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The Star Director of Assamese Films

In the socio-cultural world of Assam, Munin Barua is a name which hardly needs an introduction. One of the finest film directors that Assam has ever produced, it would not be wrong to say that Munin Barua ushered in a revolution for Assamese commercial cinema in the 90s and made films which heralded a new era for the Assamese film industry.

His movies brought in a breath of fresh air to the otherwise dormant Assamese movie industry. His commercial film, Hiya Diya Niya, released in 2010, created history in Assamese celluloid as a 'blockbuster hit' and helped revive the Assamese film industry, which was in a very bad shape at that point of time. Apart from movies, Barua also directed television serials and written scripts in many plays of mobile theatres.

Starting his career way back in the mid seventies as a screenplay writer and Assistant Director, Munin Barua has written more than 21 feature films. Notable among them are 'Bowari', 'Sonmaina', 'Daag', 'Barood', 'Rang', 'Maya', 'Bidhata', 'Dinabandhu', 'Ramdhenu', etc. Barua made his directorial debut jointly with Nipon Goswami in the 1987 movie Pratima, but his first film as an independent director was 'Pita Putra'. 'Pahari Kanya', 'Prabhati Pakhir Gaan', are some of his highly acclaimed films. In 2005, his film 'Dinabandhoo', which is based on a story by late Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia, received the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Assamese.

Munin Barua's achievements have been recognised at various forums and places, through numerous awards, titles and epitaphs. A living legend of our times, some of the awards bestowed on him range from State Award for Best Director ('Nayak', 2001-02), Best Film ('Barood', 2003-04), National Award for 'Dinabandhu' (Best Regional Film), Best Film 'Ramdhenu (2011-12)', amongst many others. Earlier this year, he was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Awards during Prag Cine Awards 2017.

Munin Barua was born in 1947 at Khumtai in Golaghat district of Assam. His father was late Hemendra Nath Barua, who was the mouzadar of Khumtai mouza, while his mother's name is Latika Barua. He is the youngest in his family. He married popular Assamese actress Manjula Barua of Jorhat in December 1974. They have two children, Manas and Puja.

Be it as a writer or as a director, Munin Barua has excelled in each and every work he has undertaken. After a brief spell of illness, the veteran filmmaker is now all geared up with his latest movie, Priyar Priya - a satirical comedy on the present times of Assam. In this film, Barua brings his years of experience and weaves a satirical comedy around a few characters, who represents the various facets of Assamese society at present.

The melange team recently entered into a conversation with him to know more about his new film, his journey in making movies and his future plans. Following are excerpts.

Q. You are getting ready for the release of your next film at a time when there is a lot of discussion about Assamese films...

Ans: I am very hopeful of the future of Assamese films. That is why I have made this film in the first place.

Q. Your new film, Priyar Priya, marks your comeback after a long hiatus...

Ans: This is my 14th film as a film director. I had finished shooting Ramdhenu in 2010 and it was released in 2011. Priyar Priya is scheduled for release in 2017 now. In between I had started shooting for a film but could not complete it because of lack of budget.

Q. Please tell us about the subject of your new film...

Ans: The film, Priyar Priya, is a satirical comedy on the Assamese society of present times. It has characters that we all encounter in our daily life - the young upstart politician, the unemployed youths, and the like. Throughout the entire movie, I have strived to provide entertainment - be it through the characters, the acting or the dialogues. As a satire, the film also has a message about the spate of our society today. If certain people can get the message, it is fine. Even if they do not understand the message, they can just enjoy the film for its entertainment values.

The film has many known faces in the cast. The lyrics of 'Priyar Priyo' are written by Diganta Bharati and Zubeen Garg. The star cast comprise of Zubeen Garg, Pranjal Saikia, Gunjan Bharadwaj, Biki, Aradhana, Sunita Kaushik, Saurabh Hazarika, Tridip Lahon, Nikumoni Baruah, Manjula Baruah, among others. The film has Pradip Daimari as cinematographer and Samujjal Kashyap as editor. 

Q. You had ushered in a new era for Assamese films in the 90s through films like Hiya Diya Niya. But there was a sudden downfall in the film industry after that. What do you think are the reasons?

