go? My own brother is one of the extremist whom I am chasing with a gun in my hand. I may have to kill him someday. Compulsion! This extremist organization was born out of the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. But today, the top leaders of the same organization take shelter in the same Bangladesh. They can call themselves patriot….so who am I? Just a policeman on duty??’

Bidyut

September 13,2010 at 7:50 pm

Inspiration…

Sanjay Ghose. He was born in 1959 at Nagpur and spent his childhood in Mumbai, Maharashtra. After his graduation in 1980, he had definite admission in all the three then existing Indian Institute of Managements (IIM) – Ahmadabad, Bangalore and Calcutta. Joining the IIMs would have ensured very well paying corporate careers for him. Instead he opted to join the little known Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) in its very first batch.

After completing his MPhil from Oxford (1984), he started an NGO and began working in the Bikaner district of Rajasthan. Subsequently, he handed over the organization to his colleague and decided to move to the Majuli island of Assam with another NGO, AVARD on 1995. His parents weren’t very happy at this decision and when they tried to dissuade him from going to the terrorist ridden Assam, Sanjay enquired – ‘then whose son will you send’?

On July 4th, 1997, Sanjay Ghosh was abducted from Majuli. The United Liberation Front of Assam claimed responsibility for this act. Sanjay never returned- many a debate and mystery still shrouds his disappearance.

In the late 90s, I had the opportunity to visit this river island quite a few times to shoot couple of documentaries. That was soon after the tragic disappearance of Sanjay Ghose from Majuli. And like any other curious visitor, many a time I would talk to different people in Majuli about him… Unofficially. And without any scheme of thought – just plain curiosity. And what people had to say about Mr. Sanjay Ghose – a person I never met- left a strong impression on my subconscious mind.

Almost half a decade later, when I sat down to write my first feature film, I realised that the research for the same has already been done- unknowingly…

Let me clarify one thing – ‘as the River flows’ have nothing to do with the disappearance of Sanjay Ghose. The film is NOT based on his life. I hardly know anything about him to even think of attempting a film on his life.

I met his wife Sumita Ghose in Delhi before starting the film to clarify the same thing. And I wished, I could do the same to those who threw a grenade at us on that fateful night of April 2009 …

My take on this is simple – if a person like Sanjay Ghose existed, then somebody like Sridhar Ranjan – the protagonist of my film – could also have existed in Majuli. True, the film is inspired by the unfortunate disappearance of Sanjay Ghose – but inspiration ends there. The entire story is totally fictitious – having no connection to any person dead or alive.

However, I do hope to come across people who are INSPIRED by the life of individuals like Sanjay Ghose…

Bidyut

August 25,2010 at 12:50 pm

People I take for granted….

We hate it when somebody takes us for granted. But invariably we have some people in our lives whom we take for granted. And I am no exception.

Ashim Borah. First time I met him was on class XI, way back in 1988 at Guwahati’s B.Barooah College. And we have survived each other for over two decades.

First time we attempted film making was on 1990, right after our class XII’s exam. It was a VHS camera and the name of the film was ‘Unmillan’. We wanted to sell VHS cassettes for home viewing of the film and also to show the film in the night buses that runs in different routes of Assam, having VCR facilities as an added attraction. We financed the film by gathering advertisements from different shops/institutions. It was quite an innovative concept at that time and obviously took quite an effort to make it happen – especially considering the fact that the people behind it were a few teenage boys and girls… With no knowledge what so ever about filmmaking and with nobody to guide us, our efforts failed to get the desired result. But we all bonded big time. Ashim was a part of that group.

In the following years, he had become a respected Gazetted Officer of the Assam Govt. But who cares? Finally when my first feature film got underway on 2009, Ashim is still a part of my production team. Once in the unit I enjoyed shouting orders to him, without a thought about his rank or position… And he didn’t hesitate even for a moment when he had to loan a six figure sum from his account to the production team in an emergency…

Pallavi. Another person I love to take for granted. It is not unusual to find director’s wife becoming a part of a film unit, mostly to kill time. But in our case, we are working together for close to 13 years. And we are married for the last 5 years.

Whether it is to edit my documentaries or to do art direction/ costumes in my productions, time and again I use her. Both for the belief that she understand closest to what I have in mind and the fact that I can give vent to the frustration without thinking twice when things does not go according to my plan…

Officially, Pallavi worked as the costume designer and asst. editor of ‘as the River flows’. But un-officially, she is involved in many other disciplines – right from being a bouncing board to my film’s scripts (even before it is put down on paper) to being the one going through the posts that appears in this blog before they are uploaded (except this one)…

Thank you Ashim and Pallavi for being a part of my life…I’ll continue to take you two for granted, that’s a promise!

Bidyut

June 26, 2010 at 5:34pm

a mistake …

I had made a mistake… or rather, I was ill informed…

In the introduction of our group, below the poem it is mentioned that in the India’s eastern state of Assam, during the last two decades more than 15,000 lives are lost to insurgencies and an unknown numbers are reported missing. Recently I came to know that I was not properly informed – the figures stand at more than 30,000 lives, at the last three decades!

I still have the memories of growing up in the 70s, where news of an Assamese boy killing somebody used to be sensational news- discussed by grown ups in a hushed tone for days, if not weeks… Let’s not talk about it – it will make me sound ancient, if not pre-historic… In today’s Assam, if something has seriously challenged the trend of inflation is the price tag that we put to a human life…

But, is it only Assam? Unfortunately, it is not… I remember a street play I wrote in my college days in 1993, ‘anjaan humsafar’. By no mean it was a great piece of writing – but we did manage to get good response whenever we performed it mainly because of the topicality of the subjects it has touched upon. Remember, our country was going through a dark sphere of communal struggle…

Cut to 2002. I was lucky to be selected on a play writing workshop conducted by the Royal Court of England. And as I had not really worked much on play writing after my college days, I still had taken ‘anjaan humsafar’ as my reference. Surprisingly, I found people could still relate to it… the only difference being they are relating it to yet another spell of communal riot – this time in Gujrat…

I shudder to think that the play will retain its topicality, if tomorrow…I sincerely hope I am wrong!

