Narrating Tales of this Soil
National award-winning filmmaker Manju Bora tells SATURDAY FARE about her foray into the world of filmmaking and why the north east is always the canvas on which she portrays her stories
Actually, I cannot say I was influenced or inspired by anyone. It was my husband, who pushed me to work in this field and I found that it has become my passion over the years.
Now, without films I cannot think of anything else. Till I am mentally and physically capable, I will keep on making films. Once you become familiar with your choice of field, than inspiration comes from within. The genre of work, the style of work itself is an inspiration because cinema is very powerful medium
Manju Bora is an acclaimed film maker of Assam. Her films on different social and historical aspects of Assam have won awards in different national and international festivals, along with critical appreciation. She is an avid storyteller who through her films, has portrayed the culture of Northeast. Excerpts from an interview.
Can you tell our readers about yourself and your family.
I am basically a film-maker. I make films, I direct films and I am also a producer. I write my own scripts. Since 1996 that I have been making films. I am from Jorhat and I completed my Matriculation from Balya Bhavan in 1973. After that I went to Shillong where I graduated from Lady Kaene College. From 1973 to 77 I was in Lady Keane to complete my BA with Philosophy Honours. After that I joined Gauhati University and did my Masters in the same subject. In 1980 I got married to Dilip Bora and I have two children-- a son and a daughter. My daughter is married and stays in Delhi and my son, who is also married, now resides at Toronto, Canada. My husband was inthe Indian Police Service and has retired as the Director General of Police. He is also an established writer and has published more than eight novels, short story collections and is also a regular writer in newspapers and magazines. Basically, he is known for his novels, short stories and articles on different issues. I made almost 12 feature films till now, of which 10 have already been released. For my films I got nine national awards. Basically, I make films in Assamese language. My last three films were, however, made in other languages of which one is Mising, the other Bodo and the third one in Pangchenpa, which is spoken by a very small number of people in Arunachal Pradesh. I love to make films in different issues like women-oriented issues, sometimes socio-political and cultural conflicts, so that my films can pass on some message which is needed. As a responsible filmmaker I feel that my films should reflect the different issues. I love to cover all types of topics and different issues.
Can you tell us about your childhood
My childhood was very good. I grew up in a village background. I was born in a village near Jorhat town which is called MelengGohainGaon. I started primary classes in the village and after that we shifted to a tea garden. From there up to third standard I studied in a tea garden school with the children of the tea garden labourers. It was a different life with greenery and open fields, rivers and ponds. We used to roam around in the jungles, collecting wild fruits and flowers and went fishing with my grandmother and my family members. It was a very different kind of lifestyle. My uncles were very much into cultural activities like bhaonas, raax, etc. When we were small we used to go and watch them. During that time the villages were very quiet as we had no television or radio. I remember when I was in class 4, the first radio was brought to our house. Our lives were very family oriented and we had a lot of cultural activities. We used to enjoy Bihu, Durga puja and watched Assamese cinema and even Hindi films. When a good hindi film was released, my father used to take us to Jorhat town to watch them. Since we grew up in a tea garden, during Durga puja there was shows of films in open air. I still remember watching films of Dilip Kumar, Vaijayantimala. We also used to watch beautiful Assamese and Bengali cinemas. When I was in school, I used to go our school library which was very rich in its collections. There used to be a library in every area, and we used to borrow books from the library. We tried to read as many books as possible. We read world classics from Shakespeare to Hemingway, which were available in Assamese translation. I used to read even Bengali novels. And cinema was the only entertainment for us. It was a very different kind of world and my childhood was full of beautiful memories of music, dramas, theatres, cinemas and reading lots of books.
How did your first film happen. Can you tell us about your experience.
I was initially a short story writer. I used to write short stories and poems, but I was very shy to publish what I penned in newspapers and magazines. Many of my friends from school and college days still have my poems with them. When I was in university, I wrote poems whenever I wanted to write, but now I cannot write. My husband, after our marriage used to send my compositions to magazines and newspapers without my knowledge. And when it got printed, he would come and show me the copy. That was my starting point, I think. And after 16 years of marriage also I did not do anything and used to write just short stories. One day my husband asked me why I was sitting idly at home doing nothing. He told me to start something and he is the person who introduced me to film world. In 1996 I did my first film with Rajen Rajkhowa as co-producer and assistant director. That was my first exposure. Before that I did a television serial as an art director. Then I started writing for films which my husband also felt would be acomfortable sphere of work for me. After that we shifted to Delhi where we stayed for five years. There also through Rajen Rajkhowa, I got the opportunity to work with Lambard, who was from channel 4 of BBC. I was very influenced by her, her discipline and the methodical way in which she used to work for BBC. Then I thought that this is the area where I would like to work. After coming back to Guwahati in 1996 I started the film,Xopun which was directed by Rajen Rajkhowa and I was the chief Assistant Director and co-producer. After that I decided to make my own films but not in the commercial genre and that was how Baibhab started. Baibhab was my first independent film which was released in 1999. That was the starting point.
Who was your biggest inspiration behind choosing to make films.
Actually, I cannot say I was influenced or inspired by anyone. It was my husband, who pushed me to work in this field and I found that it has become my passion over the years. Now, without films I cannot think of anything else. Till I am mentally and physically capable, I will keep on making films. Once you become familiar with your choice of field, than inspiration comes from within. The genre of work, the style of work itself is an inspiration because cinema is very powerful medium. Though it is very expensive, but you get the opportunity to immediately connect with the audience and reach out to many people. And whatever you want to share or you want to express can be expressed through cinema. The aesthetics of cinema is very powerful.
