Profession | Producer, Writer, Actor, Director
Rajni Basumatary is a multi-faceted and well-known personality from Assam. She has acted in quite a few Bollywood and Assamese films including Mary Kom and The Shaukeens. The Assamese film Raag was her directorial debut, it was released in the year 2014. She also wrote the script and produced the award winning Assamese film Anurag.
Producer, writer, actor, director, you have juggled many roles. How do you keep a balance and which of the above do you find the most interesting?
I started my film career as a script writer with Anurag some 13 years ago. I not only wrote it but also produced it along with another producer. In order to learn work, as I had no formal training in filmmaking, I assisted our director, Bidyut Chakravarty. Anurag and its director Bidyut da had become school for me. Now you see, I juggled multiple roles from my very first film.
Since many of us are not privileged enough to have connection with big studios, we end up making small budget films. This means, we have to learn all aspects of filmmaking, beginning from fund raising to negotiating with mostly unreasonable exhibitors. Regarding my foray as a full-fledged actor, it just happened. The casting director of Mary Kom came across my picture. She asked me to audition. I did so and got the role. Prior to that, I had done cameos in both of my films Anurag and Raag. I enjoy being in front of the camera and behind it.
Do you think it’s hard from people from Northeast India to make it big in mainstream Bollywood?
As an actor or as a filmmaker? Well, why they don’t make big in Bollywood as a filmmaker, I don’t know the answer for sure. May be they haven’t tried hard enough. Correct me if I am missing out names but I only know of two names from the Northeast India who have made one or two Bollywood films – late Dr Bhupen Hazarika and Jahnu Baruah (Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara). Regarding the actors not making big there, sorry but mainstream Bollywood filmmakers lack vision or courage to gamble on new ideas. This includes taking in faces that don’t look like most Indians actors. I know of exquisitely beautiful actresses from our region, trying hard to make it big in Bollywood but not succeeding as yet.
What is the hardest project you have worked on till date?
Raag has been my toughest project so far. I not only wrote the script but also directed and co-produced the film. It’s not easy for small budgeted filmmakers to concentrate in creative departments while trying to manage its finance. It was produced by Assam State Films (Finance & Development) Corp. The promoters had good intentions but like other government concerns, they were too slow in everything. After the film was made, a new boss had joined in, who was even worse. We lost out on many marketing opportunities because of his lethargy. It’s a very discouraging situation to be in. My sincere advice to other filmmakers is, either produce your own films or get a private producer. Try to stay away from government bodies, especially if you are the co-producer. Your money and effort will never be respected. Private producers will, at least work hard to get their money back and co-operate with you in marketing the film.
Any interesting projects you are working on right now?
I am writing a script for a Boro film at the moment. I am a slow writer – usually take a few years to complete a script. Once it’s ready, I will make it. I am not sure how I am going to raise the finance for it yet. Finance is always an issue for us filmmakers. Earlier, I had written a script on ‘witch-hunting’ to be filmed in Boro but had to abandon the idea to film it due to lack of interested producers. But I am determined to ensure that my current script gets filmed.
What is the last movie that you watched in the cinema hall?
I watched Force 2, a Bollywood film in Bangkok two days ago. I was not so impressed by it though due to the lame ways they showed the characters.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My husband and I watch one movie almost each day, either in the theaters or at home. This is how we relax. We also play board gamers like chess, words scrabble and the like whenever we are free.
One movie that you would have loved to been a part of.
Nothing in particular. But I love Vishal Bharadwaj kind of movies. So I think it would have been interesting to be part of his upcoming film, Rangoon. Due to my husband, Shirish’s posting abroad, I am not in India for a few years. So, it’s not practical for me to have ambition to act in films for the time being.
If you had to describe yourself in three words – what would they be?
Sincere, fighter, and unconventional.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
When I was growing up, I used to write on great people’s lives by reading encyclopaedias and visiting museums. I wrote on Van Gogh, Rambrandt and Karl Marx etc. I used to also write travelogues after visiting places and publish them in periodicals and dailies. One day, Mr D N Bezbaruah, the then editor of the Sentinel told me, ‘If you need to sustain yourself as a writer, get into creative and analytical writing’. I followed his advice to a certain extent. Another piece of advice I have never forgotten but yet to follow up with is Mamoni Raisom Goswami baideu’s advice, ‘Rajni, do not write only about the lives of other societies. Do write about your own people and society.’ God willing, I am and I will Mamoni baideu!