‘Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

-Winston Churchil

Bidyut

May 29, 2010 at 5:58pm

The name of the island is Majuli…

You have been to many places in your life. And met many people. When you look back to the memories you have created over the years, some place and people takes precedent over others. One can’t pin point the reason behind it…it is generally not the most famous of places or the most prominent of people who stays with us – but they have something beyond these obvious things… certain something’s which can not exactly be described in words. In my case, it is the river island of Majuli and its inhabitant which occupies a pride of place, near the very top of my unwritten chart…

Do I believe in love at first sight? I’m not very sure – it never happened with me regarding a person, but I did experience something similar with the island of Majuli when I visited her for the first time on January 1997. Due to certain circumstances beyond my control, that visit was only for a couple of hours – but that was enough for me to get hooked! I knew that I will be coming back…

Nearest to Church, far from God – the saying was never more apt than when we, the people of Assam, discuss Majuli. We know that it is one of the largest inhabited river islands of the world, we know about her as a living archive of priceless cultural and heritage and we definitely know that the river Brahmaputra is surely eating the island away towards extinction -but please don’t ask us whether we have visited her…I’m ashamed to say, I was one of those majority of Assamese till that wintry afternoon of 1997… and proud to admit, that was a thing of the past…

Whether for the shoot of ‘as the River flows’ or some other documentaries, I’m been fortunate to visit her a number of time in the last decade and a half…and to come back enriched after every visit… the more I’ve experienced her, the more wonderstruck I became of her spirit! Imagine living in a place where the only certainty is that the devastation created by the monsoon is totally uncertain from year to year? Of staying in a place which for 3 months a year is bound to be under flood water? Of not knowing whether the place in which one is standing will be there tomorrow or will be eroded by the river? And ever smiling, enjoying life in spite of them! … You really need to have a heart …

When we decided to shoot the film in Majuli, many people were skeptical – ‘There is no proper road, staying arrangement or electricity – why shoot in Majuli?’- was the most frequent question I’ve encountered. And ‘even people from Guwahati don’t go to shoot in Majuli, why do you want to take a unit of 150 odd people from across the country?’- was another oft repeated one. Well, those questions have arisen because the people asking them have not experienced Majuli…

I can’t forget the night of 2nd of April, 2009 for the rest of my life…There was a grenade explosion in Majuli and due to the amount of rumor floating about the subject of our film, the police thought that we could have been the possible target. I was tensed – being the director and insisting on the shooting location, I was morally responsible for the safety of my team. And we were staying in the outskirt, with me being the only Assamese guy at that resort… I had decided that I need to shift the team to another one of our camp, which is in the middle of the town. As we were travelling out of the resort in our vehicle, I was surprised to find a score of village boys near the resort gate. Only latter on I realised that the entire youth population of the area have come over to give protection to us… after all, we were the guest of the village…

Bidyut

May 19, 2010 at 10:07pm

screen writing lab with Binger…

When I first got the opportunity to get my film’s script evaluated by the Netherland’s famous Binger filmlab on November 2008 as a part of the Goa film festival’s screen lab organized by NFDC, I was not very sure…

No, I was not unsure because I didn’t want my script to be evaluated – far from it! I, in fact, strongly belief in getting as many diverse opinions as possible on a script before one start shooting. It is always better to get people to point out the loop holes in the script level rather than discovering it afterward. And for the same purpose I had chased renowned critique like Ms.Shanta Gokhle to read my script and felt blessed to get her suggestions…But I felt uncomfortable because it was little too closed to the starting date of my film’s shoot!

At first, I got an internationally well known Indian script writer as my mentor. And my worst fear had come true! Although my mentor was really nice, the changes she suggested I couldn’t agree with. Because what she suggested meant re-writing my entire script with a totally different perspective… It is not to say that what she suggested was not interesting, but that was not the story I was interested in narrating!

Thankfully, director of the workshop Mr. Marten Rabarts sensed my discomfort. He confided in me that it was Binger filmlab’s first association with that lady in question and they have also realised it is not working out… and he offered to work with me as my mentor instead! And what an offer it turned out to be…

Being one of the best in business, Marten realised the time constrain I was operating under. And made sure in his non obtrusive way that I can get the best out of it. He never imposed his views – instead asked me pointed questions which made me realise the loopholes of my story and think of the alternatives…He was also very clear that he is not familiar to the Indian point of view and always was ready to accept suggestions contrary to his original views when I point out something might not work in Indian context…

We really had a few stimulating discussion on Indian and western perspective on given subject during the screenwriting lab on the basis of few situations arising out of my script…

The screenwriting lab came to a close. Obviously 3 or 4 days are not enough to re-work on a film script. And although we kept in touch over e- mail, it was not definitely same as having a face to face discussion… So when the opportunity to participate in Rotterdam film festival’s producer’s lab in Netherland came my way on January 2009, I grabbed the offer. My main attraction of that visit was the opportunity to look for an impromptu session with Marten Rabarts…

And yes, over a steaming cup of coffee on that wintry January morning at Rotterdam, we had another productive session … discussing few scenes set on an interior village of Majuli.As I agreed to a suggestion of his as to how we can improve on a particular scene of ‘as the River flows’ depicting traditional ‘ankia bhawna’, it just re-affirmed my belief – emotions, across the world, speaks a common language…

Bidyut

April 16, 2010 at 3:28am

when aquaintances become friends…(part II)

Mr. Jahnu Barua. I knew him as the most famous filmmaker from Assam with an enviable international standing, till that 5th of November 2006 evening at Guwahati’s Rabindra Bhawan. That day, our film ‘Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic’ was screened there, with Jahnu Barua as one of the esteemed audience. He liked the film… And during the making of ‘as the River flows’ from an acquaintance he definitely turned into much more, though I’m in too much of awe of him to consider him a friend…

I met him again at Mumbai’s NCPA on February 2008, during the MIFF. He called me aside and said, “Once your script is officially okayed by NFDC, come and meet me. I want to discuss certain things about your script.” I was pleasantly surprised to realize that he is keeping a track of my dream project… Later I came to know that he was one of the person who strongly recommended the script when NFDC asked for his opinion!

