10 Essential Award Winning Assamese Movies Of The Decade (2010s)
10 Essential Award Winning Assamese Movies Of The Decade (2010s): The practice of filmmaking in Assam is a regional establishment that is structured as well as systematized, within its limitations and boundaries. Though it cannot be compared with the regional film industry in other parts of the country like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, or Kolkata because the numbers, budget, and distribution of films from these regions are far grander. Since the box office in Assam is not as big as other regional film industries of the country investors tend to stay away from producing films that do not cater to the large pool of audiences. Most of the films released theatrically, strictly follow the setout mainstream formula and religiously aims to garner profits more than experiment with the contours of filmmaking. On the 8th of September 2017, a new feather in the crown of the industry was added with the release of an Assamese singer turned actor Zubeen Garg’s ‘Mission China’, which he had directed and produced. A fast-paced action thriller with melodious songs, dance numbers, and picturesque locations, the film is christened as one of the biggest blockbusters of the Assamese film industry and was also released in major metropolitan cities across the country. Zubeen’s next venture Kanchanjangha (2019) that released in several theatres in Assam and also did a stupendous business at the box office to become the highest-grossing Assamese film in history, till Ratnakar (2019) released after a month, directed by popular Assamese actor Jatin Bora, broke its record.
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However, there is an emerging group of independent filmmakers who are trying to defy the shackles of financial constraints and bypassing the stalking trend of popular cinema to create a unique form of storytelling. Most such films are either self-produced or crowdfunded or utilize the funding from an independent producer and don’t entertain interference from any production house to follow a set-out recipe of movie-making. The entire motive of such cinema is to create a well-defined and unique artistic vision and reach it out to people by shunning the conventional storylines and focusing more on socially and politically oriented themes. At the same time, the veteran filmmakers who had been contributing to the rich cultural tapestry of the Assamese cinema also continue with their creative endeavor to carry forward the trend of making niche and serious cinema.
Here’s A List Of The 10 Essential Award Winning Assamese Movies Of The Last Decade For Every Cinephile:
1. Ajeyo (Invincible, 2013)
Directed by the Padma Shri (2003) and Padma Bhushan (2015) winning Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua, Ajeyo is an adaptation of Arun Sharma’s Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novel and follows the tale of a young freedom fighter Gojen Keot (Rupam Chetia) confronting the religious and social disparities as well as the stigmas of the society. He has dedicated his life fighting the bourgeoisies and is resolute in his socio-political beliefs and ideals. However, he is plagued by the guilt of blaming himself for the untimely death of two of his colleagues due to his incorrect assessment of a situation.
The film is also a subtle portrayal of the highly politicized and sensitive issue of caste, child marriage, and religious discrimination and discord between the Hindu and Muslim communities residing in a rural area of pre-independent Assam. The narrative of the film oscillates between the past and the present capturing the dispiritedness of a freedom fighter who once believed that all the wretchedness and sufferings of his beloved Nation will come to an end once it gets independence. At the 61st National Film Awards, it won the award for the Best Film in Assamese and also the Best Film award in the 2014 Prag Cine Awards.
2. Bokul (2015)
A graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India, Reema Borah, did not enlist in a crowdfunding website for her first feature film Bokul. On the contrary, she preferred to campaign through Facebook making it sure for everyone that their contributions would be contributions and not investment, as she knew she would not be able to guarantee any returns. According to Reema, ‘I chose it over the usual process of finding a producer for multiple reasons – a) I have spent quite a few years in Mumbai and by now I know that most producers are averse to producing non-mainstream films unless they are sure of the revenue model b) The crowdfunding process is quicker – the few non-mainstream producers we know take too much time to make up their mind c) I had the freedom of making the film I want to, without any compromises and hindrances. Most often, this freedom is what every filmmaker craves for’.
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The multi-layered narrative of the film depicts the tumultuous period in the socio-political sphere of Assam where human values have no space. The film narrates the changing realities, shifts in values, and displacement of people observed from the point of view of the protagonist who has returned to his village after seven years. The film was selected in the ‘India Story’ section, at MAMI, Mumbai, 2015. Reema won the Best Director Award at the Prag Cine Awards North-East 2016 for her maiden venture.
