Jahnu Barua’s benchmark film Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai (The Catastrophe, 1987) of 120 minute duration , winner of International and National crowns, rare feats so to say, remains still his masterpiece work.
Jahnu Barua, the figurehead of new Assamese cinema, seems to have brilliantly absorbed the dynamics of good filmmaking in his own way. His films, the count of which is many, have rigorously maintained a trajectory of thematic relevance, artistic traits and film aesthetics. Jahnu is thus a director of India who propels the 7th Muse on to the topical sensibilities. He is director with a faith of awful sincerity and panache. He plods alone in Assamese cinema sans any tangible directors having the least proximity to him. He is in a way a telescope, broadening our insight and realistic view.
His benchmark film Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai (The Catastrophe, 1987) of 120 minute duration , winner of International and National crowns, rare feats so to say, remains still his masterpiece work as it refuses to toe the mainstream trappings in reaching realism and truth. His milieu is always somewhat agrarian, rural and cunning feudalism. His warmth is deeply felt in his above film that opens the wounds of our soul.
The film is structured in a tiny typical village in agrarian Assam steeped in feudal exploitation. It tackles the story of the poor Bora whose land is whisked off and snatched away by rich and the powerful landlords. Bora is a marginal farmer and is made the patsy of harrowing feudalism that by nature exploits the poor in a bestial manner. Bora’s ignorance of the land paper usurped cleverly by the lender is the moot point and seals the fate of Bora to utter ruination.
The movement of the film based on exploitative land system, looks slow at the start but gradually looks up and gains tempo when Bora, the vigilant outsider, puts up a banner exhibiting his destiny which is forced upon him by the very feudal system ripping through India. Jahnu’s treatment of innocent and hapless Bora is special and seeped through crude weaving of time and tenor of the system Bora lives in. In the process, the film Halodhia Choraye… enlightens the film-buffs as well as the people around him with logjam complicity.
Quite often, we find a strand of poetic resonance amidst of poverty, powerlessness of the milieu. It is apparent the film harks back to the nitty-gritty of India’s feudal structure that operates openly and clandestinely. Jahnu’s film takes us back to Satyajit Ray’s major work Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder) which also displays how man-made famine and feudal elements have always been active. Famine is relegated to the background and points out how pack of feudal lords cripples the economic balance and hamstrings the landless peasants, poor, grimy and restricted.
It is a film of logical extension. Bora is a pathetic representative of the whole Nation shattered by scars of social imbalance in the face of glitzy spectacle. No doubt, Bora is a poor protagonist, marginalized, exploited, decimated to the hilt. You come to Bengal, the picture is the same. Here we have Madan tati instead of Bora, facing the same dark fate and economic tortures with mouth shut. Indeed,
Jahnu uses a ploy to show us that we are not living in the best of all possible worlds. The farmer is played by Indra Baniya characteristically whose land is grabbed away by a rich land owner on the grounds of not having papers. Law thus becomes an impediment for the farmer who subsequently loses the land to the influential person who is soon going to contest the MLA elections. Here we are driven into “pathetic fallacy” and made aware of round corruption eating into the vitals of the agrarian milieu which forms 75% of India. When the film ends, the farmer Bora’s struggle for getting back his land goes on.
Given the orientation of the marginalized film, we have no scope to compare it with that of Bicycle Thieves. It would be too much to do so. For De Sica in post war Italy had a different political and social situation. In no far imagination such analogy is applicable. It is true Bruno along with father is driven to paste posters of the person who stole the bicycle and correspondingly grabbed away his land. The images of the film that Jahnu Barua creates lacerate the viewer into reality to sink in the farmer’s emotional and cathartic crisis. And finally, Bora’s son then becomes somewhat mature and conscious and keeps his father on the trot, on the go and from it springs optimism and hope which is emotionally crafted into the element of the sequence.
Finally, the farmer does get back his land only to realize that he has mortgaged his buffalo to win this case and the excitement of getting back the land is immediately switched to a melancholic voice-over of mixed hope and humane prowess coupled with passion. He knows he cannot plough now and yet he picks up the kur, a tool which is used as an alternative to plough by buffaloes, and plods on to the paddy fields. Here we have patterned irony which we don’t see him working on the fields as a happy ending. On the other hand, we see him tearing apart that poster he pasted out of his self-obtained freedom from all the exploiters. A quaint element dawns on his realization about guarded stature as an individual and as an important insider. In fact, the film comes to an end with abundant ellipses that Jahnu has kept alive for us. There is so much subtle absorption of optimism, very rare in Indian cinema.
I must mention that Jahnu among the filmmakers is a rare talent which is evident on a greater scale than his creative, hidden parts. He can conceive huge structural schemes and muster up a sparse band of ideas for them to carry. He can re-create and manipulate masses of material, but the masses are all means of the same thing, a realism he chases in his works with prowess and sensibility. Jahnu remains one of the finest directors of Indian cinema whom you can’t possibly ignore.
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(All pictures used in this article are courtesy the Internet)
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