After the official approval when I went to meet him at his office, he had asked me on whom I had based the character of my protagonist Sudakhshina. She is completely a fragment of my imagination – I replied honestly. He told me that he knows someone who is exactly like her – so much so that he thought I had based the character on her! Coming from somebody who is known for his wonderful screenplay – be it of ‘Maine Gandhi ko nahin mara’ in Hindi or so many other films in Assamese – it was indeed a confidence booster…

When I was getting stuck in finalizing an art director for our film for the Assam shoot, he had suggested that I could go for Mr. Phatik Barua – who is regular in his film. And what a suggestion it turned out to be! ‘No’ is a word which is absent in the directory of Phatik Barua, regardless of constrains it may involve – so much so that our production team insisted on hiring him even for the Mumbai schedule of our film! Latter on Phatik Barua had told me that actually he was supposed to be involved with a Jahnu Barua’s project during the same time period – once Jahnu Barua came to know about my problem, he had called him up and requested him to help me instead!

One of my major drawbacks is my low boiling points, which in this diplomacy driven world is definitely an obstacle one can do without… And when one of my reaction during a fit of rage (justified, I may add-) had created a bit of complication, it is Jahnu Barua who timely stepped in to smoothen the ruffles … Latter on he had told Mr. Utpal Borpujari with a smile, ‘ at my age, I have learned to reproach people without them realizing that they are being reprimanded… Bidyut will also learn…’

Unfortunately, I was not smart enough to learn the same yet…during yet another confrontation, I got exasperated and asked him how he reacts when something like this happened to make him mad. With a smile he had replied, ‘when it becomes too much, I just get up and punch the person concerned…’

And he was only half joking. The story of what happened to the guy who tried to mug him and snatch is camera at Mumbai’s suburb Bandra is a part of folklore of that area…unfortunately the thug didn’t know that this docile looking gentleman is a black belt in karate…

Bidyut

April 1, 2010 at 2:25am

when aquaintances become friends….

as the River flows has turned many an acquaintance into friend…

Mr. Utpal Borpujari. I used to know him as a national award winning journalist for Film Writing. Till I met him at 53rd national award. There we turned into acquaintance.

I requested him to be a script consultant of my proposed film. Over the months, we used to correspond regarding different aspects of the film…Although I was fortunate to get well known critic Ms. Shanta Gokhle give her valuable inputs and also to have renowned Binger Lab of Netherland as my script mentor, yet for the local nuances related to Assam I depended a lot on the feedback of Utpal Borpujari and my wife Pallavi.

With the flow of time, Utpal Borpujari started multi-tasking for us…He became the un-official PRO for the film. Whether it is for the first introduction to Victor Banerjee in Goa ( where he suggested that I should meet him after hearing him lament in a press conference that nobody had approached him with an Assamese role) or to suggest music director Zubeen’s name for the cameo in the film, his contribution is been immense. And if it had anything to do with the press and publicity of the film, my one stop solution (unofficially) used to be Utpal Borpujari…

When I decided to start the facebook group for ‘as the River flows’, if there is one person who was more passionate about it than me, it was undoubtedly Utpal Borpujari. Not only he took it upon himself to send an invitation to join the group to all his contacts but also he wrote personally many of them for the same!

And all these he did purely for the love of the film and the subject it is dealing with – there was no financial transaction of any kind involved… However he is threatening to take his pound of flesh once the film is released. He is adamant that he will charge me a professional fee of Rs. One, come what may… I’m hoping that I will be able to convince him to accept cheque…

Mr. Jahnu Barua. I knew him as the most famous filmmaker from Assam with an enviable international standing, till that 5th of November 2006 evening at Guwahati’s Ravindra Bhawan. That day, our film ‘Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic’ was screened there, with Jahnu Barua as one of the esteemed audience. He liked the film… And during the making of ‘as the River flows’ from an acquaintance he definitely turned into much more… though I’m in too much of awe of him to consider him a friend…

(to be continued…)

Bidyut

February 19, 2010 at 4:09pm

When dreams come true!…(part II)

When I picked up Dr. Hazarika on 10th of February from his residence, it finally began to sink in – yes, that legendary voice is actually going to give life to my words! As we are driving towards the recording studio, the stereo of my car was playing one of his old songs. A gem no doubt – but not exactly the most popular one. And no, the Bhupen Hazarika CD was not inserted for this special occasion – it is more out of habit… After listening to the song for a while, Dr. Hazarika commented – ‘this sounds like a Bhupen Hazarika song…’ and added with a straight face, ‘yes, he used to sing well!’

In the studio, it was a festive atmosphere…After all The Dr. Hazarika has come out of hiatus! Latter on, I came to know that a famous music director had booked the studio for the same time – but the moment studio owner came to know that Dr. Hazarika wants to record, he rescheduled the other recording. That music director was informed that there is recording by Assam govt. and hence the studio won’t be available! On hindsight, it was not exactly an over statement – Dr. Hazarika coming for recording could well be termed as official recording of ‘the voice of Assam….’

