It must be difficult to follow in the footsteps of a family member who has already laid out the foundation for the field. However, Monjul Baruah seems to be doing better than most. His uncle, Jahnu Barua, has won multiple National Awards for his contribution to the Assamese and Indian film industry as a whole.
Monjul Baruah now wears the proverbial directorial outfit in order to pay homage and continue the family legacy. His second film ‘Kaneen’ seems to be a right step in that direction. The film itself is an independent film and is based on a novel by Dr Rita Chowdhury. Monjul explains the title of the film and how the film happened to him.
“’Kaneen’ is an Assamese word, which stands for the children born out of wedlock. A producer had seen the teaser for the film at the special screening of my first film. He had actually pitched the idea to me first. By that time, the story was already on my mind. I just acted out on whatever ideas I had in my head at the time, which results in the making of the film.”
We try to target the Assamese community in the global audience. That ranges in at about 25 lakhs. If we reach them, our market increases quite a bit.
Although he has been exposed to the ways of direction and film production before, hands-on experience of the rigours of the process to prove to be a better option. He talks about how long it took to complete the shooting of the film and gives us a tentative release date.
“It took me about thirty days to shoot the film. The film is ready for release. We’re sending it around the festival circuit, after which we’ll think about releasing it. It might release in 2019.”
Keeping his words in mind, it is only logical that the team would have to think of alternatives in order to gain some exposure.
“We are thinking about digital platforms. Two of our films are on Netflix. So we are recovering through that. Amazon and Netflix are very selective in their process though. So, that isn’t easy either. Even YouTube is fine for viewers, but it’s not financially sound as an option for the producers.”
If we take ‘Mission China’ by Zubeen Garg for example, he’s a huge star in Assam. Whether the film is good or bad, that takes a backseat. He can attract the audience just by his star power.
Although there are no direct commercial advantages of sending movies to film festival circuits, there are quite a few other advantages, as stated by Monjul.
“There are advantages, of course. There is a possibility of acquiring a producer for the global market. That is why we aim for the global market more than ever before. But we try to make good content so that it reaches out to normal audiences as well.”
One would think about how a regional film from an Indian state would fare when thrown into the pits of the global film industry. Monjul, however, gives us an idea.
“We try to target the Assamese community in the global audience. That ranges in at about 25 lakhs. If we reach them, our market increases quite a bit. The community associations can often reach out for quality content. If we provide that, our financial recovery works as well.”
About thirty Assamese films are made annually. Out of these, at least 10 are made professionally. The others are amateur attempts. The censor board certifies around 20-22 films.
The taste of the audience does come into play, and matters for the success of the film. ‘Mission China’ by Zubeen Garg has elements of a masala film, as opposed to other regional films. It has fared well when it comes to the commercial scene. Monjul gives us his take on this case:
“Of course it depends on that (the audience’s taste). If we take ‘Mission China’ by Zubeen Garg for example, he’s a huge star in Assam. Whether the film is good or bad, that takes a backseat. He can attract the audience just by his star power. The comparison wouldn’t be right.”
“See, a lot of people are saying that films from the Northeast region have started churning out good content since around 2015. Well, it did not start then but the process definitely sped up by 2015. Assamese film industry is about 80 years old. Initially, it was really good. Then the process slowed down. But it’s pacing again. In 2017 alone, ten members from the Assamese film industry received National Awards. Our work as filmmakers has been made easier due to the sacrifices made by the previous filmmakers. This trend will continue.”
My paternal uncle, Jahnu Barua was a filmmaker. The year I was born in was the same year he won national award for his debute feature film Aparoopa
As a region which is often overlooked, the North-East can actually boast of great cinematic content. The only problem lies in exposure. This is why most directors and actors have reiterated on the importance on cross-culture cinema. Monjul is of the same taste.
“Yes, that is a very good idea. Filmmakers from different states help each other out in different areas. Even in the film festivals, there’s a package of North-Eastern films. Assamese films are now being targeted to the corporations. The problem is again with the exposure. That is why the audience doesn’t get to see much of cross-culture films. We don’t get primetime, theatres, or proper time slots. If the awareness was increased through students as well, then that would help us. Maybe the market will change in ten years.”
“The number of Assamese films was much lower before this. But currently, about thirty films are made annually. Out of these, at least ten are made professionally. The others are amateur attempts. The censor board certifies around twenty or twenty-two films.”
As stated earlier, Monjul comes from a film-oriented background, with his uncle setting the standard in Assam and in the National circuit. But, each person has his own unique story. Monjul is no different.
“I could say the process of becoming a filmmaker started at birth. I was born in a filmmaker’s house. My paternal uncle, Jahnu Barua was a filmmaker. The year I was born in was the same year in which my uncle, Jahnu Barua for his debut film ‘Aparoopa’ was awarded on a national stage for his filmmaking efforts. His third film ‘Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai’ won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film. So it won’t be wrong to say that I’ve learnt what I could from him. I worked with him since 1997. For about five films, I’ve been his assistant director.”
As a filmmaker who has made his mark on the Assamese film industry, he has a few things to say to the upcoming filmmakers.
“I would just like to state that if one does pursue this route, you can’t run after glamour alone. The road is very difficult. it’s like a pressure cooker situation, the more you work under pressure, feel the brunt of everything related to the film be pre-production, production or post-production. It is only then you as a filmmaker will shine. Try to pitch the film in a film studio. If that is not possible, try to work as an assistant director to understand the language of the film.”
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