Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Position Space and Momentum Space: Project Desh

Five Assamese Short Films. Five Directors.

Shorts were never substitutes for the longs. A short story was not an abridged version of a novel; likewise, a one-act play was not a cut out act from a full-fledged theatre production. The best part of the five young directors under the Project Desh by Kahini Media was that they understood it well - a short film meant speaking a different language altogether instead of making a film in short duration. All five are different in executions, in narratives, techniques, mode, lyricism and also in conceptual grounding. In fact there was no common thread to weave them out in a single thread as a single project. If anything was common in them then it was their attitude as they all were clear about what they were going to do.

Project Desh is a platform for dialogue of the Assamese diaspora, a cross-geographical exchange of ideas. Kahini Media starts this journey with five "slice of life" films in contemporary Assam, with five budding directors Sagar Saurabh, Ajit Giri, Srishti Shreyam, Amrita Goswami and Snehankar.
Kahini Media is a Mumbai-based production house. Brainchild of filmmaker Roopa Barua, Kahini Media has it’s origins in the word ‘kahini’ (‘kahani’ in Urdu) meaning a ‘story’. Kahini Media tries to bring artists from various disciplines together to collaborate and create moments of beauty and significance. Running the gamut from music videos, feature documentaries, drama installations and short films, Kahini Media has delivered consistently with award-winning projects that play on the art and dynamics between fragile lives and quantum emotions in a changing landscape.

ভেকো ভাওনা

Bheko Bhaona [Much Ado About Nothing]

"The people are the actors, the country is the stage Come along to play the role you choose – time is short" - Bhupen Hazarika

The first film of the project is a subtly political drama by Sagar Saurabh based on a situation in rural set up. Looking at the much verbal narrative one might think of lacking ‘cinematic’ nature of the film, but at the same time it is also true that developing a less verbal narrative is not the only criteria for a good film. Instead to look at Sagar Saurabha’s film one would be amazed to see the sense of humour, sharp satire and intense social critical insight. Notably, Sagar belongs to Sotea, a semi-rural place close to Biswanath Charaiali, where the film is set, and Sotea is already known for a rich background of the theatre practitioners. People like Late Deepak Gogoi and Pankaj Jyoti Bhuyan had established and maintained a tradition of socially realistic treatment in contemporary Assamese drama. Sagar’s work is deeply embedded with the satirical idiom offered by the place and the work is essentially locale. Sagar Saurabh who is introducing himself as a poet and a song writer as well, works outside Assam and for long he is away from his native place. But most of his creations are deeply rooted to rural Assam. But fortunately his association to rural Assam does not indicate to the modernist nostalgia or to the revivalist morality. Instead he captures a constantly changing socio-political landscape.   


Rang [Colours]

“You are shouting at the little kid for breaking a glass of oil
 What about you, the old ones, who tear apart the country into pieces?
 What about that? What about that? What about that?”

 Annada Shankar Ray

Ajit Giri tells a humane story connecting two young minds. To tell the story Ajit adopts a cinematic method where he takes a risk of dismantling the notion of a ‘character’ in a narrative. Though the voice or dialogues are inevitably integral in the film, the visuality is treated differently in this film and this shows the director’s attitude towards film as a visual culture. This does not state that Ajit’s film is just an experimental formal play. The film looks at the class concerns in our society in a critical and subtle way and the method is effective for the director’s sayings.



As a short story writer in Assamese language, Srishti Shreyam already knows how to tell a story. She adopts a published story of her own and revisits the psychoanalysis in a cinematic way. Through a seemingly ordinary everyday momentary situation of an urban girl living in Guwahati city Srishti takes a note on desire and longing. At the end of everything, not a story, not a situation but an attitude comes out in Srishti’s art. In a way the narrative has that power to force a viewer to question him or herself while coming out of the screening: Exactly what am I looking for?    


Modar [The Exiled]

"I am not the wall that seals in the border
I am the fissure breaching that wall."

Kamla Bhasin

Another socio-political narrative, Amrita Goswami’s Modar, The Exiled is a tale around the questions of geographical boarders and humane relationships. The beginning and the ending of this film visually demonstrate diasporic human lives appearing amidst the mist and vanishing away and in between the questions around existence and non-existence we meet the characters. A bhatiyali song adds a subjective melody to the film. Looking at the contemporaneity of the socio political scenario of the country this film draws our intense attention.


“Give me food bastard, or, I will eat up the map!”
Rafik Azad 

Red+Yellow= is a nonlinear film by Snehankar that takes the audience through a range of visual imaginations. For the nonlinear method and the denial of the director for ‘telling a story’ this film looks for a lineage in the surrealist video arts instead of narrative traditions. Based on a poem by a lesser known poet in Assamese language Snehankar re-constructs a memory of the contemporary. The film is based on crisis in identity under current political circumstances ushered by the attempts of Saffronisation in Assam.

Thus the five films by the five directors under Project Desh revolve around these five keywords: Irony, Imagination, Desire, Diaspora and Metamorphosis. This set of five films offers diverged taste. If Sagar’s film is set in a rural set up, Srishti’s film is essentially urban. If Amrita’s film tells a tale smoothly, Snehankar chooses to tell no story at all. If Sagar decides to build up a story through developing a character, Ajit develops the camera, movements and gestures as characters. Despite of all the diversions and contradictions all the films are largely political. Besides all of them contains some undercurrent senses other than the surface of visibility. Compiling these segments of life together Kahini Media is planning to launch the Project Desh in public.

Desh is a word in Indian languages holding several layers of meaning. According to context it is translated as Country, Nation, State and Land. In Hindustani classical music Desh is a famous Raag that contains similar ecstasy to Malhar. In the philosophical traditions in the continent Desh largely stands for space. The phrase “Space” and “Time” is translated as “Desh” and “Kaal”.  

The word Desh as a theme is not central for all the movies. But remotely or arbitrarily all of them have something to do with it. Bheko Bhaona, sets up an ironical situation where every next person is concerned about the state of being (one character literally speaks- “আমাৰ দেশখন ৰসাতলে বুইছ“) but is corrupt with some political motives. Second film Rang is all about imagining, tracing and mapping humanity beyond the class differences. Chaatak is more philosophical and the name itself is a metaphor borrowed from Indian mythological traditions. The body is considered as “Desh” from where the mind aspires for the absolute. A song by Lalon Fakir sings – “The Chaatak is being awaited for the clouds whereas the clouds are hovering above some different countries”. When the concept of nation is there obviously comes the issues around diaspora and Modar centrally deals with the issue from a humanitarian ground. The last of the series, Red+Yellow= is based on a poem titled as  “দেশ লৈ মই কি লাওখোলাটো কৰিম” [What the Hell Would I do with my Country] that talks all the futility of sentimentally manipulative nationalism.  

The five films are glimpse like the six blind persons narrating an elephant in Rumi’s story. At this point I remember Stephen King saying about short-stories: “A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.” However these shorts  are segmented, fragmented, incomplete and trembling. And exactly for the same reason they are moving.
In a time (kaal) when a novel term “Anti-National” is developed within the national discourses, in a space (Desh) where issues around immigration and identity crisis remain constantly effective the launching of Project Desh by Kahini Media will definitely bear some significance.   

Do not miss the preview at Rabindra Bhawan, Guwahati, on November 3rd, 2016.

Samudra Kajal Saikia, New Delhi, October 2016

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