The chief recordist Abani Tanti was busy in capturing each and every moment of this priceless event on his camcorder…the recordist Naba made sure that each and every word uttered by Dr Hazarika inside the recording room is preserved for posterity (and yes, I do insists on having a CD of those wonderful candid moments!)… My cousin sister got the honor of being present in the recording – by bunking her law classes and of course after promising unquestioning life long devotion to my commands! (and no, I don’t know which article of the Indian Constitution she quoted as a reason behind her absence from the college!)… the best part of an experience are those that can’t be explained by words…

He did look a little frail…but only till the time the microphone was put in front of him. Then suddenly, his age dropped by some 25 years…one by one, through his voice, the cry of Brahmaputra came alive…it was surreal!

Inside the recording room, he was like a child recording for the first time…time and again enquiring whether he is getting it right, whether we are getting the mood we wanted…

Within that short span of time, we got a rare glimpse of what makes him a living legend…

Bidyut

February 11, 2010 at 12:57am

When the dreams come true!

Dr Bhupen Hazarika. The rest of the world knows him mostly for his songs like ‘Ganga behti ho kyon’ and of course, ‘Dil hum hum kare’. But for us who grew up in Assam or Bengal – especially those who were born in 1990 and for some sixty years before it – he is much, much more. For us he is not just a poet, filmmaker, composer or a singer… He is a symbol of our collective reminiscence…

Ask us to describe a beautiful spring morning or an autumn evening, the first thing that will come to our mind is a stanza of Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s song. Ask us describe the stormy monsoon night, the answer will be the same. If we need to give word to our first love, generally we don’t look beyond him. Looking for some shooting balm after a heart-break? Just put on a Bhupen Hazarika song! Feeling really depressed? There is a good chance that a song of Dr Hazarika may give you the much needed boost… the list would be really long…

It would have been surprising if somebody like me would not have dreamt of using Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s voice when I dreamt of making my first feature film – right from my teenage years. Unfortunately, when finally I took my baby steps towards fulfilling my dream of making a feature film, Dr Hazarika was not keeping the best of health. His ageing body was protesting against the demand of his ever youthful mind…and for almost four years, which appeared more like four decades to us, Dr Hazarika had stopped recording for songs…

Suddenly I got the good news! I was told that Dr Hazarika has recovered enough to record a stanza of a song some one month back. I immediately called up my music director Zubeen to request him to contact Dr Hazarika. He promised to do it the moment he arrives in Mumbai.

23rd of January, 2010. That afternoon I was busy with the edit of a documentary that I’m directing for Surbhi foundation, to be telecast in the National Geographic network. Suddenly I got a call from my producer Mr. Siddhartha Kak. He told me that he had spoken to Dr Bhupen Hazarika for an interview for that documentary – will I be able to go and meet him for the same? Will I be able to?? I landed in his residence in the next 30 minutes!

I almost had to pinch myself when during the conversation, and he started to hum few of his ever green songs… just for me! Hesitantly, after talking about his interview for the documentary, I enquired whether he will be kind enough to recite the title poem for my film. After all, that poem is supposed to be the voice of the river Brahmaputra… and who could be a better voice to represent the river than Dr Bhupen Hazarika? After listening to the poem for a couple of times, he told me – ‘you are speaking my language in the poem! I’m going to do it.’

My first reaction was, ‘did he really mean it?’

(to be continued…)

Bidyut

January 20, 2010 at 7:41pm

unsung heroes…(part II)

The spot boys. They are the one to reach the set first and leave it last. And also to get the wrong end of the stick, time and again… after all, they are possibly the softest target in a film set…

They are the one who is on a film set purely for monetary reasons – after all, it is not practical to expect emotional attachments for a project from people who are working for daily wages… Still, there are few exceptions – those who go a little beyond their regular call of duty. And stayed in our mind.

Our film unit had people from across the country – literally from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Maharashtra to Assam. Damudar belongs to Maharashtra. Always the first to put the photograph of Ganapati on a chair in a corner of the location, he was also one of the most active one on the set. Even on the days when shoot got extended to close to 20 hours at a stretch, one can depend on Damudar to be ready with a glass of black tea at the end…and whenever we had a difficult day on the shoot, you can bet that the next day you will get to taste a little coconut. Of course, Damudar has offered the same to Lord Ganapati, before sharing with you!

Gautam belongs to Cooch Behar in West Bengal. A guy who believes in going about his work quietly. Well, unless it gets too much…as a unit member had discovered in the return journey. It so happened that after the end of the schedule as the unit was leaving to Guwahati to continue their onwards journey, that guy had decided to celebrate a little too much and had one drinks too many…And when on the journey he failed to hold himself to his regular self, Gautam decided to speak with his hand…But he was considerate enough to give him some money for buying medicine for his swollen face the next morning, after reaching Guwahati…

Govind – a guy who belongs to the hilly region of Garwal. And like a typical guy from the hill, a smile never leaves his face. Also looks for an excuse to break into a lilting song…After spending a few days with him around, it was easy for us to understand why our lead actor Sanjay Suri insists on having Govind as his personal spot for all these years…

Dinesh Payeng & Sanjib Payeng. Two local guys from Majuli which our production team had picked up as spots for our Assam schedule. Obviously they were new to the job of working as spot in a film unit – but in sincerity, they were second to none…So much so that by the end of the schedule, our line producer Sanket had offered to bring them to Mumbai, also promising them a card from the union to work as spots here. The offer must have been tempting for them, but they refused… their small plot of land was calling them – the cultivation season had started…Even if the river Brahmaputra is eroding their land every year, they cannot but remain loyal to their existing land…after all, they are the son of the soil…

Bidyut

January 5, 2010 at 5:46pm

unsung heroes…(part I)

The assistant directors. They are the first line of attack and last line of defence for the director of any film. And they are also the one doing some of the most thankless jobs in a film unit. Their faults often get highlighted and their contribution mostly goes unrecognised.

