Friday, March 28, 2014

Films & Bhabendra Nath Saikia Utpal Datta A story of nature and humanity, rich in beauty and creativity, written on the screen by camera – that is my definition of a FILM. – B N Saikia It has been always the conventional idea that the film “Sandhyaraag” was the advent of Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia into the world of cinema, but on the contrary, that was only the beginning of his journey as a Film Director. He actually set foot into filmdom as an actor! Having essayed a role in the film “Sati Beula”, he marked his arrival into the world of Assamese cinema. But the underlying motive was not merely playing a role, but the lure of the mystical domain of cinema , the enigma , the ‘maya’ , were like magnets that drew this man into its stronghold . During this time he was a young student undergoing Post Graduation studies in the Presidency College, Calcutta ( now Kolkata ). He was intensely desirous of attending a film school, wherein he would be able to equip himself with adequate technical knowledge of cinema, and in particular his keen interest being Cinematography. Even while he went abroad for higher studies, he carried along with him his immense desire to study about cinema, but was not fortunate enough to make it happen. Later when he was working in the Sibsagar ( now Sivasagar) College, he penned down the script and assisted Parag Chaliha in the film “ Son Roop Neusi” , but all his dreams and aspirations were nipped at the bud as the film got shelved. Finally the day arrived when he took up the challenge of making “Sandhyaraag” in 1976. During the entire tenure of his days in the Presidency College and till the day he embarked into the making of “Sandhyaraag” – he had already carved a niche for himself as an eminent dramatist and novelist , having authored several landmark literary pieces, that won him great honour and accolades . In those days, he had little or aptly no connection with Assamese cinema , none of his writings conceded his allegiance and love for cinema, or the idea of ‘parallel’ cinema was yet unknown. Thus, mixed feelings of curiosity and apprehensiveness prevailed amidst the people when he announced the making of his first film. Everyone had one simple question in their minds- why does he want to make a film? He did not fit into the bracket who at that time were making films or were associated with films, so what was in his mind and why was he foraying into films , were the major issues of curiosity among the people. Was it because he intended to put across some inner feelings that resided deep in the recesses of his heart? But for that he was well equipped as a writer to express any such emotion, at minimum expense and effort , and thus why was he taking a huge risk knowing the mammoth expenditure that was associated with filmmaking ? This was a cause of widespread concern. It was , and to some extent is still , the general notion that a person without adequate resources of filmmaking or from a non- film background does not take up a risky gamble as that of making a film , until he is badly bitten by the film ‘bug’; and in all probability, Dr. Saikia was a prey to that very ‘bug’ ! His film obsession originated right since his youthful days , when on one occasion he went to the Nagaon cinema hall and watched the film “Shakuntala” ; he was deeply fascinated by this Hindi film which showed a magical and fantasy world of the fish that swallows the ring of the princess. During his days in Cotton College, he was a regular Hindi film enthusiast and an avid reader of the “ Film India”, a magazine that maintained a good dose of glam, glitz and gossip of Hindi filmdom. During his days as a student in Kolkata, despite that he was not actually in real contact or association with cinema, he expressed strong desire to study cinema, and even went to the extent of writing a story, inspired by the then box office hits, and present it before a Producer, Mr. Kashi Prasad Bihani . But when Dr. Saikia announced his own film later on , he was far away from the clutches of his youthful indulgence into flamboyant, commercial Hindi cinema. Thus, the most obvious question was- why the change? This change was the consequence of two major reasons –he was always clear on his subject and contents as a writer. It is easily derivable that his creative mind was gradually and imperceptibly maturing and further during his stay abroad, his creativity was undergoing transformation with great many innovative ways, where he was exposed to world cinema. Despite watching renowned films like “Wild Strawberries” by Ingmar Bergman and Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panshali” , he was not out of the way impressed by them nor it moved him enough to be inspired by them. He opined , ‘I had watched a lot of films during my stay abroad, but they did not have much impact on me. These films only strengthened my experiences just as much as the Hindi films I had watched in my youth had done’. But one of those many films that had impact on him, impressed and inspired him was “The Roof” , which he dreamt of remaking someday. The making of the film was not technically very appealing to him, but the subject and contents that in its truest form depicted humane emotions , moved him immensely. The ‘bug’ of creativity that bit him so early in life upholds two major aspects of his life. He was the kind of person who always was indulgent and lenient to his creative mind . Since childhood he absorbed himself in the magic of the play of light and shade, spent sleepless nights engrossed in watching “Bhaonas” , enrolled in music lessons during his youth, engaged himself in art , associated himself with amateur drama during his days as a Professor , directed mime shows, produced radio programs – all these reflect his search for resources that would satiate the creative mind of his . Filmmaking , was perhaps the other aspect of this search to keep the restless creative genius within him content. The filmmaker in Dr. Saikia was but a subtle blend of himself as a writer and dramatist. Through his stories, Dr. Saikia portrayed the humane face of the middle class in our society, the manifold emotions of this class- their happiness or sadness, rights and wrongs, fulfillments and losses - all came through