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Reflection of folk culture of Assam in Chinmoy Barma's short films

Cinema is a combination of several art forms which include painting, dance, music, poetry, sculpture, architecture, photography, editing etc., making it a unique piece of art.

Chinmoy Barma

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  28 Jan 2023 4:40 AM GMT

Sanjib Kumar Sarma & Rajdeep Kashyap


Cinema is a combination of several art forms which include painting, dance, music, poetry, sculpture, architecture, photography, editing etc., making it a unique piece of art. Cinema is unique in its nature because of its life-like quality. People on the screen can be seen walking, talking, laughing, weeping, dancing, singing, sleeping, driving etc., just as it happens in real life. Although the actions that take place in cinema do not take place in real time or in real life, yet they seem credible. What distinguishes cinema from other arts is its 'movement.' The 'movement' makes cinema life-like. Since the inception of this recent pandemic, it's been a tough time out there for filmmakers and cinema in general. Most of the cinema halls were closed initially during the pandemic and are still trying to recoup their losses even after being open for months. This downward trend of mainstream media has spiraled into the explosion of consumption in digital media. Many streaming platforms got a huge push during this period but most importantly it created a market for more digital creators to create more content and thrive of them. Many YouTubers started making fully-fledged series for their audience, sometimes even for other streaming services. Short filmmaking - a industry which was already blooming pre-pandemic - saw a major advantage at their hands, because the people in that industry are already used to work under tight schedule, less crew and shoestring budgets.

Chinmoy Barma is an extra ordinary short film maker. The subjects of his films are very unconventional for a mainstream taste but nevertheless hard-hitting and impactful. He tackles social taboos that plague our society and also doesn't shy away from showing the demonic and destructive side of human nature. Most of his works are also based in the settings of mythological and supernatural and have fantastical elements in their screenplay, still they all tell human stories that resonate with us and makes us empathize with the characters on screen. He would like to exhibit the Assamese folk culture in his films.

When asked about the types of stories he always picks for his film, he said that he is mostly inspired by the grassroots and the folklore of the Assamese culture passed to him by his surroundings and specially by his grandmother, through her bedtime stories, and also stated the dearth of representation of our culture in our own pop culture which catapulted him to create this stories with the intention of inspiring the masses to know more about the Assamese culture.

Even from the beginning, he is a disruptor, as we can see his capability as a filmmaker from his 15-seconds short film '7th Sin', which showcases Gluttony as a social evil. It's storytelling in its simplest form but the subtlety with which the narrative unfolds and Chinmoy's decision to choose horror as the film's main theme puts this film apart from the other ones. He continue this craftsmanship in his next film 'Ghorapak' which about a mythical creature who is half human and half horse (reminiscing the Greek creature 'centaur'). As Chinmoy belongs from the 'Show, Don't Tell' school of thought, he refuses to spoon-feed his audience information and till the end he leave the story of 'Ghorapak' to the audience's interpretation.

'Ghorapak' also includes one familiar trope that represents Chinmoy's filmography: in all of his stories the mythical creatures are not the actual antagonist, it's always the humans. Tapan, the protagonist of 'Ghorapak', considered Ghorapak as his nemesis that wants to hunt him down but later found out that it was actually a metaphor for his future demise and his wife's adultery. In 'Ghorapak', Barma shows the 'ojha pali' culture.

'Morome Ringiaai' strikes out from his other films as it doesn't contain a mythical setting but the feeling of serenity is the same. The anthropomorphic creatures were replaced by a domestic cow, an ardently listening one, which the protagonist talks to, comforting himself in the process as he mourns the loss of his wife. What Chinmoy does is put the audience in the position of the cow (as we can only listen to the protagonist and can't communicate back) and showcases the life of the protagonist through it; displaying the degradation of his mental health and his demise. As the saying goes "the most personal is the most creative", Chinmoy's most personally impactful story has to be 'Tezor Tukura' and it's also the most creative one. Even from the start, it oozes the atmosphere of dread and catastrophe almost like an apocalyptic fable. However, the most ironical thing is, it doesn't contain a single human character on screen as Chinmoy uses Assam's one of the oldest traditions to show the story – puppetry - but still it's not deprived of human emotions, rather we see it in full swing here than in any other of his films. We see masculine monsters headed by a matriarch – in desperation for a male offspring, symbolism of Shaktism and Tantrism in display, pictorial representation of gods like Shiva and Ganesha and even an intricately design set and puppets. Inspiration of Stree and Bulbul are clearly evident but they don't overshadow the main story. For Chinmoy, it's a story he wants tell out of pure grudge as he witnessed how society treats menstruation as an evil entity while worshipping the goddess of menstruation during the Ambubachi Mela. Also, the character traits of the director returns like open-ended endings, striking imagery, subtle storytelling, human villainy and especially no cheap jump scares.

"I want to tell the stories that are personal to me. Yes, I can tell stories about cops and all, as I see them every day but it will be in my way, in my own perspective", replied Chinmoy when asked about why he only make things related to horror. "That's why horror and folklore fascinates me because it's been an integral part of my upbringing", he continued.

Given a better opportunity, Chinmoy can create some great cinema in his forthcoming career, as he has shown how capable of a director he really is, but like many artistes he continues to struggle for a proper funding for his next endeavours (sometimes he has to produce his movie himself without any kind of returns). His magnum opus 'Tezor Tukura' almost got shelved until his peer Nazneen Ullah came to his rescue and decided to produce the short film by herself. In his recent outing, 'Aham' he took a surreal approach to his filmmaking (which was already on the cards as we got few hints of it in his previous creations), all the scenes of this short film were match cuts and his core storytelling of human corruption and grayish morality were in display. The short film is a take on the subject of 'purgatory', which has had many iterations throughout history by countless artistes, but it's the brilliance of the director that the concept still feels refreshing in 'Aham'.

Chinmoy is currently working on his new project 'Jokhini' and we hope he keeps adding to his tally of brilliant cinema that doesn't only define Assamese cinema, but world cinema in general and contributes to change in the nature of society's thinking, as the starry-eyed director intends.

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