We had five of them looking after different departments in the film. Md. Johaed was the youngest amongst them. With a good hand in sketching, he also worked as the storyboard artist. And unofficially, he also doubled up as cartoonist of the unit… Having spent his growing up years in Assam, he has set his heart on getting married to a girl from this region only. And generally he never lost any time, in looking for a match amongst the local girl present in the shooting location. However, going by his basic shy nature, I doubt whether any of those girls knew that they were screen tested for a role in the real life… Last heard, Johaed is still single…

Kamal Chetri. Until one gets to know him a little better, it is difficult to imagine how flimi this serious looking guy actually is in his real life. And had it not have copyright issues, I would have gladly adopted some of his real life escapade into film…Only problem is people would have found these episodes a little too far fetched…All said and done, it is also true that he is the lone asst dir who insisted on coming to the edit and dubbing of the film long after his official working period got over…

Rajiv Phukan. It is difficult to believe that it is possible to keep in touch with so many people on a personal level till one meets Rajiv. During the pre-production days, whenever we used to encounter a problem regarding finding of some contacts, Rajiv used to disappear to a corner of the office with his cell phone… Only to reappear after a while with some solutions! According to Johaed, after taking a walk with Rajiv through the roads of Guwahati, he is convinced that Rajiv’s popularity amongst one and all would have given a complex to many film stars…

Sakshi. The only girl amongst the asst directors. She and Aneel Rana were the two most important people of the direction team during the pre production of the film. And they were not only handling the film – they had taken the responsibility of handling me also quite seriously. People get exploited in this industry in different ways – especially if you are a new comer. Once we decided to work with new comer Bidita Bag as heroine of the film, we have decided to exploit her skill of making lovely lemon tea by employing her as our ‘afternoon tea maker’ during the initial days of pre-production… and as the pre-production team got bigger, Anil and Sakshi were quite worried about this trend and decided to take my wife Pallavi into confidence to tell me not to ask Bidita to prepare tea- in front of everybody…

Aneel Rana. If by looking at somebody’s face one could make out that he is more worried about the progress of the film than everybody else – including me – than it had to be Aneel. In fact, towards the end of our shooting schedule many unit members used to judge how the day is progressing by the look of Aneel’s face…And the trend continues till date…

As I mentioned earlier, asst directors are the first line of attack and last line of defence for the directors. Naturally, as one gets to know each other that closely, the chance of heart burn also increases considerably… and our team was no exception. I’m sure many of us would have a few issues in the personal level… but it is also a fact that the flow of the river was so much smoother because of you all! Thanks for being there…

(to be continued…)

Bidyut

December 15,2009 at 5:38pm

Masters and Legends…(part IV)

Mr. Rajesh Parmar. Two time national award winning editor. The guy who refused to touch feature film after having an unpleasant experience as an assistant editor right in the beginning of his career and is happy doing documentary & ad film for the last 25 odd years. Many big time directors & production houses have tried to talk him out of his decisions – unsuccessfully. Hence many people were surprised – to say the least – when he agreed to do my film & the big question was how could I managed the impossible? “Simple. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse” – I said.

Once he agreed to do job, he is a maniac…many a time, when working out a complex sequence, he will throw us all out of the studio… when I am tossing and turning on the bed, not being able to sleep (and anyway, generally I don’t go to bed before 2 am), I know that I just have to land up in the studio – trust Parmar to be still in the edit table…

Not being to a film school also created some drawback for me, especially since this happened to be my first feature film. But whenever some theoretical or technical questions haunted me, I knew where to look for the answer. The name of my walking, talking film encyclopedia is Rajesh Parmar….

We had our issues. And I am sure we will continue to have them. At times he makes me feel like tearing my hair out. I am sure at times I made him feel the same. But then, this is also true that with him I can agree on certain things and agree to disagree on others…

As I mentioned earlier, in this film I am especially blessed to have many people working without bothering about their remuneration. But my equation with Parmar is even more unique in this case. Not only we not discussed money till almost the completion of edit of the film but he also used to serve as my ATM. Whenever I ran out of money during the edit ( I must confess, this was fairly often!), my search used to end with Rajesh Parmar!

Now, coming back to the question – what made Rajesh Parmar pick up a feature film after 25 odd years? Well, it was pretty simple really. As I said, I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Shyamol Karmakar, the guy who originally supposed to edit the film had fallen sick and had to opt out at the last moment. So I went up to Parmar and told him, “ Parmar, I’m in trouble…”

Bidyut

December 1, 2009 at 4:29pm

Masters and Legends…(part III)

Mr. Nakul Kamte. The sound designer of films like Lagan, Dil chahta hain, Lakshya and many more. I met him for the first time on September 2007, during the 53rd Indian National Film Award. I was there for getting a special mention for my documentary, “Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic” whereas he was there to collect the best sound designer award for the film “Rang de basanti”. He walked up to me and said, “My mother is from Assam. If you ever have a project based on Assam, I would love to be a part of it.”

Latter on, when I was building the team for as the River flows, I decided to approach him. People told me that it is of no use – I don’t have the budget to afford him. Still I went to meet him – after all I had nothing to lose! I decided to be up front with him – “ Nakul I have to choose between paying you the market price or doing my film’s sound on Dolby. And I have decided to opt for the later. Still I am approaching you as you had asked me to…”

He asked me to leave my script behind. The next day he told me that he will be doing my film. Much later, he confided on me that he had decided to do my film right when I told him that I will opt for a digital sound for my film rather than paying him his price….

