Cover Story

The Box Office Guru

In the world of Assamese celluloid, Munna Ahmed is a name which hardly needs an introduction. A prolific actor and director, Munna Ahmed has a number of blockbuster hits to his credit. A director who had ushered in a new wave for Assamese cinema in the 90s, he is sometimes referred to as the Box Office Maestro of Assamese cinema, primarily due to the magic his films has in the box office.

Be it 'Joon Jwole Kopalot' or 'Jibon Nodir Duti Par;', he has ensured packed halls for Assamese cine buffs in the deplorable conditions of the past.He has also scripted, produced and directed numerous telefilms for Assamese television besides making more than 150 documentaries and short films. 
An ardent theatre lover, Munna Ahmed also conducts theatre acting workshops through his School of Drama, Assam of which he is the director. A 14-day training workshop for actors was recently held under the aegis of School of Drama, Assam.
After a gap of seven long years, the ace director is back once again with two new films having a super star crew, 'Nizanor Gan' and 'Subula'. While Nizanor Gan boasts of an all-star cast, Hubula is a beautiful combination of an art and commercial film. The melange team recently met the director to know more about him and his life with cinema. Following are excerpts.
Q. You were born and brought up in Guwahati. Can you please recount any childhood memories you have?
Ans: I was born and brought up in Guwahati. Our house was in Chandmari area and I grew up like other boys of the city.
My family belonged to the old school and did not think that it was possible to make a living through the arts. They always wanted me to study properly and become a doctor or lawyer so that I could live a supposedly settled life. However, my heart was always in acting and even though I tried to become a lawyer, I somehow ended up becoming a director.
Q. Where did you do your conventional education?
Ans: I did my primary schooling from Niarapar Lower Primary School and passed my matriculation from Cotton Collegiate School. After that, I did my graduations from B Barooah College. I then enrolled into a law college to pursue a course in LLB but I did not finish the course and had already got immersed in the world of acting by then.
Q. You said your family was not very supportive towards your acting endeavours. How did you get involved in the world of acting?
Ans: My parents did not like my getting involved in acting. So I pursued my passion on the sly. Growing up in Chandmari, I was lucky to have an eminent club like Rupjyoti Sangha in the vicinity. When I was growing up, I remember IndraBania coming there to direct plays. I used to stand outside the club and watch them practice through the windows. One day, the tea boy did not turn up and I got the chance to go and serve tea to the actors. You can say that was the beginning of my journey with acting. 
I began to visit the club everyday and watch the actors perform. One day, a particular actor failed to turn up. The director needed someone to play the role and I volunteered for the same. Jayanta Das, Rezina Begum were among the actors present in that play. Everyone liked my performance and they gradually extended my role and time on stage. That was my first stage performance in Rabindra Bhavan. The name of the play was Arjun Tolit Dhumuha.
From that moment on, I began to go deeper and deeper into the world of acting. Looking back today, I was lucky to have met the acquaintance and work with many eminent personalities like late Girish Choudhury, Anil Choudhury, Makhan Dewan, Dulal Roy, and the like. 
Q. Did you take any formal training in acting?
Ans: No but as I said, I was lucky to meet some highly influential people like Dulal Roy and Makhan Dewan. Working under them, I learnt a lot about stage techniques and acting. While I was studying in B Barooah College, some of us friends got together and formed a theatre group called Sun Club. We used to tour across the entire State performing our plays and on a few occasions, I received the title of best actor as well.
But the journey was difficult as I was practicing theatre on the sly, without the knowledge of my parents. I would inform them that I would be performing in a play only the day before it was staged. My father was totally against my love for theatre but I did not let it all affect me in a negative way. I used it as a stimulus to further enhance my creativity.
Q. How did you make your foray into television and then films.
Ans: After I completed my graduation, I performed the role of a negative character in Mridul Gupta's 'Jibanar Rang' - a serial produced for Doordarshan. Then I did the role of another negative character in the serial 'Money Order', which was written by Syed Abdul Malik. Slowly I became a regular actor in television serials and mostly performed the role of the main hero. 
