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Assam filmmaker 'remakes' history

Manju Borah will recreate the magic of 1935 classic, Joymati. The original version was made by Jyotiprasad Agarwala, reports Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 19:28 IST

Over seven decades after poet, composer, playwright, freedom fighter and visionary Jyotiprasad Agarwala made Joymati, the first-ever Assamese film, in an improvised studio on a tea estate, Manju Borah has embarked upon an ambitious project to bring a significant slice of the state’s political and cinematic history back to the silver screen.

The Guwahati-based Borah, whose directorial credits include acclaimed films like Bhaibhav and Akaashitoraar Kathare, has already completed the shoot of her version of Joymati. Chennai-based music composer Isaac Thomas Kottukapally is currently working on the film’s score.

Isaac Thomas, who has worked with the late G Aravindan, besides the likes of Girish Kasaravalli and Shaji N Karun, was roped into the project after Borah’s efforts to get a musician from Thailand to do the score failed. “I met a musician from Chiang Mai but he had never composed for a film. Moreover, had I decided to use his services, my budget would have shot up,” says the director.

Borah hasn’t off course seen the original Joymati except for the few surviving portions that were used by singer-musician Bhupen Hazarika in a 1976 documentary on Agarwala’s Joymati. “But even that footage was in a very bad state,” says the director. Incidentally, Hazarika made his acting debut as a 14-year-old in Agarwala’s second and last film, Indra Malati, a love story of a city boy and a village girl, made in the late 1930s.

Manju Borah will remake the 1935 classic, Joymati. The original version was made by Jyotiprasad Agarwala. Borah says film is drawn entirely from historical research, unlike Agarwala’s movie which was fiction based.

Her

Joymati

, she says, is different from Agarwala’s pioneering film, in one crucial respect. “The 1935

Joymati

was fiction-based. The narrative of my film is drawn entirely from historical research. It has no fictional characters,” Borah explains.

Agarwala’s Joymati was adapted from a play by eminent Assamese writer Lakshminath Bezbaruah. It told the heroic story of a noble lady belonging to the royal Ahom family who, in the 17th century, laid down her life to save the kingdom from internecine skirmishes fuelled through a puppet king by an evil minister Lalukshola Borphukan. Her supreme sacrifice laid the foundation of the glory days of the Ahom kingdom.

“All this,” says Borah, “is an integral part of Assam’s history. I, therefore, did not feel the need to fictionalise the story.”

Joymati recreates a period of Assamese history – it is based on events that happened over 400 years ago – of which very little pictorial evidence is now available. “I had to use my imagination to design the costumes and the settings,” says Borah.

With the exception of a handful of actors, notably Bishnu Khargharia and Touffique Rahman, the cast of Borah’s Joymati comprises newcomers. The central role of the Ahom princess is played by Neeta Basumatary, while another debutant, Rohan, essays the character of her husband, Godapani, member of a royal clan who went on to become King and end political instability.

Shot on a set erected in a small village, Ketatong, in Assam’s Margharita, district, Joymati should be ready for release within the next few months. “I was lucky,” says the director. “The villagers went out of their way to help the production. They supplied raw materials required for the set at one-fourth the market price. I spent only Rs 4-5 lakh on a what would have otherwise cost nearly Rs 15 lakh.”

Borah’s last film, Laaz, made it to the Indian Panorama section of the International Film festival of India last year, is hoping to take the same route with Joymati. “The film exhibition sector in Assam is in the doldrums,” she says. “Cinema halls are closing down to give way to shopping malls. There is no space for non-mainstream films in this scenario.”

But Manju Borah seems determined to ensure that her Joymati doesn’t die in vain.

First Published: Mar 10, 2006 19:28 IST