The shooting dates are coming nearer. I got a call from the production department that they are yet to receive a confirmation from Nakul. Some people are even worried whether he had a second thought about doing the film…I called him up to find out the reason. “I am talking to different audio studios to find out ways to do the film on your budget – somehow not able to get confirmation from any as yet”- he told me in a slightly worried tone. After clarifying with the production team, I told him not to worry so much – the figure quoted to him was for his team & it doesn’t include the charges of studio hiring…

Mr. Rajesh Parmar. Two time national award winning editor. The guy who refused to touch feature film after having an unpleasant experience as an assistant editor right in the beginning of his career and is happy doing documentary & ad film for the last 25 odd years. Many big time directors & production houses have tried to talk him out of his decisions – unsuccessfully. Hence many people were surprised – to say the least – when he agreed to do my film & the big question was how could I managed the impossible? “Simple. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse” – I said.

(…to be continued)

Bidyut

November 9, 2009 at 3:36pm

Masters and Legends…(part II)

“Have you heard of born again Catholic? You must be aware that they are more conservatives than many Catholics. In the same way, I’m a converted Assamese. I have spent more time in Assam than you two put together. And yes, I won’t say a single word against my people in any film” – that was the first reaction we got when I me and my wife Pallavi met legendary actor Victor Banerjee for my film in Goa even before he read my script. I knew him as the only actor in the world who worked with three of the all time great directors – Satyajit Ray, David Lean & Roman Polanski. But as time progressed, I got to know him more….

I told him that I had thought of him for a long time for the role of the grandfather in my film, but was scared to approach him. Mainly because his reputation as a wonderful actor, who is very particular about his basic requirements, precedes him. And I am planning to shoot my film in the back of beyond, where even the basic accommodations are a luxury… After taking nearly half an hour to read & interpret what remained unsaid in my two page synopsis of the film, Victor Banerjee said, “It is true that I insist on club class travel and five star accommodations in most of my shoot. But it is also true that I visited Majuli a number of times and know what you are talking about…” And when I hesitantly mentioned that we may not be able to match his market price, he told me with a smile- “Pay me whatever is left after settling the dues of others…”

On the shoot, there was a particular scene where I wanted him to enact a role of a female demon in a very cumbersome costume. I was not very sure whether he would be willing to do that – especially because the part involved wearing a mask and hence could easily be done by a duplicate. But when he I came to know of it, he told me- “I would have refused to do your film if you had not allowed me to perform that scene myself…”

Due to circumstances, we had to re-locate his part of the shoot to Jorhat from Majuli. On the shoot, Victor Banerjee was a father figure. Every day he would insists on carrying traditional delicacy for us from local joints – and yes, I must admit, I was not even aware of the existence of most of those joints…

The dubbing of the film was divided between Mumbai and Guwahati. And he was more than happy to choose Guwahati over Mumbai for his dubbing. But none of us were prepared for the disaster that was waiting to happen in Guwahati on the last day of his dubbing. After a particularly grueling eight hours of dubbing, Mr Banerjee had finished his Assamese dialogues for the film and was relaxing, while the technicians of the studio was taking a transfer of his portion. Than the news came to me -by mistake, instead of transferring they deleted his entire dubbed track!! Nobody had the heart to tell him about it, but being the director the unpleasant job rests with me… I decided that under the circumstances, I have no option but to be honest and upfront about what had happened. After hearing me out, Victor sir took a deep breath and said, “Bidyut, I always believed that in life there is no point pondering about honest mistakes – let’s try to look for a solution.”

That is Victor Banerjee for you. A great actor and an even better human being… As the dubbing was getting over and he was getting ready to leave for Guwahati airport, I asked him about his experience of doing the film. “Well, to tell you frankly, you have not let me down” – said Mr. Banerjee. That meant a lot…

Mr. Nakul Kamte. The sound designer of films like Lagan, Dil chahta hain, Lakshya and many more. I met him for the first time on September 2007, during the 53rd Indian National Film Award. I was there for getting a special mention for my documentary, “Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic” whereas he was there to collect the best sound designer award for the film “Rang de basanti”. He walked up to me and said, “My mother is from Assam. If you ever have a project based on Assam, I would love to be a part of it.”

(to be continued…)

Bidyut

October 29, 2009 at 5:25pm

Masters and Legends…

‘Today as u kindle sparklers when u light up lamps, while u eat sweets, take a second to remember unfortunate who made them & dedicate this day to them. Happy Diwali.’…On the Diwali morning, amongst many sms’s this particular message caught my attention. One look at sender’s name reconfirms my suspicions. Yes, the message was send by non other than my cinematographer Mr Madhu Ambat.

It was quite an interesting first encounter with Madhu sir in Goa on November 2009. Both of us were there as a part of the screen writer’s lab, organized as a part of Indian film festival by National Film Development Corporation. Of course I knew of him. The cinematographer of films like Anjali, Provoked, Lajja, Adi Shankaracharya and some 200 others, Madhu Ambat was an institution. After the initial briefing of the screen writer’s lab where we were asked to introduce our project in one minute, there was a tea break. I went up to him to introduce myself. And his first words were, “I would like to shoot your film”. Taken aback, I replied –“Sir, it is an honour – but I don’t think I can afford you!” “Who is talking about money?”- he retorted.