Can you tell us about your most memorable work. And why is it memorable?
Every film has its own history and character. Like my first film Baibhabwas very different. It was my first exposure to everything. Initially I very nervous as to how to work in the film, how to say action and cut. It was very difficult for me and I was very scared of doing things wrong. My chief assistant was there, my cameraman was there and with their help I became comfortable with everything. I have worked with many renowned personalities like Nipon Goswami, Mridula Barua and someone new who had come from Chicago.With him also it was a different experience. And literature was not a problem for me. I knew what to tell through my film. Only the technical part was difficult, but with the help of the competent cameraman, editor it was very comfortable for me to learn everything and I am still learning. As the saying goes, learning never has an end. Now we have come to the age of using digital equipment, this too I am trying to learn-- how to operate a digital camera, usage of lights, and the process of post-production.
With all the films, I have a different kind of experience. I have made films in Bodo andPangchengpa languages. Those are also very memorable in the sense that I do not know how to speak these languages. I cannot understand it but when I write the script I write it in English, then it gets translated to Assamese and then the language into which my film will be made. Although I do not know the language, but by continuously hearing my actors saying the dialogues in the same language, I get used to the sound and can make out if there is any mistake while delivering the lines. My last cinema, In the Land of Poison Women, which we shot in Arunachal Pradesh near theChina border, the temperature was minus eight degrees and the rice and dal which were cooked would become cold immediately. We could not eat so we had to consume roti in the later days. It was very challenging to climb up the mountains covered with deep snow every day. But the passion gave me the energy to continue working even in such extreme conditions. That film I will never forget. It was a great learning experience. When I was doing the Mising cinema Ko: Yad, we shot when the Brahmaputra River was overflowing. It was rainy season and for the very first time I worked with non-actors. These people had never faced the camera before and they performed so beautifully. When I was doing the Bodo cinema, there was regular insurgency problem where we were shooting. An Army Major there helped me a lot. He used to regularly visit our set. One day he called me up and said, to finish our shoot as soon as possible. I just had two or three days of shoot left. We wrapped up our work quickly and soon many insurgent leaders were killed in that area. I have never worked with police and military protection; I always enlisted the help from local people. I have all these memories. Similarly, when I was making Joymoti which was a period film, I had to create that period and for that I went to a very remote village in Margherita. There also the local people helped me a lot and it was very exciting for us. Every film that I made had a charm of its own and very different memory.
You were a jury member of different international and national film festivals. Can you tell us more about this
Actually, there is rule that if you are a national award winner then you get selected to be a jury. I got the opportunity to be a jury for so many different festivals, awards and Indian Panorama. I was also the chairperson for Oscar Selection Committee for Indian Films. The year the film Barfi went for India’s official entry to the Oscars, I was the chairperson. There are many more documentaries and short films of the government and non-government where I went as a jury. Being a member of the jury, I get the opportunity to watch all kinds of films which are made in different languages spoken in our country. Our country has so many languages and dialects, and getting to watch those movies is a great learning experience as you get to know the different genres, technological aspects of the regional films.
Can you tell us about your awards and achievements.
My first film Baibhab got the best film in Asia Award and best director award and Gollapudi Srinivas Award. My film AkakhitorarKothare got the State Film Award for the best film and best director, respectively. My films Laaz and Joymoti also got selected for the Indian panorama and were included in many film festivals. Ko:Yad got the National award for Best MisingLanguage film and Best Cinematography award. My Bodo film Dau HudiniMethai got the national award for Best Bodo Language film and got selected for Indian Panorama. AiiKot Nai got the National Integration Award. I also made an animation film on SrimantaShankardeva, which is the first full length animated film of Assam. In the Land of Poison Women got selected for Indian Panorama and also got the National Award for the best film in that language.
Can you tell us about your upcoming projects. What projects are you working on right now.
My full-length animated film Madhavdev is ready for release and will be releasing soon. And I am also working on a cinema on ecology and nature preservation, which is in the last stage of production.
Our film industry has seen a tremendous change in recent years. The filmmakers are experimenting with new stories, new genres. What is your view on these
The new generation of film makers are doing very good. The new technology has brought about a new revolution. Earlier to make a film it would be very costly. The new generation is very exposed to the new technology, and they have studied in different institutes and some have learnt on their own. They can use their camera, they can edit it, they write and they are well equipped knowledge wise and practically also. This paves the way for them to make meaningful movies with a very small budget. The audience response is also very good and I am very happy with their works.. Films like Local Utpat, Aaamis have got good response and we have seen people thronging to watch the movies. Director Bhaskar Hazarika, Reema Das and many more are doing very good. Their work is very positive and encouraging.
Would you like to give any word of advice to the new generation of filmmakers.
I always say that you should always dream big.When you are making a cinema make big cinema, cinema is a big thing as the canvas is very big. It cannot be compared with any other art form. I will say that when a new filmmaker starts out, initially they might not get the financial backing of big corporates. To establish themselves, to get noticed by the film critics, you should make your own films, your own story and the story of your own land. I make cinema from our Northeast to reflect the culture of our North Eastern states. And so many people say that Manju Bora makes films reflecting north east. To the new generationof film makers, I will say that you make your own film, in the sense that make the story about your own land, about your own people. There are so many subjects available in our part of the country. We have so many conflicts, so many issues that we can make films on. Once you start concentrating in that area it will have its own colour, and it will be original and unique. And this colour is very necessary. If these stories are reflected, the films become very interesting.
Lastly, for our readers would you like to say something
The Sentinel is a very good newspaper. I feel that The Sentinel has been able to portray the culture of North East very well by covering different issues of the North East. My best wishes is with everyone.