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Bornodi Bhotiyai
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“Bornodi Bhotiai” – A Film on Majuli and its Fading Hopes

For the first time, a full-length Assamese movie features Majuli, the world largest river island, and the Majulian people, namely, “Bornodi Bhotiai”. The man behind this film is Anupam Kaushik Borah, who is the first National School of Drama (NSD) graduate from Majuli. He is a successful actor, actor trainer, playwright, theatre director, and a short story writer. He is venturing into directorial work, and the film, ‘Bornodi Bhotiai’ is his directorial debut.

The discourse of Sattriya and tribal cultures found in a decaying island is what the filmmaker is focusing on. Mr Borah said, “Often people try to depict an oversimplified picture of Majuli. But I have seen that Majulians’ life is an equally or more diverse, and complicated compared to the people of any other place. I want to celebrate it in Bornodi Bhotiai.”

A cultural heritage hub; tourist destination; first river island district; and a flood-erosion affected land, which is on the verge of extinction – these are the popular terms used to describe Majuli. The wetland has a fancy image of being an exotic place for adventures an as an epitome of beauty – pride of Assam. However, at the same time, the island stands out as a tragic victim figure, which needs to be saved from being doomed. Almost all the films based on Majuli are projecting this fascinating image of the island, though that brings only a half-truth to the surface. Being a Majulian, the writer-director of ‘Bornodi Bhotiai’, Anupam Kaushik Borah, knows the real Majuli, which is hidden behind this romantic image.

‘Bornodi’, which literally means ‘the big river’, is another name of the river Brahmaputra. The Brahmaputra’s eternal flow stands as a metaphor for life in the film ‘Bornodi Bhotiai’. It has a tragic-comic story of a number of young men and women from Majuli, who are in the search of love and a prosperous future. However, love and prosperity do not come in the form or via the path they expected. The magical place called Majuli plays a pivotal role in it. We have a physical illness as a metaphor for love, and for the struggle of the island against the flood and erosion.

A talented Assamese actor, Kenny D Basumatary, who plays one of the lead roles in Bornodi Bhotiai said “While watching ‘Bornodi Bhotiai’, you’ll laugh out loud sometimes. And at other times, you will just smile. You might cry a bit too. Also, you will feel the suffocation through the characters feel seeing the uncertainty of their future in Majuli.”

The magical element is but very much real in the film. The situations and the characters, their behaviour, their way of talking, are all genuine. Acting is the biggest asset in my film. It is just real’, says the director.

The movie has a cast of over 110 members, of which ten are from NSD. Barring a few, most of the actors are new to the film industry. ‘We prepared well. For example, I’m from Sarbhog, Borpeta. But I stayed in Majuli for a full three months before the shoot and practised how to speak Assamese the way Majulians speak. This is true for all the other actors from outside Majuli, who had to play a Majulian role,’ – says Dorothy Bhardwaj, who plays the lead female character. The key roles in the film are essayed by Dorothi Bhardwaj, Himangshu Gogoi, Rajiv Nath, Monisha Bhuyan, Diganta Konwar, Sonmoni Sarma, Anupam Kaushik Borah, Kaushik Nath, Palash Mech, Bhaskar Baruah, Gunamani Baruah, Biren Nath, Dipti Devi, Bogaram Nath, Nirumaai Devi and Indiraam Nath.

A seven-film veteran Prayash Sharma Tamuly is the director of photography and Rantu Chetia is the editor of the film. Music plays a great role in the film’s narrative. The national-award winning singer-composer Tarali Sarma is the music director. “The strength of melody combined with powerful lyrics have made every single song of the film a collectible,” says Mrs Sarma while talking about the film. There are four new songs as well as an evergreen number of Tarali Sarma in the film. An unaccompanied version of the title track has already become popular in the social media.

Another young and talented guy from the island, Abinash Bhuyan, who worked as an assistant director and head of public relations in the movie, is coming up with his debut song in the movie. Abinash while talking to The Sentinel said, ‘The catchy lyrics and the simple melody of the song gets you hooked. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say that this film marks the return of lyrics to Assamese film music.’ As a playback singer, this is the entrance for the film for Abinash. The other singers of the film are Tarali Sarma, Zubeen Garg, and Geet Bhoirab.

The film is slated to hit the theatres later this year. The director Anupam Kaushik Borah says that this film is made by the people. In a rare example, the good people of Majuli donated even food to the shooting crew and cast. “We completed shooting with tight budget constraints. But the next stages are expensive. We seek financial help from people.” A crowdfunding campaign to raise the money for post-production will start soon for Bornodi Bhotiyai.