It was too good to be true. It took some time to sink in. And he took the initiatives to introduce me to many of his friends in Goa film festival as the director of the film he is going to shoot next! One Malayalam filmmaker, winner of some 6 national awards, told me – “Now that you have Madhu as your cinematographer, 60% of your worry is over…” During the making of the film, I’ve realised that he was wrong – once you got Madhu sir as Director of Photography of your film, 80% of your worry is taken care off…

On a one particularly punishing day of location hunting, one of my assistant directors had asked Madhu Sir if he is feeling tired. With a smile, he replied, “No – I don’t feel tired working. The first three letter of my name actually explains my state of mind…” And he was not exaggerating. During every day of our shoot, I had to struggle to keep pace with this gentleman who had managed to retain his childlike zeal and innocence after spending more than 35 years on the profession…

Once I asked Madhu sir, “During your career, have you ever done a film for money?” Without batting an eyelid he replied, “Never. But I had shot many bad films because of friendship…”

Thank you sir for being a part of my film. And I will try my level best to ensure that when I approach you for my next film, you don’t have to do it just for friendship…

“Have you heard of born again catholic? You must be aware that they are more conservatives than many catholic. In the same way, I’m a converted Assamese. I have spent more time in Assam than you two put together. And I won’t say a single word against my people in any film” – that was the first reaction we got when me and my wife Pallavi met legendary actor Victor Banerjee for my film in Goa even before he read my script. I knew him as the only actor in the world who worked with three of the all time great directors – Satyajit Ray, David Lean & Roman Polanski. But as time progressed, I got to know him more….

(to be continued…)

Bidyut

October 10, 2009 at 4:55pm

what happens when…

I had started my professional career as a journalist. I was freelancing with couple of newspaper in Pune. I still remember the day I decided to give up journalism. I was covering a seminar on some developmental issues. At the middle of the seminar I started getting restless. Everything was moving so very smoothly! What am I going to report that will make it interesting?? I was hoping against hope that something will go wrong so that I get a chance to file an interesting story.

Suddenly I realized what am I thinking? I was ashamed of myself. I decided it is the time to move on.

This is not to say that all journalists are like that. I do know a few

journalists for whom I have a lot of respect for their strong professional ethics. But this is also true that it is always easier to grab readers’ attention with some juicy stories.and in today’s world, it is mostly demands that decide the supply. but fortunately, not always.

I remember a write-up by our ex president, APJ Abdul Kalam. Before becoming the president, he had gone to Israel on some work. The day he reached Israel, there was fierce fighting reported on the west bank. Next morning, he picked up the local newspaper to read about the same – but was surprised to find the front page headline dominated by a story of an apple farmer who developed an indigenous method of apple farming. He really had to hunt for the report of the west bank firing on some obscure corner of the middle page.

All said and done, it is so much easier to grab the headline with sensational reporting. And also to get the tag of a star reporter by investigating/creating some real or imaginary ‘scoops’. But what is

difficult is to accept that what we were doing all this while is wrong.the path we were walking down all this while is not perhaps the path we want to follow – or wanted to follow.what happens when we do gather the courage to admit this to ourselves?

In ‘as the River flows’ the protagonist Abhijit decides to give-up his page 3 reporting & proceeds to Majuli in search of his lost friend, Sridhar Ranjan.

Bidyut

September 17, 2009 at 9:50pm

about friends…

‘Zubeen won the national award for best music director on the non-feature film category in this year’s national award. But when I just gave him a call to congratulate him, he was trying to remember when he had given music to that film!’ – journalist Utpal Borpujari was telling me the other day when he called up to give me the good news…

But that is Zubeen…People in India may know him as the Zubeen Garg of ‘Ya Ali’ fame or the most famous singer/composer from Assam after Dr Bhupen Hazarika. Or, as the actor who gave critically acclaimed performances in a few award winning Assamese films. I got to know him as the guy whom I approached to score the music of my film ‘as the River flows’ almost a year and a half back.

Of course I knew of him before that – but there is no way that he could have known anything about me. My introduction to him was purely through ‘as the River flows’, which had no producer attached till then. But Zubeen took a liking to the script and next I knew is he has already recorded couple of track for the film spending from his own pocket!

We were listening to one of the scratch track – of Zubeen’s humming due to lack of lyrics. I had my friend Sameer Sharma besides me. ‘Bidyut, do whatever you want – but find a way to use the track just the way. It is just too good…’ After listening to it for a couple of times, we agreed with Sameer. Now the song is very much a part of our film, a duet without words…

Sameer Sharma. A close friend from my days as a student of Symbiosis Mass Communication in Pune. Originally from Bhopal, Sameer was a good actor. We had promised each other that who so ever got the first break will help the other to come up. Sameer was to play a critical character in ATRF. But destiny played a cruel joke on us… lost Sameer to a road accident in July 2008…

The shooting days of ATRF was drawing closure. Because of election in Assam and because of the monsoon which is accompanied by inevitable flood in Majuli, we had to finish the shoot by the third week of April. But the money was not exactly in place. How are we going to record the songs? Decided to sign Zubeen on. Went to his home with a packet of cream biscuit and gave him the same as a signing amount. He was more than happy to start the recording….That’s Zubeen for you – a very good singer/composer, but more amazing human being!

Ultimately Zubeen also plays the role that was to be played by Sameer in ‘as the River flows’. But I try to keep my promise to Sameer – cast him on the most important role of the film. He is cast as Sridhar Ranjan.

Will always miss you, Sameer…

Bidyut

August 31, 2009 at 5:23pm

Let’s talk about the river…

Even today, as the plane is about to land in Guwahati & I see the vast mass of water flowing below, my heart is surged with emotions that I am unable to assign words to… during my childhood, while growing up in different parts of Assam, I subconsciously started relating Guwahati with that river.

I am talking about the river Brahmaputra here – one of the very few male river in the world. From the romantic lover who embraces the golden hue of sun in the lazy winter evening to the angry old man threatening those who dare to disturb his solitude in the monsoon, I have seen him in all his moods. Truly an international river – out of its 2880 km length, 1625 km lies in China, 918 km in India and 337 km in Bangladesh. This river undoubtedly has a million stories which he shares with those who care to take the time off…

I was thinking whether my river shares the same stories with the Chinese girl who sits by the bank of this fast moving mountain river and call him ‘Tsangpo’. Or with the old man, who rows his boat down the lazy waves through the plains of Bangladesh and calls him ‘Jamuna’ or by some other name….

