`My stories come from within'
"I believe in work based on my own knowledge, experience and observations," says filmmaker Jahnu Barua.
Photo: H. Balakrishnan
Outstanding filmmaker: Jahnu Barua.
JAHNU BARUA is an outstanding filmmaker from India who has made waves in the international arena at a relatively young age. From 1982 soon after he graduated from FTII, his films have won national and international awards. At the recently concluded JDCA Film Festival, Bhubaneshwar, his 25-minute documentary on Indira Goswami, "Words from the Mist", won all-round applause. Excerpts from an interview:
His first film "Aparoopa" (1982) starring Suhasini Mulay
I witnessed an incident while at school. A planter's wife left him in spite of all the luxuries available to her. And I wondered what, apart from material comfort, made people happy. I was too young to know about mental or physical comfort. I had to get it out of my system; so, I decided to make a film. I designed the script after studying human relationships.
Suhasini is a great friend, a great lady. I told her about it and asked for help. She said, "OK. I'll do it". I never paid her. It was a friend helping a friend. I still owe her a debt of gratitude.
"Firangoti" (1991) on the 1962 war
It was the story of a brave widow who inspires dignity and zest for education. There is a lot from my childhood in the film. Some miscreants burnt down my first primary school. I was too young to understand local politics. Much later, I learnt from my mother that an outsider built the school he inspired the villagers to build it themselves.
Our neighbour was a poor widow with three children. I wondered how she managed. I scripted "Firangoti" around her dignity and the school incident. Here, a widowed teacher comes to a village and inspires the villagers to build a real school, something only on paper till then. She asks each villager for two bamboo poles, besides labour. The village had everything, but no leadership. When the headman was told about the idea, he says, "Oh, I can do it myself", but the lady insists that he too contribute only what the other villagers do. That's how she inspires a sense of participation, pride and dignity of labour.
I rate this film very highly. I was upset when it didn't do well. Though Moloy Goswami got the best actress award, and it was invited for several festivals abroad, I don't think "Firangoti" got its due.
Jahnu the idealist
Most of my stories come from within. I believe in work based on my own knowledge, experience and observations. I have a lot of imagination and, maybe, wishful thinking. I want everyone to be happy. I love to see a smile on a child's face. There should be laughter all around, among children of this world. I am an idealist, and this inspires me to visualise characters.
"Holodiya Choraye Baodhan khai" (The Catastrophe)
The film won the National award for best director and 15 international awards, including the World Peace Prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. I made this film in all sincerity and honesty. When it was first shown in Thiruvananthapuram, it got immediate attention from Indian and foreign viewers. I tried to understand this reaction to a simple film on a farmer's life. This reality of utter poverty has a dignity of its own. The poor farmer respects others, protects and takes pride in his family, but never falls at the feet of others. That must have touched a universal chord. It was a huge success in Sydney where the 3000-strong audience gave a standing ovation. Festival Director Rod Webb said such a thing never happened there earlier. Later, it got many awards including the Grand Prix at Locarno. That is history.
His foray into Hindi films with "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara"
There are many reasons. Just out of FTII, I wanted some experience in Mumbai. Thanks to people like Aruna Vikas, I got it. At that time, I wanted to do something for Assamese cinema. In fact, I was quite envious of Bengali and Malayalam films that made it big internationally. I struggled; made many films in Assamese. National and international awards followed. At one point I thought I had done enough. In the mid-1990s when I was making "Holodiya Choraye Baodhan kha", I had this subject in mind. I started writing the story for "Maine Gandhi ko Nahin Mara" almost 12 years ago. I thought I would be doing injustice to the subject if I confined it to an Assamese audience. So I thought of Hindi. I thought of Anupam Kher for the protagonist. Three years ago, when I offered him this role, he jumped at it and also ended up producing the film.
IFFI: some constructive criticism
We want to make it the best festival, because the country's prestige is involved. We have talent, resources, infrastructure and capacity. But we make a mess of things. Why?
I make films with limited resources and many constraints. Yet, I try to make the best films. And here is IFFI with everything but look at the result! The organisers have to listen to constructive criticism. Otherwise, we cannot improve.
On new ideas about art, films, film people and culture
When Jatin Das told me about the festival on "Art and the Artists", I was happy that an artist of his calibre is holding a film festival. It is a great idea to connect art with cinema. In public life here, nobody connects the two. That is a big drawback.
Films should have been promoted as a creative medium long ago. The British brought cinema to India as a means of information. So you have cinema under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. After independence, cinema should have been shifted to the Ministry of Culture. This hasn't been done; that's why nobody talks about the cultural responsibility of cinema.
The Ministry should encourage the JDCA kind of Festival. They should think of promoting the link between cinema and other forms of art and culture.
The BYOFF Puri is another great idea. Anything that inspires and brings the film fraternity together is always welcome. It also encourages and inspires newcomers to the field. Artists and filmmakers are encouraged when they connect with each other and their work is appreciated. Everyone feels nice at the end of the day.
E-mail the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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