Life in Unchartered Majuli

MEANDERING MAJULI

Filmmaker Bidyut Kotoky’s crew was greeted by a grenade at Majuli invoking memories of Sanjoy Ghosh’s tragic killing. ‘There is no proper road, staying arrangement or electricity – why shoot in Majuli?’- was the most frequent question Kotoky had encountered

 

astheriverflowYou have been to many places in your life. And met many people. When you look back to the memories you have created over the years, some place and people takes precedent over others. One can’t pin point the reason behind it…it is generally not the most famous of places or the most prominent of people who stays with us – but they have something beyond these obvious things… certain something’s which can not exactly be described in words. In my case, it is the river island of Majuli and its inhabitant which occupies a pride of place, near the very top of my unwritten chart…

 

Nearest to Church, far from God – the saying was never more apt than when we, the people of Assam, discuss Majuli. We know that it is one of the largest inhabited river islands of the world, we know about her as a living archive of priceless cultural and heritage and we definitely know that the river Brahmaputra is surely eating the island away towards extinction -but please don’t ask us whether we have visited her… I’m ashamed to say, I was one of those majority of Assamese till that wintry afternoon of 1997… and proud to admit, that was a thing of the past…

 

Whether for the shoot of ‘as the River flows’ or some other documentaries, I’m been fortunate to visit her a number of time in the last decade and a half…and to come back enriched after every visit… the more I’ve experienced her, the more wonderstruck I became of her spirit! Imagine living in a place where the only certainty is that the devastation created by the monsoon is totally uncertain from year to year? Of staying in a place which for 3 months a year is bound to be under flood water? Of not knowing whether the place in which one is standing will be there tomorrow or will be eroded by the river? And ever smiling, enjoying life in spite of them! … You really need to have a heart …

 

When we decided to shoot the film ‘as the River flows’ in Majuli, many people were skeptical -‘here is no proper road, staying arrangement or electricity – why shoot in Majuli?’- was the most frequent question I’ve encountered. And ‘even people from Guwahati don’t go to shoot in Majuli, why do you want to take a unit of 150 odd people from across the country?’- was another oft repeated one. Well, those questions have arisen because the people asking them have not experienced Majuli…

 

I can’t forget the night of 2nd of April, 2009 for the rest of my life…There was a grenade explosion in Majuli and due to the amount of rumor floating about the subject of our film, the police thought that we could have been the possible target. I was tensed – being the director and insisting on the shooting location, I was morally responsible for the safety of my team. And we were staying in the outskirt, with me being the only Assamese guy at that resort… I had decided that I need to shift the team to another one of our camp, which is in the middle of the town. As we were travelling out of the resort in our vehicle, I was surprised to find a score of village boys near the resort gate. Only latter on I realised that the entire youth population of the area have come over to give protection to us… after all, we were the guest of the village…

 

But, why that grenade was thrown? Everybody concerned, including the police, believed that the possible reason could be the strong rumor regarding the subject of our film…. It is a chapter many don’t want to re-open. And feel strongly enough, to the extent of throwing the first grenade at the ‘cultural capital’ of Assam in the three decade old history of insurgency – that’s too for scaring away a film crew! Many believed that subject of our film is based on Sanjoy Ghose…

 

He was born in 1959 at Nagpur and spent his childhood in Mumbai, Maharashtra. After his graduation in 1980, Sanjoy had definite admission in all the three then existing Indian Institute of Managements (IIM) – Ahmadabad, Bangalore and Calcutta. Joining the IIMs would have ensured very well paying corporate careers for him. Instead he opted to join the little known Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) in its very first batch.

 

After completing his MPhil from Oxford (1984), he started an NGO and began working in the Bikaner district of Rajasthan. Subsequently, he handed over the organization to his colleague and decided to move to the Majuli island of Assam with another NGO, AVARD on 1995. His parents weren’t very happy at this decision and when they tried to dissuade him from going to the terrorist ridden Assam, Sanjoy enquired – ‘then whose son will you send’?

 

On July 4th, 1997, Sanjoy Ghosh was abducted from Majuli. The United Liberation Front of Assam claimed responsibility for this act. Sanjoy never returned- many a debate and mystery still shrouds his disappearance.

 

In the late 90s, I had the opportunity to visit this river island quite a few times to shoot couple of documentaries. That was soon after the tragic disappearance of Sanjoy Ghose from Majuli. And like any other curious visitor, many a time I would talk to different people in Majuli about him… Unofficially. And without any scheme of thought – just plain curiosity. And what people had to say about Mr. Sanjoy Ghose – a person I never met- left a strong impression on my subconscious mind.

 

Almost half a decade later, when I sat down to write my first feature film, I realised that the research for the same has already been done- unknowingly…

 

Let me clarify one thing – ‘as the River flows’ have nothing to do with the disappearance of Sanjoy Ghose. The film is NOT based on his life. I hardly know anything about him to even think of attempting a film on his life.

 

I met his wife Sumita Ghose in Delhi before starting the film to clarify the same thing. And I wished, I could do the same to those who threw a grenade at us on that fateful night of April 2009 …

 

My take on this is simple – if a person like Sanjay Ghose existed, then somebody like Sridhar Ranjan – the protagonist of my film – could also have existed in Majuli. True, the film is inspired by the unfortunate disappearance of Sanjoy Ghose – but inspiration ends there. The entire story is totally fictitious – having no connection to any person dead or alive.

 

However, I do hope to come across people who are INSPIRED by the life of individuals like Sanjoy Ghose…

 

Bidyut Kotoky calls himself ‘ a dreamer, who makes film to live those dreams…and a reluctant writer forced to pick up the pen to try incite curiosity of people for experiencing those films…’. A ‘socio-political thriller, his bilingual feature film is in Hindi (as the River flows) and Assamese (ekhon nedekha nadir xipare)’