But is it only the river Brahmaputra who insists on telling the stories to the willing listeners? Sitting in the bench on a cold January morning in Frankfurt and looking at the semi-frozen river Main, I was thinking what stories this river might be telling to her willing listeners… what kind of emotions she might give rise to the German boy or girl who looks at her from above, as their plane is about to land in Frankfurt… Can the emotion be any different because they are looking at this calm, semi-frozen river as against the misleading Brahmaputra, who for all his outwardly calm nature has one of the strongest undercurrents in the world???

Quite a stupid question, I presume. It is like comparing the wound of a person to whom tears come easily to the wound of somebody (like me) who almost find it impossible to shade a tear… Does it mean that one is feeling the pain more because the tear is following freely as against somebody whose tears have almost frozen?? The expression may have a very diverse sphere, but the emotions have a universal language…

Then why these divide? Why all of us are hell bent on proving that my country/region/state/city/village is better than yours?? Why it is always have to be me OR you?? How much longer will it take for us to understand that we have but just one planet???

As I shared with you before, I sincerely believe it is just incidental that ‘as the River flows’ happen to be set in Assam…Sridhar Ranjan could have gone missing from any part of the world… For me, Sridhar Ranjan doesn’t stand for a person – it represents something much larger. It represents the hope, the dream each one of us had about the world we live in as we were growing up – but somewhere along the way from ‘our world’ it became ‘my world’…

Bidyut

August 20, 2009 at 12:24am

Hello from Bidyut…

‘You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

G. B. Shaw

“Bidyut, let me be honest with you. I agree with you completely that this story need to be told. But let me tell you, none of us are going to touch this film. It is too risky” – that was the CEO of a reputed film production house talking to me towards the end of last year. He was just one of many …

But the thought that came to my mind was if we don’t ask those questions, then who will? I may not have answers to these questions, but does it mean that I am not entitled even to ask the questions??

To cut the long story short, I did manage to ask a few questions. I did manage to get a few people convinced so that I could ask those questions through as the River flows. But that is just the beginning.

What are these questions are we talking about here? Well, some very basic human questions. Take for example, a couple of guys come to your house, take out a revolver, keep it on the table & says, ‘we are hungry’. What will you do? Even if you don’t have enough for yourself, you will feed those guys I guess. After all, it does not make much sense to argue with people who carry guns, does it? After they leave, the police come and pick you up. Reasons? – ‘giving food and shelter to terrorists!’

Whenever we talk of terrorism, we know the point of view of the terrorists. After all, they survive on propaganda. The people opposing them also have no option but to counter those propagandas, so we know about their point of view as well. But what gets lost in this crossfire of propagandas is the point of view of the common man – in spite of being the vast majority, who have long lost their voices.

This, unfortunately, is true in any place that is facing the problem of terrorism – whether it is Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kashmir or Assam. Yes, in this film I’m talking about Assam as I know her better than any other place. But the story of as the River flows could very well have been a story in any part of this world. The story of my films protagonist Sudakshina could very well have been my story. Or yours.

One question remains, ‘how do I ensure that those questions which we ask as the River flows reach the like minded people?’ For any small film, that is a big question. That’s when I had decided, hesitantly, to reach out to you. But the overwhelming response from you all from all parts of the globe told me I should have never worried…

As you joined the group, my film has become our film. So let’s take this journey together for the next few months. We don’t know where our final destination lies- but we can promise ourselves that this will be one beautiful journey…

Let’s interact, share ideas, have healthy arguments, spread the word. The responsibility lies with all of us to ensure that like minded people becomes our co-traveller in this journey by joining the group as the River flows…

Together we are not alone.

Bidyut

10 thoughts on “notes from bidyut

  1. I am really inspired with your writing talents and also with the structure to your weblog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Either way stay up the excellent high quality writing, it’s uncommon to see a great weblog like this one these days..

  2. dear n respected sir……….i was born in majuli n has lived their for 15 years.currently in greater noida…………

    i m really very excited and overwhelmed by your work.being born and brought up in majuli it will be really one of my finest day to watch this film.i m eagerly waiting for its release…….can u pls tell me something regarding the releasing dates

    u ve done an awesome work for assam(specially majuli) and its people.i’ll always pray to god for ur success

    Anil

  3. HI!
    I have great respect for your cause……and work. Your article on River reminded me of my mom who made me write a easy on River when I was in jr school. I am a north eastern but out of N/E after my school.
    seem we have one subject in common………mighty Brahmaputra. I know all the agony people have to go through……..
    Although I am also covering other rivers ( specially in upper Assam in Kaziranga and Taiphake vill etc) too for my research.
    and the havoc created by the rivers. Solution is there but over looked. Elephants, Rhinos and Tigers (last week 7 tigers are killed) are perishing due to flood and never ending greed of our wonderful groups of poachers and its supporters.

    But at the moment I am busy with Himalaya. I am helping organic farmers and their causes. I wish you all the best.
    Best Regards
    Mamoni

  4. Dear Bidyut,
    I want to be a part of the struggle where The HUMANITY is endangered. I believe in FREEDOM with dignity & respect to all living beings on this Earth, ofcourse with understanding of Social Harmony.
    Its really nice that the person like you came forward with such story and now it has become our story. Hence forth dont forget me to allow myself to be a part of such Struggle which directly or indirectly will fight against INJUSTICE in LIFE. We are together as we were in ‘Gardenia’ with a PURPOSE. I am going to be a part of next project in all aspects.

    “SOCIAL HARMONY WITH INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT…
    ..DEVELOPMENT WITH JUSTICE AND FREEDOM”…
    What i believe in !!!

    Its nice to get back again with a PURPOSE.

    Regards,
    ASHUTOSH

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