The film is currently streaming on Mubi.
3. Kothanodi (The River of Fables, 2015)
The first feature film by the popular Assamese filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika Kothanodi is based on characters and stories adapted from Lakshminath Bezbaroa’s Burhi Aair Xadhu (Grandma’s tales). The narrative of the film is constructed around four fables entwined into one another, where a father buries alive his newborn infants in a jungle, an innocent weaver is indicted as a witch and driven out by her village because she has given birth to an elephant apple which follows her everywhere in the village, a girl in her teens is convinced by her stepmother for the wedding and she is forced to spends the night with the python, an innocent soul is mercilessly pounded to death beneath the pestle of a wooden rice pounder by her stepmother.
With a mixture of narrative excellence and folklore, Bhaskar Hazarika’s cinematic style is stylized and contemporary. Along with brilliant performance from the principal as well as secondary characters the film fixes a place in the viewer’s mind. The film is deeply moralistic at its core where all characters end up getting what they deserve for their dubious as well as decisive deeds. Kothanodi is one of the most successfully crowd-funded films on the popular platform Wishberry. It won the Asian Cinema Fund’s Post Production Fund Award for 2015 and was first screened at the 20th Busan International Film Festival. It won the Best Feature Film in Assamese award in the 63rd National Film Awards. It also received ten Prag Cine Awards nominations and won in four categories: Bhaskar Hazarika for Best Screenplay, Kasvi Sarma for Best Supporting Actor Female, Gulok Saha for Best Art Direction, and Rani Dutta Baruah for Best Costume, 2015.
The film is currently streaming on Moviesaints.
4. Maj Rati Keteki (2017)
Santwana Bordoloi’s sophomore Maj Rate Ketaki, reflects the protagonist’s journey of sacrifice and his need to reconnect with the memories of his family and the world around him. It is a story filled with contrasts – between fragility and strength, turmoil and peace, loss and beliefs, mortality and life. Adil Hussain portrays the role of a renowned writer Priyendu Hazarika, who returns to the town where once he was inspired to begin his journey as a writer, after almost a decade. The narrative is filled with several secondary characters belonging to different social strata of the rural and urban region of the state of Assam. The unfolding of events enriches the subplots akin to the experience of leafing through the chapters of a rich novel weaved together with a cinematic finesse.
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It is worth mentioning that Bordoloi made her debut with the critically acclaimed Assamese film Adajya in 1996 that won the National Film Award and a Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival of India. This was her comeback film after a gap of almost two decades. Maj Rate Ketaki premiered at the 21st International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in the International Competition category. At the 64th National Film Awards, the film won the Best Feature Film in Assamese award. Internationally reputed actor Adil Hussain received National Film Awards (Special Jury) at the 2017 National Film Awards for Hotel Salvation and Maj Rati Keteki.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix.
5. Village Rockstar (2017)
Rima Das’s debuted the world of cinema as a feature film director with Antardrishti (Man With The Binoculars, 2016), which was selected in the First Feature Competition section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, 2016. But it was her third film ‘Village Rockstar’ that catapulted her to the status of an international filmmaker. The film’s theme precisely draws one’s attention to gender equality and subtly makes a statement on women’s empowerment and examines the importance of a mother and how equality, unlike charity, initiates at home. The mother not only exhibits an unbridled attitude towards her daughter but also defends her wish to start a rock band by purchasing a guitar, as well as granting her wish to climb trees with boys.
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It’s an engaging tale narrated by an elderly village person, who references the Indian epic Mahabharata for an allegory: the mother is larger than the sky, which — in a way — highlights the importance of a mother figure throughout the film. Thus, Das presents one of the most beautiful mother-daughter relationships portrayed in Indian cinema. Village Rockstars represents a cultural category that is largely ignored by mainstream cinema and heralds a new chapter in the contemporary practice of serious filmmaking in India. There is a serenity to the film, an unhurried quality, as life unfolds at a measured pace. The snippets of village life appear neither manufactured nor exaggerated.