After that, I made my foray into films by acting in Munin Barua's 'Prabhati Pakhir Gaan' and then in Bhaksar Barua's 'June 31'. As I was progressing as an actor, I also started developing an interest in acting. The turning point, however, came rather unpleasantly. I had got the opportunity to work as a production coordinator-cum-actor in the big-budget Bollywood film 'Daman'. A lot of mega stars like Ravina Tandon, Shaan, Sanjay Suri, Raima Sen were part of the film. Once during the shoot in Amsoi, the film's director Kalpana Lajmi reacted very badly over my performance. You can say she misbehaved with me when the fault was not mine. I began wondering how directors can treat other actors in that manner. It was then that I made up my mind to direct my own film.
That was in 2000. I accordingly got the script of 'Jun JoleKopalot' ready. But then I could not find a financer. Luckily, I came into contact with Dwijendra Mohan Sharma who was willing to finance the movie. But he was a bit apprehensive about my capabilities. Somehow, after I managed to prove my abilities to him, he decided to launch me as a director. And that decision proved to be a turning point for the Assamese film industry. The film was a major commercial hit and out of the Rs 22 lakhs that was invested, it gave profits of almost Rs 1 crore.
After that, there was no looking back for me. I directed Jiban Nadir Duti Par and Jonak Bihin Jiban which were produced by Hiralal Bora, then did Ma TumiAnanya and Antaheen Jatra which were produced by Pranjal Bharali. I released my last film, Asin Sinaki, in 2010 and that was a self-financed project. After that, the Assamese film industry witnessed a kind of downslide and I became hesitant to make any more films. Although I got a few offers, I rejected them and told them to wait for some time.
Q. One of the most commercially successful Assamese film directors, you have made a comeback to filmmaking after 7 years. Do you think that the atmosphere for Assamese filmmakers has become more conducive now?
Ans:After waiting for seven years, I recently found the situation of Assamese films to be improving a bit. Films like Kothanodi and Shakira Ahibo did exceedingly well and had managed to get the returns from their invested amounts. That gave me the courage to plan another film. And thankfully, I came into contacted with HaiderAlam Azad who has produced NizanorGaan. 
Both of us had initially planned to make a movie, called Hira, scripted by MuninBarua and had even done the casting. But then, MuninBarua fell ill and he expressed his inability to give us the script. One day his son called me up and offered me the script of NizanorGaan. Both me and Haider went to their house to look at the script and we really loved it. So that was how NizanorGaan came about. We are going to release the film on March 16.
Q. Please tell us about Nizanor Gaan.
Ans:The movie is produced by HaiderAlam Azad under the banner of A.R INTERNATIONAL.  The cast of the movie includes some famous talents of Assamese film industry such as Jatin Bora, Aimee Boruah, Amrita Gogoi, Arun Nath, Ananya Pasoni, Biki, Debojit Mauzumdar, Atul Pasoni, Bhagawat Pritam, Minu Bania, Siddharth  Mukherjee, Dinesh Bishaya, Niloi Gupta, Partha Protim Boruah, Rumi Dutta, fresh talent John Haque,etc and a guest appearance by Padmarag Goswami and Bhranti Medhi.
The music is directed by Jatin Sharma and singers of this film include Zubeen Garg, Shreya Ghosal,Papon, Nahid and Samima Khatoon. The title song is composed by Bhagawat Pritam.
The story of the film has been written by Munin Boruah. The film is mainly based on music. The journey of a rising music artist, his ups and downs in life is reflected in this movie. 
Q. We also heard that you are going to release another Assamese feature film…
Ans: Yes. We have not made any formal announcement as of yet but we are going to make the announcement of release of Subala on March 23rd. Subala is based on a novel by Homen Borgohain and has been scripted by Avishka Phukan. The film deals with the various shades of prostitution and has Urmila Mahanta playing the lead character.
Q. Nowadays a lot of new satellite channels have come up which are providing avenues for new actors. What do you feel about this trend?
Ans: Yes, it is true that a number of new actors are getting an opportunity to work in television serials. But I believe that nobody can learn acting by taking part in a television serial. I say this because most of the serials are done in a very hurried manner and leaves very little scope for learning. So my humble request to all those who want to learn acting is to start doing plays and do at least one feature film. An actor learns a lot on stage and under the hands of a good director.