Bulbul Can Sing and Bornodi Bhotiai posters

The year 2019 was eventful for the Assamese film industry. If on one hand commercially successful films like Ratnakar and Kanchanjangha were produced, then on the other hand films like Aamis, Bornodi Bhotiai: Love, by the River and Bulbul Can Sing were also made, which had an everlasting impact on the audience’s mind and were widely discussed and talked about.

Bulbul Can Sing, in fact, won several national and international awards and screenings including the Best Feature Film in Assamese in the 66th National Film Awards. It was also screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Bornodi Bhotiai also won people’s heart and it received various awards at home and was screened in several international and national film festivals including the Jio Mami Film Festival.

Aamis, directed by Bhaskar Hazarika, created a stir among audiences both at home and abroad inviting mostly positive reviews.

Rather than going through all the films, here is a discussion about the two films- Rima Das directed Bulbul Can Sing and Bornodi Bhotiai: Love by the River directed by Anupam Kaushik Borah. Both the directors have made their respective movies differently and shared their stories in a unique way and challenged the popular narratives.

Five reasons why Bulbul Can Sing is challenging the popular narratives

  • It brings the stereotyped notions about gender identity to the forefront and challenges those notions. It focuses on a character who is sandwiched between the gender norms conditioned by society and their own inner voice. Rather than making the character an object of mere bully/joke, the director is very careful and sensitive enough in portraying it.
  • The sexual abuses faced by the adolescent girls at the hands of the most otherwise trusted relatives or even teachers and the unspoken agony of the victims find a place in the film. The abusers are mostly socially acceptable people, pointing a finger against whom would invite dire consequences.
  • The brutality of the gangs of moral police which has been so trending in New India hardly had a place in Assamese entertainment industry. Bulbul Can Sing has brought the issue, and has made the audiences condemn them without taking any clear cut subjective position. Moreover, the moral burden on women which has been normalised in the name of culture has also been questioned even if in a subtle way.
  • The film has been criticised for its inaudible dialogues. But while the Assamese cine-goers are obsessed with dramatic dialogues; the film, in many of its scenes, has made insignificant of the audios of the conversations. Every time, you don’t need words to catch the emotion thrown at you.
  • Rima Das’ earlier film Village Rockstars was centred around the indomitable desire of a village girl to become a rock star or maybe to become a guitarist. But there too, the film was not much to do with the personal journey of the protagonist in making a career in music. But it shows the hegemonic practice present in the name of music in Assam. In Bulbul Can Sing a sub-plot also talks about the aspiration of a parent to make his daughter a popular singer who was himself a folk artist. Both the films complement each other in presenting a critical and as much as possible objective analysis of the present-day scenario of music practice in Assam. Probably, this has not been done in any other platform before.

Another commercially successful and critically acclaimed film of 2019 was Bornodi Bhotiai: Love, by the River.

Five reasons why Bornodi Bhotiai is unique

  • Have you seen talking about the issue of unemployment in Assamese cinema in the real context? You can name a few like Mon Jai, where the frustration of youths finds a place. But Bornodi Bhotiai has taken the utter helplessness, the possibilities of the young generation to another level with all the ironies. They can laugh at themselves at will and the other spectators of the society can delve into the real situations the youth has to go through.
  • The complete contrasting portrayal of Majuli from the videos, documentaries available at hand. The film talks about the mundane lives of the people of Majuli shunning the exoticism attached to the place, which was so important.
  • The absurdity: Often the film’s characters speak or act in such ways that some may find it quite absurd. The metaphors are not much hard to find though. For example, Moukan, a character who is being pursued by the local youths; who invites deaths or damages to anyone’s life without her real intention; the complicated turns of her life; her caring and curing qualities can be easily relatable to Majuli, the island. The experimentation of magic realism in a few scenes invites humour which shows its success.
  • The sarcasm: Assamese films are raw in playing with sarcasm. Bornodi Bhotiai deals with it very often. And has played it very well. You cannot stop laughing at the shooting scenes of the pre-wedding music video starring Moukan with her fiancé, hailing from a well-to-do family. Have we ever witnessed a criticism about the extravaganza and cultural nuances in weddings nowadays before? Or a criticism against patriarchal values set in the minds of the girls from a very early age successfully by society? And that too as a form of satire? We witness it in Bornodi Bhotiai when Moukan told the groom on the first night of their marriage
    without an inch of reluctance that getting married was her only dream since her childhood.
  • A radio is an essential character in the film. Every significant or insignificant event of the area are being highlighted and the locals come to know about those from the radio. While it is resistance from a periphery about no matter how ordinary a place or it’s happenings could be but that could still be loved and lived; the flat narration of the situations in the form of news pieces have added nothing but humour.

Both the films, with a non-linear style of storytelling have touched some issues without being subjective. But before making a concluding remark about the two as mere factual showcasing of events or people; one is compelled to retrospect the intentions of the directors about what they wanted to communicate with the audience.

You will find their clear stands if you wish to see at this stage and the beauty lies in it.

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