With little dialogue or story, Das creates a specific kind of minimalist realism, and it’s a remarkable achievement, as Village Rockstars was self-financed using non-professional actors from her village. It further represents a new attitude to independent filmmaking, rejecting the orthodoxy and conservatism of traditional styles, thereby affirming the filmmaker’s belief in the freedom of cinematic expression. The film had its World Premiere at Toronto Film Festival and was in the New Directors Competition in San Sebastian. At Jio MAMI Film Festival 2017, it won awards in three categories: Golden Gateway award for best film in India Gold category, Oxfam Best Film for Gender Equality, and Young Critics Choice. It also became the second Assamese film to win the Best Feature Film (Swarna Kamal) award at the 65th National Film Awards, besides winning in three other categories: Best Editing, Best Location Sound Recordist, and Best Child Artist.
Read the complete Review of Village Rockstars Here.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix.
6. Ishu (2017)
National award-winning film critic and documentary filmmaker, Utpal Borpujari’s debut Assamese feature film Ishu (2017) looks at how witch-hunting continues to be prevalent in certain communities in Assam. It is the story of 10-year-old Ishu (Kapil Garo), who lives in a remote tribal village in Assam. His days are spent with his friends or Bhalu, his pet puppy, and his favorite Ambika jethi (Tonthoi Leishangthem). However, one day his happy world turns topsy-turvy when Ambika is declared a witch under a conspiracy. The story is set in a remote village in the Goalpara district of Assam. Through Ishu’s battle for his aunt, the film examines the banned practice of witch-hunting from the eyes of a child. The film is based on the renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s children’s novel and produced by the Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI).
Witch-hunting is an abominable practice, borne out of the superstition of villagers and exploited by unscrupulous individuals like quacks or people who want to settle scores with someone. While there have been films that have dealt with the subject, but the way Ishu had dealt with the theme from the point of view of a child is commendable in its approach. It had its world premiere at the 23rd Kolkata International Film Festival. The film was screened as part of the Indian Languages Competition Section. The film was also screened at the 3rd Eye Asian Film Festival and Assam International Rural Film Festival recently. At the 65th National Film Awards, Ishu won the Best Feature Film in Assamese award.
7. Calendar (2017)
Most family dramas uphold clichés and use melodramatic overtones. So much so that they make real-life pale in comparison. Then some films subtly highlight painful family issues. Calendar by debutant Himjyoti Talukdar falls under the second category. The heart-warming account of the narrative narrates the story of a retired schoolteacher, Hitesh Kakati (Arun Nath), and his wife, Manorama (Malaya Goswami), who live in a small town in Assam. The 90-minute-long tale examines the simple, intensely moving crisis of the couple that goes through familial conflict, besides issues in marriage, responsibilities, and sustenance.
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The recurring imagery of the scooter that refuses to start at times brings the universality of belonging to objects that were once functional. The mise-en-scène is approached within the minimalist framework. Many subtle details in the film such as the announcements made by mobile theatre group, the cure of piles in a television program, pilfering of bamboos during the night of Magh Bihu, a tipsy rider falling off his bicycle are created off-screen with the sound design. The typical ambiance of a small-town household and its surroundings — whether it’s a prayer from Namghar (prayer house) or microphone announcements — emphasizes the significance of sound that can play an important role as characters.
The climax of the film reveals that every event marked by Manorama in the calendar with a circle leads to the exploration of a different tale, bringing a devastating effect on her husband. A pivotal scene between Hitesh and Manorama’s physician has been shot as an off-screen narration. Sound designer Debajit Gayan succeeds in creating a soundcentric milieu in the film. At the Prag Cine Awards 2018, the film won awards in nine categories: Best Actor (Male) Best Debut Director, Best Supporting Actor (Female), Best Screenplay Best Lyrics, Best Singer (Male), and Best Art Direction.
The film is currently streaming on ReelDrama
8. Bulbul Can Sing (2018)
I would like to sum up Bulbul Can Sing as a luminous tale about a teenage girl, in a rural setting of Assam, who falls in love while she is on the verge of discovering her adolescence along with her fellow mates. When a tragedy strikes, it unsettles the insouciant equilibrium of Bulbul’s life. In his third feature film, Rima Das captures the locale of rural Assam to present a realistic milieu, one that lacks all of the narrative cushions and handholding that viewers have come to expect. The film emphasizes ordinary and casual life, punctuated by the apparent simplicity of the imagery as everyday moments are captured. This fluid naturalism is greatly helped by a local, non-professional cast, as the chemistry between the actors seems effortless, thereby making their connection feel so palpable.
