As the 600-strong audience gave a standing ovation to ‘Bornodi Bhotiai’ after its screening at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival last year, Anupam Kaushik Borah knew that his film had arrived. The actor-filmmaker from Majuli, who is incidentally the first National School of Drama (NSD) graduate from the river island wanted to gauge people’s response to the film in Assam before it officially releases in theatres on May 3.
‘The film was screened at Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) last year where it got rave reviews. But I wanted to see how people of Assam would react to the film. I am very satisfied with the feedback I have got after the BVFF screening. People were laughing throughout the film, which shows that they have connected with it. This makes me really confident about the film’s chances when it opens in theatres,’ mentioned Borah.
Making of the Film
Majuli, the world’s largest river island has a mystique quality about it which has always enchanted outsiders. Whenever this geographical area comes up in discussions, it is either for the perennial damage caused by flood and erosion or for being the seat of Vaishnavite culture. However, beyond these two extremes, there is another Majuli comprising of simple people with their hopes and aspirations and stories to tell. Borah wanted to capture just that. ‘When people talk about Majuli, it is either about banpani (flood) or xatras. So, I wanted to portray a Majuli beyond that. I had ideas for about ten films set in Majuli, ranging from comedy to thriller. There was the idea for a crossover film about a love story between a girl from Poland and a boy from Majuli. Finally, I zeroed on this script.’
The movie is a multi-layered narrative with a tinge of dark humour and ample dose of magic realism. Though the story is fictional, Borah says the characters and incidents have been borrowed from real life events that have taken place in the island over the years. The story is about four educated youth who are planning to start a goat rearing farm. They have another thing in common–all of them are in love with the same girl. However, all of them suffer from a sense of indecisiveness as none of them really try to pursue the girl.
‘For people here, their exposure to Bollywood defines their perception of love. So, they even dream about love in a very unrealistic manner. There is a strange lack of initiative among them which I have tried to portray in my film. Despite being smitten by the girl, none of them even try to get her phone number,’ reveals Borah, who himself plays the character of Luit, one of the youth. Borah had earlier acted in films like Bokul, Curiosity Shop, Noi and Suspended Inspector Boro.
Actor-filmmaker Kenny Basumatary, presently basking in the glory of his recent hit Suspended Inspector Boro plays the character of a veterinary official posted to the island. Speaking about his experience, he shares, ‘I had never been to Majuli before. So, when Anupam offered this film over phone, I decided to go there. Arriving at Majuli after a 6-hour long bus journey to Jorhat and a ferry ride from there drained me completely. When I was given the script, I thought I will read 5 to 6 pages and go to sleep. But the script was so engrossing that I read 60 pages. The scenes and lines were hilarious. I am so glad that Anupam could translate the pages from the script on celluloid as well. The humour in the film is unique; it is real and at the same time very entertaining. It is not something that is easy to pull off.’
Cause for Worry
Despite being confident about his film, Anupam Kaushik Borah is perturbed about something. In the past, many Assamese films with good content failed to survive the onslaught of Bollywood and Borah feels something like that might happen with his film as well. ‘I was associated with the distribution of Suspended Inspector Boro to see how this things work. And, my experience was not great. In Assam, cinema hall owners are reluctant to give shows to Assamese films. An Assamese film gets hardly 40-50 screens in the State which is a shame. People did turn up to watch Suspended Inspector Boro, that was evident from so many shows going houseful. But barring one 7 pm show in Cinepolis and later one 8.15 pm show in Anuradha, the film didn’t get any favourable timings. Most of the shows were given to Kedarnath.’
Borah would need INR 40 lakh to break even with the film. ‘I was helped a lot by people during the shoot. I didn’t have to pay rent for the spaces used for shooting. People of Majuli were also very kind to provide food for the entire shooting unit. 105 out of 110 people in the cast and crew were locals. So, in that way, lot of expenditure for the production could be curtailed. After watching our film at MAMI, Debojit Changmai offered to do the final sound mixing in his studio. Joi Barua himself offered to sing a song for our film. But despite everything, we spent INR 30 lakh while making the film. Now, we will need to spend another INR 10 lakh on publicity.
Last year, Assamese films like Village Rockstars and Suspended Inspector Boro managed to grab good openings and footfall increased due to positive word of mouth. The hype created around Village Rockstars was because it had won the Swarna Kamal for being the Best Feature Film in the National Awards and also for being the official entry from India to the Academy Awards. Suspended Inspector Boro, on the other hand was awaited because it was coming from the team behind Local Kung Fu franchise which has achieved cult status in the State. But what will be the USP of Bornodi Bhotiai? As Kenny Basumatary says, ‘Maybe, it should be promoted as this magical comedy about Majuli.’
By Nabarun Guha
The feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast January 2019 issue