Ans: Actually, there was a huge wave when the digital format was first introduced in Assamese cinema. People and filmmakers saw an opportunity to make movies in the digital format, which did not require the highly expensive negatives which were needed in celluloid films. However, the new people did not bother to understand the intricacies of digital format and learn the subject before making their movies. They could not interpret digital filmmaking properly. Everyone had become a filmmaker at that point of time. As a result, there was a downfall in the State's film industry.

In 2011, I too had wanted to make Ramdhenu in the digital format. But my editor V Sreedhar told me not to change my format. He asked me if I had ever worked in the digital format before, and why I wanted to stop making films on celluloid - something in which I have so much experience. He advised me that I should make small movies or documentaries in the new digital format before attempting such a big movie.

Q. Your new film has been shot entirely in the digital format?

Ans: Yes, Priyar Priya has been shot in the digital format. In fact, the going has been very good till now and even there was no need for me to go to Chennai for post editing work. We have done the entire post-production in Kolkata and I am very happy with the agency through which we have done the work. It is a new studio, EditFx, and the studio is fast emerging as the market leader; they have also started doing post-production work of Bollywood films. Amitabh Bacchan's last film, Pink, was done in their studio. So I am quite happy with their work and the package that they gave me.

Q. You have made so many films till now. Which is your most memorable one?

Ans: Every film has different memories. Just like a father cannot say which of his child is his favourite, it is difficult for me to say which one of my film is the best. But if we talk of inner satisfaction while making a movie, I got that inner satisfaction when I made Dinobondhu. I made it as a tribute to late Dr Bhabendranath Saikia and I got a lot of satisfaction. Another much loved film of mine is 'Bidhata'. All the characters - Bishnu Khargoriya, Jatin Bora and others - are much loved and a lot of love had gone into the making of the film.

Q. Your film Pita Putra was also highly acclaimed....

Ans: Yes, Pita Putra was a good movie and the subject was also good. It was my first film as an independent filmmaker. Even the people loved watching the movie. Late Abdul Majid was a jury member in the national film awards that year and after watching the movie, he had called me up to find out why I did not send the final print to the competition.

There is a reason why I could not send the movie to the national awards. In Assam during those days, we had to work under tight budgets and our producer could not afford a music director. But a certain scene in our film required some background music. Since we were unable to afford a music director, I discussed with my editor V Sreedhar and he allowed me to use some of his unused music scores of South Indian movies. While we found a solution for my film's background score, it was no longer possible to send the film to the film competitions because the jury members would definitely have a South Indian who would recognise the tune of the music. As such, we decided not to send the film to the competition even though we had sent in our application.

Over the years, I have realised that circumstances make us do certain things in life. But at the same time, I have never regretted this fact. I always believe that producers have a major role to play in marketing of their films and in sending them to competitions. Personally, I was never that much interested in sending my films to competitions.

Q. There is a story behind sending the film 'Dinobondhu' to the National Film competitions also...

Ans: I have strong faith in my editor S Sreekar Prasad. After completing the post-production of every movie, I used to always ask him, "Kaisa Hai?" After completing 'Dinobondhu', when I asked him the same question, he said that we should send it to the competition. I have so much faith in him that we immediately decided to send the movie and luckily, it got the national award.

Q. You also used to write stories for video CDs...

Ans: Yes, I used to write for VCDs. Many feel that VCDs were the reason for downfall of Assamese cinema. I don't think so. In fact, I feel it gave our youngsters an opportunity to prove their excellence. For instance, my assistant Rajesh Bhuyan made a VCD series called Jun Bai, for which I had written the story. The series became so popular that it is no less than a cult hit!

Q. There is a lot of controversy regarding the film, Mission China. What are your views on the film and the issue as a whole?

Ans: Mission China is a unique film, it may not have a fantastic storyline but it is definitely something that has not been tried before here in Assam. The film has been highly successful and it has been running for more than six weeks now. Many say that the film is running purely on hype but how can that be possible? There must be something in the film because of which people are so eager to watch it. In any case, thanks to Mission China, so many halls have revived, cinema owners have put up extra lights in their entrances, people are queuing up to see the movie. I feel this was much needed in our State. How much should we keep crying that we don't have audiences for our movies? Now that a film has been successful, let the appreciation continue for some time!