A promising filmmaker from Assam, Mukul Haloi talks about his growing up years, creative influences, current projects and much more
How was it like growing up in the 90s in Assam? Tell us a little about your early influences and what led you to pursuing filmmaking.
I grew up in a small village called Balitara in Nalbari, Assam. It is picturesque and quiet, much like any other Assamese village, with the Pagladia River flowing past. We were three brothers, my eldest brother Mridul is now an established poet in Assamese. So, the environment for creative engagement was already ripe at home. There was a time when poets (mostly Mridul’s friends) from all corners of the State used to drop in and discuss literature and the politics of the day. I think they were my earliest creative influences. But, I wasn’t quite sure of pursuing cinema at that time. The confidence of engaging with cinema only grew stronger when I went to Delhi University for higher studies.
There was no electricity in most parts of our village till 2008. I remember how people used to hire a black and white TV and a CD player on special occasions, such as a wedding. They were my only windows to the world of cinema. Those midnight sessions of film viewing planted the love of cinema deeply in me.
Your latest film Sorotor Aabelibur (Days of Autumn) won the best director award for you at the 10th International Documentary & Short Film Festival of Kerala. Tell us a little about the short film. When do you plan to screen it in the Northeast?
Sorotor Aabelibur was my second year dialogue film at Film and Television Institute of India. It is known as a dialogue film project where the main orientation is for dialogue writing. It was completely shot inside the historic Prabhat Studio. We had built a set with references of photographs of my own house at Balitara. This film is quite personal like any other film of mine. I tried to delve into the solitary lives of our parents whom we left at home for the purpose of higher studies or jobs, etc. My own parents were the model for my research. I was extensively shooting them whenever I was at home, to get a true idea or feeling of what their lives are in the absence of their children. Through the visuals and sounds of the film, we somehow could manage to capture that solitary and mundane way of life present in an Assamese village. Veteran theatre actors Paban Phukan and Kalpana Phukan acted as my father and mother respectively. Since they had also lived a life of solitariness, they could really get into the soul of the film.
Including IDSFFFK, the film has got three awards and has been screened in many festivals. The recent screening happened in Winton, Australia where I was invited for a filmmaking program by Griffith University. I would love to screen the film in the Northeast whenever I get a proper platform or an invite by any film society or institution.
In a review about your earlier film, On Memory and Forgetting, the writer spoke about your cinematic influences, most prominently Andrei Tarkovsky. What are your thoughts on this. Who are your other influences, both cinematic and non-cinematic.
Right! One of my friends had written a review about my other short film On Memory and Forgetting where she mentioned cinematic similarities with Tarkovsky. I am a huge admirer of the Russian master; the way he had fused personal dreams and memories with a social-political history of a nation, I think there will be only a few films akin to its power. Two of my earlier films at FTII had strands from personal memory and the images were a bit dreamlike. That’s what Rini must have talked about in her review. The other two masters whose work I refer to all the time are Yasujiro Ozu and Nuri Ceylan .
Apart from films, I’m a great admirer of the writings of John Berger and Milan Kundera and Assamese poet Nilamani Phukan.
Tell us a little about your upcoming films.
Apart from two short film projects at FTII, I am working on a feature-length non-fiction film about growing up in Assam in the 1990s. This film Loralir Sadhukotha (Tales from Our Childhood) was funded by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. It is an attempt to recollect and reconstruct the memory of the 1990s in regard to ULFA’s national freedom struggle. I, as a filmmaker, attempted to talk to my friends who have grown up in that decade and also to my parents who had seen the violence from close proximity.
Do you think film festivals in the Northeast can create a platform for young budding filmmakers of the region? How important a role do they play?
A good international film festival in the Northeast is very important at this time. Though there are few film festivals in the region, but the curating has not been of an appreciable standard. I think a good festival with good curation will show the path to young filmmakers from the region. One has to be careful about instituting a festival. Because in the time of mushrooming of festivals all over the world, it’s very hard to create and curate a festival as a meaningful platform for cinema.
Top 5 Favourite Films
Kasba by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Life on Earth by Bderhmane Sisako
Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu
Subornorekha by Rittwick Ghatak
I t has to be my village and the place (Nalbari) where I grew up
Cinema is …
It is a voice for people like us whose voice is as lonely as a cricket
One-Line Advice to Upcoming Filmmakers
To be sensitive to the people around us and our environment, it is from here that the stories shall emerge