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Dr. Rashmi Sarmah
Date of Publish: 2017-05-13

Alifa- in search of hope and humanity amidst chaos and despair

 

The mind knows no limits, and dreams embrace all innocent eyes irrespective of social and economic identity; but when reality hits hard, all shatters. What once looked possible, becomes a distant reverie that seems more at rest hidden somewhere in the darkness of life’s uncertainties and cruel blows of fate. Alifa, a saga of struggle, hope, human frailty and despair, very boldly yet beautifully explores the plight of migrant workers in urban set ups, where humanity remains a question mark and every moment witnesses the emerging of a new challenge.

The directorial debut of young filmmaker Deep Choudhury and producer Arman Ahmed , Alifa is a pioneering work in terms of looking at the immigrant issue with a humanistic approach in the cinematic process of story- telling. The film opens with a child Alifa’s reflection on her existence, her observations on life, and her simple dream of getting formal education some day. As the girl looks down to the city from a lush hilltop, she stands for her whole community, which though helps others build that land of dreams, as construction workers, domestic helpers and daily labourers, but never become a worthy part of that world ever.

Ali, her father is a simple man who hides his anguish of leaving behind his village after a natural calamity, and struggling for survival in an unwelcoming land. Even a small corner of nature can be occupied only at the mercy of a corrupt forest guard. Yet he finds solace as he looks at daughter Alifa, son Faisal and wife Fatima, his little universe, where the night story telling sessions for his children gives him satisfaction, until life slowly begins to get uglier.

He loses his job and has to depend on wife’s earning to run the house. His realization that Alifa will never go to school, and the odd jobs that come his way often finds him amidst humiliation and inhuman behavior, makes him more timid and confused. Moreover, the biggest blow to his self respect comes when his wife begins an affair with another man, and also reminds him again and again that he is incapable of looking after his family. But, somehow Ali, with the help of fellow migrant Saifuddin clings on to hope and tries hard to get things back in order until the final blow, when Alifa becomes a victim of man animal conflict. The film ends with Faisal, the little boy setting out on a path of revenge alone, to give justice to Alifa, who is now gone forever.

The audience, after this roller coaster emotional journey, is left with a question mark as to what they have done for this lot of productive migrants, or what they should do?

The story has been narrated very well with the perfect casting, especially seasoned actor Baharul Islam very convincingly playing the character of Ali. The actor says, “The whole thing came so realistically to me. I did not need to make any efforts to get into the character. A father, a husband and an immigrant worker, Ali’s plight and aspirations are so universal. A person of any community would go through such a turmoil in that situation, where I am an illegal immigrant with no job but a family to take care of. The worst , depending on the wife’s earning, and the fact that my beautiful wife is attracted to another man… a failure for me. That inner dilemma and conflict is well reflected in the film by the director.”

He further adds, “I enjoyed my role thoroughly also because I could relate to the character. Though Ali is from Barpeta area, and I belong to Goalpara, yet I can recall, though my father grew up in this land I was also born here, still many of us from that part of the state who follow Islam are looked at with doubt. The same look, given to illegal immigrants. It hurts and that suffering and anger has been within me. So I am grateful to my producer and especially my co producer Memooda, and the director, for letting me do this role. The film has a totally different perspective. The new generation of directors like Deep Choudhury, have a different way of story-telling where there is no fixed notion. He has thrown reality at us and is asking what we have to say?”

And the director, Deep Choudhury confesses that this film is very close to his heart. “I took this subject because I feel that no one tries to take this issue humanistically. We have to remember that we are humans first and then a community. The story idea came to me ten years ago when I was in that hilly part of the city hiking, and met people of this community staying there. I was amazed by the view we got of the city from the hill, and told them they are fortunate to have such a beautiful location to stay. But they said that they live their amidst crisis and there is nothing to feel happy about….. That very moment I began to work on the story in my mind. When I became a filmmaker, I realized this story has remained dear to me because it also involves my hometown, the different aspects of my city.”

The true to life characters in the film are a result of the filmmaker’s many years of observation….. “I Have been observing different people. Not necessarily from that community itself, but could be domestic helpers, vendors etc. I have seen them, felt them…. and then incorporating some of those trends in my characters was easy. Also I grew up in Hajo at some point of time, and have observed this community there. But for the film I travelled to Barpeta and studied their ways there. As a writer I create the characters and once they are there I have no control over them, I let them grow naturally. For the film there was no specific expensive research, but basically observing these people for long and getting to know their way of life, whether it is their language, day to day activities like cooking etc. Like in the film if you see, Alifa cooks in the courtyard. Then a research on water crisis in the hills and few other things that helped me come up with the script.”

The director is all set to release the film not only in the region but also in West Bengal. “I am happy people have appreciated the film and I have been able to provoke some thought on the issue, in minds of the youngsters. Many felt they were doing something wrong by being very judgmental of these people. Moreover, people initially told me be careful, handle the issue sensitively, it is controversial. But luckily I have not got into any controversy and I have been careful not to hurt any religious sentiments. People in Assam, West Bengal and other parts of the country have accepted it so well that language has not been an issue at all. The Assamese do not feel it is Bengali (Mia language or Banga Bhasha) and the Bengali in Kolkatta never felt it is not Bengali. All loved the film.”

Why an open ending, why no solution from the filmmaker’s side? He smiles, “Yes, an open ending, that is my signature style. I feel every audience has his or her own perspective. All can have different dimensions of thought on the same issue. I want the audiences to explore that freely.”

For all those who have seen it, the film once again brings the people of the region to the brink of one of the most burning issues; illegal immigrants, and reminds us that the approach has to change if a solution has to be found, which involves the good of all and makes us act humanistically.

Dr. Rashmi Sarmah

(Dr. Rashmi Sarmah is a Guwahati-based freelance journalist and communication researcher)

 

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