"We should go by quality only, not language"
In a welcome move, 11-time National Award-winning director Jahnu Barua's Assamese film Baandhon will see a pan-India release on July 5 to become the first film from the state to achieve this. Ruchika Kher spoke to the prodigious filmmaker about his cinematic journey, his recent award-winning film and the struggle to take regional cinema to mainstream audiences
Before we entered Jahnu Barua’s quaint one-room office in Andheri’s Famous Studios, we were expecting a man with an intimidating aura and larger-than-life persona; after all, he is the winner of 11 National Awards. But, we were pleasantly surprised to meet a warm, unassuming 60-year-old filmmaker, whose humility was so endearing and infectious that it stayed with us, even after our session was over. Excerpts from the interview:
What really drafted you towards the story of Baandhon?
When 26/11 took place, I was in Goa attending the IFFI festival and was shocked with what happened. I thought that since this subject is so strong, there will be many films that will be made on this issue, but surprisingly there weren’t any for two years. My wife suggested that I should take the mantle, but I felt that making an Assamese film on this topic wouldn’t have a great impact. But then I gave it a second thought and decided to make the film. My main focus behind it was that terror attacks keep happening around the world and the common man continues to be the victim.
It is very tough to get a pan-India release for a regional film, especially films from the North East? Tell us about the struggle to obtain a mainstream release?
Earlier, it was difficult to even think of releasing a film outside your own region. But over the years, there has been plenty of awareness and consciousness among cine lovers across India. They are looking for good content, irrespective of the language. It’s why PVR came forward to release our film nationwide. Things have improved but there’s a long way to go.
What else can be done to bring regional films to the mainstream?
Long back, huge damage had been done. I don’t know who did it; it was to categorise films as regional or mainstream just because some films emerged from a particular region and were made in a language that wasn’t Hindi. Cinema is cinema, it has a story to tell, which is universal, and so it should not be bracketed. Since it was called regional cinema, the so-called mainstream audience, didn’t want to see it. That was a very unfortunate thing to happen. It’s how people in general are missing out on a lot of good cinema as some of the best films are being made in the so-called regional cinema. Mainstream audiences don’t get to see them and it’s partly their fault. In a country like ours, we could never develop a system, where people in general could chase the best. If it’s a Malayalam film, a Gujarati won’t look at it just because it’s not in his/her language and vice-versa. This kind of attitude kills everything. Now, we are more evolved; we must realise that we need to see the best and we should go by quality only, not language. I make Assamese films but I see films from other regions as well. The best content in Indian cinema comes from different regions and I feel pity for that section of the Indian audience that misses out on this.
After Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, you planned to make Har Pal, which didn’t take off. But you haven’t taken up any other Hindi project since then, why so?
I was banking on Har Pal but unfortunately, because of few factors, it didn’t take off. People bracketed me as an art filmmaker, unfit for commercial cinema, so I decided to make Har Pal, which was different from what I’ve done before. It would have served like an image breaker. But sadly, it didn’t work out. The producer is reluctant to take it up again and I don’t want to pressurise him. This apart, I have been working on an Indo-British project and there is a lot of work one needs to do in such projects. Also, I’m very slow and I take one project at a time. So, I have been working on it since 2008. It’s ready now and by 2014, we should be able to start it. The other aspect is that for the last 10 years, I have been associated with a lot of organisations in my state, where I try to help women, children, the youth and children with special needs. That also takes a lot of my time but I enjoy it. It’s like a break for me. So, all of this had kept me occupied. But I might be starting work on a Hindi film, which I should be able to announce at end of 2013.
How did you get into filmmaking?
As a child I was never interested in filmmaking. The only experience that I had that time of watching a film was under the open skies in the tea estates. A van used to come, put up a projector and show the film. More than the film, I was fascinated by the technology. Then, while attending college in Guwahati, apart from regular Hindi masala films, I got to see very good international classics. One of the Romanian films that I saw, A Bomb Was Stolen, inspired me to get into films. I was a Science stream student and wanted to be a nuclear physicist. But the film made me understand some elements of subjects (in the Science stream) so simply. I realised the power of this medium, and that’s how I got interested in filmmaking. My parents were miles away from cinema but they were very progressive and supported my career move. They were keen that I give my 100 percent in whatever I do. The first film they saw was the first film I made -- Aparoopa.
Did you know?
1988 was a big year for Jahnu Barua’s Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai at the Locarno Film Festival. Not only did it get a Special Mention in the Prize section of the Ecumenical Jury but it also bagged the Silver Leopard in that year.
And the story goes…
Baandhon (Assamese: Waves of Silence) is based on the fictional story of an old couple in Guwahati who lose their son and daughter-in-law in an accident. Their only reason to live becomes their grandson who studies Engineering in Mumbai. But unfortunately, the grandson goes missing. The couple are forced to come to Mumbai to look for him only to discover that he was one of the victims of the 26/11 terror attacks.
2012 the year in which Jahnu Barua was conferred upon with the first Bhupen Hazarika National Award for his contribution to cinema