his lucid writings in a broad perspective , with a unique style that solely belonged to him. Thus his films like “ Sandhyaraag”, “Anirbaan”, “Agnisnan”, “Kolahol”, “Sarathi” and “Itixakh”, which were based on his own novels, did not fail to bear testimony to his unique style and expression of human emotions in the most purest form even on the big screen. For his films , “ Abartan” and “Kaalsandhya” and short film on Small Savings, he is to be given all credit for writing the script and making these come alive on screen. Another profoundly significant film that he made , “Darpaharan” was based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore . The films “Sandhyaraag” and “Anirbaan” were scripted almost wholly in a story- centric manner. In these films, he did not deviate away from the story, but from “Agnisnan” , he did not much adhere to his original novel but found new cinematic language to make greater impact on his audience. He did not deviate from his unique subtlety or lucidity , but there was a relentless assertiveness and hard-hitting element throughout the film. Though his original story “Antareep” did have an aspect of rebellion and instinctive anger , yet it kept itself very much within the confinements of conventionalism and was traditionally unadventurous . This anger and assertiveness was however not new to this person , who had expressed it quite clearly in his story “ BaaliBhuj ” , showing that as and when required he would strengthen his grip on the reins of tender emotions and instead accommodate hardheartedness. Though Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia experimented with the form of a couple of his stories , yet he did not meddle with the basic dimension and clarity of them. But in case of cinema, he strongly changed the expression and demeanor of his stories on the screen, soon after “Agnisnan”. Though the film “Sarathi” was based on his story “Foundation” , yet it was miles apart from the original simple content and definitely was served in a different cinematic platter with an entirely innovative but complex expression and style – which clearly evolved out of the critical analysis of the socio-economic dilemmas in our society. Generally, his stories are simpler forms, and such hard-hitting philosophies of life are not his way of expressing certain dilemmas as such. Once he had forayed into films, his affinity to story writing dwindled in comparison and filmmaking took priority as a form of nourishing and replenishing his restless creative mind. A significant aspect of Dr. Saikia’s films are the usage of simple language, uncompromisingly based on reality . This in fact was an outcome of his association with radio dramas. Such an aspect led to a great motivation for all actors working in his films, who found themselves at ease with the dialogues. This actually marked the advent of and revolutionized the concept of veracity in acting . The plots and expressions of his films became more complex , but the reality and truthfulness in the acting methods touched newer heights, such that not another filmmaker in the entire nation could successfully put forth such innovation in making the actors portray heart-felt reality in films . However, the craving for creative innovation, and to stride ahead of his time, was not reciprocated enough by his boldness . This maybe owing to his small town bred attitude ( being born and brought up in the town of Nagaon) or belonging to a family facing certain financial constrains . These feelings are very obvious in his compilation of stories called “ Ei Bondoror Abeli ” . These stories penned down with humour and a free spirit are his best creations , written in foreign soil and with a pseudonym ! Later, when the stories came to be accepted as very successful in the literary world, did he publish them in his real name. Thus, probably if he would have begun his filmmaking career with “Sarathi” in lieu of “Sandhyaraag”, he would have catapulted himself to unbelievable heights . Though world renowned critics like Derek Malcolm held him in high esteem, yet he was not given due respect and honour that he deserved from the Indian film fraternity. The major reason for this is because he is characteristically a restless creative persona . Being persistent or rather consistently striving to excel in any particular creative arena was as though against his very nature , thus finding great happiness by leaping from one form of creative expression to another. Thereby, films , which behind the screen , require tremendous financial management, perseverance and mental and emotional input, were overlooked in a sense by the maestro or in all probability, he was more indulgent to his restless mind. Or maybe the fortune fairies of filmdom did not smile upon him! Dr. Saikia’s maiden film “Sandhyaraag was a very extravagant one. Despite of it being not the typical or conventional form of mainstream cinema, yet it was commercially successful . But films that he went on to make later on, though won accolades widely, yet were not as much commercial success as his first film. This situation dates back to the time of “Agnisnan” . The film “Kolahol” never saw a commercial release in the state. The way he had related to the readers of his stories and novels, was not to be seen with his film audience and this led to his dwindling interest in filmmaking. And the final blow to his avid interest in making films was his failing health. In terms of box office success, he was no more a significant name right after his second venture. But his contribution to Assamese cinema, the revolution and innovation that ushered into Assamese films because of him, made him stand out as the maestro and first exemplary film persona. That a film speaks a global language , that it cannot be confined within the soil of its origin, that it opens doors for the money to flow back in for the investor, are points that were all flawlessly proved by him. And these contributions have been an inspiration to all the self made filmmakers who sought out to make their mark in the global arena as ‘Indian Filmmakers’. Filmmaking is as honorable as any other form of art is what he believed with heart and soul and has left this belief as a legacy for filmmakers of generation next. Translation from Assamese SIMI DEKA