Conversation on films – Bollywood bulldoze regional cinema

Does Bollywood bulldoze regional cinema was discussed in The Thumb Print Conversations recently. A report

An enthusiastic cine lover came all the way from Sorbhog in Assam’s Barpeta district to take part in this conversation on “Does Bollywood bullzone regional cinema?”. The Thumb Print Conversation, a part of the series organized by the webzine The Thumb Print, was held at the conference hall of the University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya (USTM). It is located in the picturesque hillock near the 9 mile area in Guwahati adjacent to the Regional Insitute of Science and Technology (RIST).

The conversation was prompted by the unceremonious ouster of the Assamese film Raag by director Rajni Basumatary from the cinema halls of Assam as they had to make way for the Bollywood film ‘Gundaay’. Cine lovers feel that exhibitors and distributors must exhibit some patience towards Assamese cinema, or any regional cinema for that matter. Second week is a must. The logic is simple: big Bollywood films have ample budget hence they promote their films aggressively for months even before the film hits the screen. So, the opening at the box office is usually good and the pickup is faster. But a regional cinema is dependent on ‘word- of-mouth’ publicity and it takes time to get spread. The producers of regional cinema have to have sense of ownership, fighting spirit and dedication towards their films. It’s not enough to ‘produce’ a film. Producers are like parents. They need to fight the forces that come between your film and your audience. These were some of the issues that discussed in The Thumb Print Conversation in Guwahati on February 15.

“We did not need all the shows but just one of the 4-5 shows. But we were unceremoniously elbowed out by the lobby of distributors,” she said. She added, “We need the system, political system and the state government to make atleast one show available for regional cinema. We should not be bullied out.”

Students and academic members listened with rapt attention as actor Zerifa Wahid pointed out, “We need a strong film policy looking at the geographical variations in the state. A policy will give some direction to the cinema hall owners on how to run a regional film. We have to cultivate the habit of watching cinema in our own language.”

Another member of team Raag, Kenny Basumatary said, “Raag, which was looking good for a second week in some theatres, has been taken off completely. The funny thing is, this is a film produced by the state government. If the government itself can’t make its own film go into a second week where it did good business, if it let’s its own film be steamrolled by some distributor in Kolkata?”

Lauding the film, a school teacher Ziaul Islam said, “Raag is a film which teaches us the real melody of life, with a strong script and screenplay it really touches the strings of my heart. The best scene of the film for me was the time when Iqbaal saab was parting with his wife. Background score of the film was terrific. I personally feel that Raag can change the dimension of Assamese film making and viewing.”

Those present also discussed how many district headquarters do not even have a cinema hall. And people in the cities do not bother to go and watch an Assamese film. The film industry in the state witnessed many ups and downs and the extremist ban on Hindi films. Many cinema hall owners complained that some distributors stopped giving them good Hindi films as they run only Assamese films and the quality of their audience deteriorated.

Rajni Basumatary said, “We feel victimized. Raag had a potential to run atleast in the cities as it had a contemporary theme for a more evolved audience. A buzz was just being created when it was taken off the cinema halls in Assam.”

Some suggested that maybe social media could be used to popularize regional cinema. But the consensus was that there is a need to discuss these issues even more in order to revive the Assamese film industry.