Multiple national and international award-winning filmmaker Jahnu Barua is credited with establishing Assamese film on the world stage. He started his career in 1982 with Aparoopa, and is considered the pioneers of Assamese Art Cinema. We caught up with him on the sidelines of the ongoing 45th International Film festival Of India in Goa for a candid chat.
You started your career 32 years ago with Aparoopa. How have you grown as a filmmaker in the last three decades?
I feel that I am a better human being now. I've learnt a lot while dealing with artists, technicians and everybody else involved in the process of making a film. I have become more conscious about cinema and have also started feeling that the potential of this medium is still under-utilised in our country. And, of course, my urge of making films has only increased in all these years.
Is that the reason why you are drifting towards Gandhian philosophy in a more concrete way now?
I love Gandhi, but when I look at my country, I think it has become sick. I tell myself that we can still save it. Take Delhi, for instance. India's capital city has the highest number of rape cases in the country. This is unfortunate and how could we let it happen. How have we arrived at this juncture in just 60 odd years of independence? Something must have gone wrong somewhere.
Where do you think we are going wrong?
One of the reasons is that we are ignoring Gandhi's beautiful philosophy. And, I am not talking about 'if somebody slaps you bring forward the other cheek'.
(Interjection) But that is also a wrong interpretation of the Gandhian philosophy.
Yes it is. Take charkha for example. He used it as a symbol of self reliance. We need to understand that if he was alive today, he would have perhaps taken an indigenous computer in place of the charkha. See, we are taught to worship Gandhi as a holy man. That is where we are going wrong. He was a person like us who had different philosophies. That is where the younger generation feels allergic towards Gandhi. If you put his name in the title, nobody would go to watch the film.
Is that the reason you named your film Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara?
Yes, I wanted to provoke the audience. Today, you ask any child what he wants to do. He would say, 'I want to go to the US.' Nobody wants to be here. This is a dangerous situation and Gandhi was addressing this issue with charkha. You're free to make a choice but at least take a look at the resources you have.
Why did it take you so many years to make the transition from Assamese to Hindi films?
I come from a village and I don't want to forget my roots. When I came out of FTII, I thought it was my duty to push forward the Assamese cinema. But that quota is fulfilled now (smiles).
Mainstream Bollywood is also experimenting with the theme of Gandhi.
We have this concept of making a market-friendly film. We are not much into making a good film and then trying to sell it. Wherever Gandhi could be sold, we are making a film. I am not referring to any film but this is happening.
(Interjection) Are you referring to the Munnabhai series?
I won't take any names, but this is happening. Look at Richard Attenborough's film and you will agree how good it is.
(Interjection) But that film is also very market friendly.
He knew that it is a saleable commodity but he remained within a framework. He stayed true to the character. I didn't see Gandhi, he died before I was born but I can always extract things about his life from Attenborough's film.
We've heard you are planning a new Hindi film.
I can't reveal much but yes it's centered around the younger generation and is based on music.