Baandhon and Assamese Cinema

BOBBBEETA SHARMA, Chairperson, Assam State Film Finance & Development Corporation is optimistic about their new release 'Baandhon'. An exclusive interview with The Thumb Print

At a time when the Assamese film industry is facing a serious crisis in terms of commercial viability and lack of audience response, Jahnu Barua's 'Bandhon' created history by becoming the first Assamese feature film to be released nationally. Do you see some hope for the Assamese film industry now?

I have always been optimistic about the future of the industry. The government has also been taking a few good steps in trying to help the industry develop . And I hope the path taken by Baandhon will be followed by others as well.

What is the USP of the film? How did it manage to get a national release under PVR Director's Rare?

Since it is a film directed by Jahnu Barua and he has directed an Assamese film after nine long years it has generated interest in the film. And unlike other films of Jahnu Barua it uses humour in the initial stages of the film. But a story that starts as a domestic squabble between an elderly couple ends on more universal human story. These are the USP of the film.

As a producer it has been our constant effort to see how far we can take our films to a wider audience.  So I was discussing with my husband Chinmoy who is in the film business on how get a release outside Assam. He told me that there is an Assamese person in PVR and that I could approach him. Chinmoy put me across to Shiladitya Bora on the phone and when I broached the topic of Baandhon Shiladitya was very supportive and he informed me that he is heading the PVR Director's Rare (we didn't even know that PVR had something like that!) and would be able to do it.  Our MD Nazreen Ahmed co-ordinated daily with Bora so that we can keep up with the deadlines! Shiladitya then contacted Jahnu Barua and made arrangements for publicity etc. We gave him an official letter from our office and this set the ball rolling. Interestingly we communicated throughout on phone and email and had not met even once and it was only when we were in Delhi for the premiere that we actually met! Meanwhile we approached ONGC for sponsoring the premier event and they very graciously supported us as well.

When Assam State Film (Finance and Development Corporation) Limited decided to produce this film, what kind of things did you have in mind?

Since Assamese cinema was going through a bad phase when i had joined the organisation as a chairperson. I discussed with many in the industry on how to revive the industry. One demand the industry had was construction of mini cinema halls in small towns and rural areas and another was to make small films with government aid. Hence as a chairperson I approached Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi with a proposal for fund for film production. He was very supportive and made an announcement that every year a sum of Rupees Two crores would be given to ASFFDC production of films. Consequently in 2010 the corporation got the fund and we decided to make films. Meanwhile the department of culture also took up the matter of having mini halls with private entrepreneurs and I think it is under process.

What are the future plans of the Corporation now? Does it plan to promote other talented directors?

When we got the funds we decided to make one film with ASFFDC as the sole producer and a few other films on a public private partnership basis. So accordingly we planned Baandhon as our own production and four other films on a ppp mode on a 60-40 ratio. ASFFDC will invest 60% and private producer will invest 40%. Accordingly we advertised in newspapers fro scripts and investment from private producers. On this basis we have commissioned four other films Shringkhal by Prabin Hazarika, Raag by Rajni Basumatary, Paani by Jadumoni Dutta, TRP by Mridul Gupta. Post production work is going on for Shringkhal. Raag and Paani. Our plan now is to send these films in the festival circuit and release them once they are complete.

Since the government had made announcements that we would get funds every year we hope to get the funds for this year as we could not get in the last two years in 2011 and 2012.  So once the funds for 2013 arrive we hope to make more films and keep the flow of making films continuous.

Do you think the national success of one film can steer the course of the film industry in Assam?

Assamese cinema need more visibility as no film can today survive with only a limited audience. We need to take our films beyond the borders of Assam and even international. If we can watch French, German or Chinese films with subtitles or even dubbed versions why not Assamese films?

What do you think ails the Assamese film industry?

Good scripts and lack of organised finance and distribution system. Films are still being made on shoestring budgets as the returns are very low. We cannot make high budget films as there is no guarantee that the producer will get back the money that has been invested. The industry says that we need more halls in rural areas there are more Assamese people. This is no doubt true. But the condition of the halls that are existing also need to improve as people obviously want a good environment to enjoy a film otherwise they are more than willing to wait and watch a film when it has a tv release.  Moreover we need to think out of the box to make Assamese cinema more visible worldwide .

As far as commercial films are concerned a few producers are trying to make films but they have not been able to attract the audience in the way that is expected. There is a lack of good scripts. I feel that we cannot compete with Hindi films as far as budget is concerned. But we can try to make small films with good content that has the Assamese essence and is not a bad copy of a Bollywood film. Nowadays digital technology has made it viable to make films with small budget and we need to explore this area. But whatever it is the most important thing is a good solid script and content.

How do you see the potential of cinema in the entire Northeastern region?

I feel that there is great potential. Apart from Assam and Manipur and to some extent in Meghalaya where they are making digital films, the northeastern region has no film industry as such. This is an area that needs more inputs from the Government as well as private enterprise. Films are not only a source of entertainment but can be a tool to give exposure to different cultures and traditions. There has always been a thought in my mind that since we are ethnically so close to the south East Asian countries we can perhaps have some kind of a " film fraternity' of the north eastern states and the south East Asian countries and have some link with them through films. I have been told my many that Korean films are very popular in Manipur and Nagaland and television channels that beam serials form Korea are very popular. The northeast can be a shooting paradise for films of the south East Asian countries and we can also have festivals and and exchange of films and ideas with them. I think films can be a very big linking factor from the cultural point of view in the look east policy that was announced by the Government of India long back!

 Find us on facebook: facebook.com/TheThumbPrintMag

Also read: Reviving Celluloid