Rima’s direction examines one’s reluctance to imagine the future in any detail during childhood. She highlights the transformative power of nature, the way it allows one’s true self to shine through, and thus inspires the pursuit of hidden passions. By following the course of Bulbul’s journey, the audience may experience a story that’s lasting and meaningful. At the Berlin International Film Festival 2019, it won the Special Mention of the Generation 14plus International Jury. At the Jio MAMI Film Festival 2018, the film won Golden Gateway and at the 66th National Film Awards, it won the Best Feature Film in Assamese award.
Read the complete Review of Bulbul Can Sing Here
The film is currently streaming on Netflix.
9. Bornodi Bhotiai (In Love, By the River, 2019)
Debutant Anupam Kaushik Borah’s Bornodi Bhotiai presents a vision, which is a phenomenological effort and creates a querying, speculative freedom for the viewer that is charged with an interior sense of creation rather than an exterior sense of observation. Nearly two hours long, the film is difficult to place within the domain of a specific genre, as it blends magic realism, tones of a dark comedy, social satire, and romance amongst others within the tale.
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At its core, the film narrates the events in the monotonous life of six youths who are the inhabitants of the world’s largest river island, Majuli. The inclusion of several sub-plots within the narrative framework gives the film shape – modern folklore of rural Assam. And the credit goes to the meticulous screenwriting that successfully brings forward abstract and satirical presentation of Majuli’s sad existence and pain through its characters and their aspirations. Unsure about utilizing their creative expertise, in singing and acting, the youthful characters resign their fate to a goat husbandry farm for their livelihood. The friends bond over collective concerns and strive to find joy in living life together. They also harbor the prospect for business acumen by proposing a policy, in which they dream to receive financial protection as well as reimbursement against losses of their goat.
But one of their friends who work as an insurance agent in the village thwarts their plan by informing them that due to the annual flood in the region his company does entertain insurance policy of cattle inhabiting their beloved river island. Thus, the filmmaker takes a subtle satiric dig at the negligence of the government towards the havoc wrecked by the flood in the region every year. But besides their business interest, the friends also jointly cultivate a desire to form a close personal acquaintance with the same woman, which is their reason for retreating to their native land. At the Prag Cine Awards, 2021 Sonmoni Sarma won the award for the Best Supporting Actor and Zubeen Garg was nominated as the Best Male Playback Singer. At the Sailadhar Baruah Film Awards North East, 2019, the film had won the award for the Best Film.
The film is currently streaming on Reeldrama
10. Aamis (Ravening, 2019)
Bhaskar Hazarika’s second feature film Aamis is one of the most talked-about and critically discussed Assamese films of the last decade, across the world. The unusual narrative of Aamis ends with the young lover Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah) getting embroiled in a heinous criminal act to satiate the wish of his beloved Nirmali (Lima Das). The two principal protagonists of the film approach amoral depths that humans are capable of sinking to when pushed to a corner. But at its core, the film constantly battles with two thematic concerns that occur at two critical junctures within the narrative, spoken by the two principal characters.
Firstly, from Nirmali that meat isn’t the problem; gluttony is, and secondly from Sumon that the definition of normal isn’t universal. What appears as a tale of a clandestine affair between a young Ph.D. student and a married pediatrician in the city of Guwahati takes a sudden dramatic diversion from the regular genre convention and enters into the baffling terrain of paradoxes visible within a repressive society, finally unfolds into a dark tale of love, longing, and crime.
The film had its world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and Indian premiere at MAMI, Mumbai in 2019. Bhaskar Hazarila and Arghadeep Baruah had won awards at the Prag Cine Awards, 2021. But Lima Das who had won the best actress award at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF), 2019 did not win a single award in India for her subtle portrayal of a troubled soul tormented between balancing the societal decorum of her family life and the strong craving for an unusual appetite, emotionally as well physically, that oscillates between tradition and taboo.