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Farhana Ahmed
Date of Publish: 2017-11-26

Obituary: Biju Phukan (1947-2017)

 

It was a bolt from the blue! Biju Phukan, the evergreen superstar who dominated the Assamese film industry for more than four decades is no more. The heartthrob of Assamese cinema passed away on November 22. The matinee idol has left a rich legacy of remarkable performance in regional cinema that is hard to emulate.

When Assamese cinema was in its golden age, another miracle happened to it. The Assamese cinema got its first superhero—a dashing, glamorous face named Biju Phukan. Like any other legends of cinema he entered a cameo in the first Assamese crime thriller Dr. Bezbaruah (1970) directed by Nip Baruah. He appeared in a dance sequence of the song Phool phool..as a member of the music band The Quivers. But it was a glimpse which was so short that he himself could not see on screen. That was the turning point of a young congo player of a music band to become a legendary actor—the beginning of a saga.

Photo: Dasarath Deka

Born in 1947, Biju Phukan started his acting career from his hometown Dibrugarh. Jayshree Sangha in Amolapatty was the labour ward where ‘Captain Gogoi’ came out to become the polar star of Assamese cinema. Biju Phukan was noticed by movie maestro Brajen Baruah while he was lip singing Ga ga aji gai jaa…in Nip Baruah’s Baruar Sangsar (1971). It was Biju Phukan’s first movie where he was given a role with a dialogue. He became popular and considered to be the most natural actor in Assamese cinema. Biju Phukan. Samarendra Narayan Deb’s musical blockbuster Aranya (1971) established him as a superstar and the movie went to win the Best Regional Film at the National Film Awards. Aranya dealt with the still relevant subject of deforestation, wildlife trafficking and rhino poaching where Biju Phukan acted in the role of Forest Ranger Jayanta Baruah.

With a career spanning with more than eighty films Biju Phukan acted in Brajen Baruah’s Lalita (1972), Opaja Sonar Mati (1972), Atul Bordoloi’s Bonoria Phool and Anutaap (1973) and Prauilla Baruah’s Rashmirekha (1973), Deuti Baruah’s Bristi (1974), Bhaben Das’s Dharmakai (1977), Prabir Mitra’s Natun Asha (1977), Dr Upen Kakati’s Bishesh Erati (1979), Nip Baruah’s Ajali Nobow (1980), Hemanta Dutta’s Upapath (1980) and Itihash (1980), Prafulla Brauah’s Rajanigandha (1981), Shiva Prasad Thakur’s Bowari (1982), Samarendra Narayn Deb’s Raja (1982), Jahnu Baruah’s Aparupa (1982), Shiva Prasad Thakur’s Ghar Sansar (1983), Dara Ahmed’s Devi (1984), Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia’s Agnisnan (1985), Shiva Prasad Thakur’s Man Mandir (1985), Nip Baruah’s Antony Mor Naam (1986), Bhaben Das’s Maa (1986), Jahnu Baruah’s Papori (1986), Munin Baruah’s Pita Putra (1988), Mridul Gupta’s Abhiman (1990), Munin Baruah’s Pahari Kanya (1990), Shiva Prasad Thakur’s Ashanta Prahar (1994), Pradip Gogoi’s I Killed Him Sir (1995), Baharul Islam’s Asene Konoba Hiyat (2000), Taufik Rahman’s Ei Morom Tomar Babe (2001), Jadumani Dutta’s Agnishakshi (2003), Munna Ahmed’s Priya Milan (2003), Shankar Baruah’s Hepah (2003), Munin Baruah’s Barod (2004) and Rang (2004), Ramesh Mody’s Deuta Diyahe Bidai (2006), Munna Ahmed’s Asin Chinaki (2010), Gautam Baruah’s Rowd (2012), Shankar Baruah’s Grief on a Sunday Morning (2015) and Kongkon Rakhowa’s Dur (2016) and many more. Biju Phukan also acted in Bangla movies like Hotel Snow Fox, Aparajita, Daisyu Ratnakar and Gajamukta.

Biju Phukan was the most natural actor of the Assamese film industry. With him the theatrical acting in Assamese cinema met it end. With spontaneous acting and dialogue delivery he used to make every character very convincing whether it was of a promising youth of a village or of a police officer or a ruthless businessman. He himself admitted in many interviews that the character of Muhikanta, an abusive village Mahajan he played in Dr Bhabendranath Saikia’s Angnisnan was the most challenging one. His acting versatility will always be remembered in movies like Aranya, Bonoriya Phool, Ganesh,Natun Asha, Upapath, Rashmirekha, Ajali Nabow, Bowari, Ghar Sansar.

Paired with screen divas of his time like Bidya Rao, Mridula Baruah, Kashmiri Saikia Biju Phukan was the darling of every heart during 1970s and 1980s for his dashing personality and flamboyance. He was an instant crowd-puller wherever he went at that time. Even police lathicharged autograph hunters flocking Biju Phukan on many occasions. He epitomized the romantic hero image lip sing some immortal songs of movies. Songs like Tomar Morome Mor…(Bonoriya Phool), Mon Kshane Kshane Binai (Rashmirekha), Surat Mogon Bhoyal Rati and Rambha Menaka (Bristi), Ei Akash Bor Bishal (Natun Asha), Soshake Kowa (with Nirmala Mishra in Dharmakai), Nodi Tore Bukute (Upapath), Andhar Rati Kot Baru Toi (Ajali Nobow) made him a evergreen jubilee hero. Perhaps the most popular song picturized with Biju Phukan is Mon Hira Doi in Bowari.

Photo: Dasarath Deka

Like the lean phase affecting our lives, Assamese cinema too had its grey period in which the iconic hero Biju Phukan suffered so. His first cinematic dialogue was ‘Maa toka lagibo bujiso, toka/Toka nohole ei jibanot ekuwei nai (Mother, money is needed/Nothing is there without money), and this reel life dialogue proved to be true in his real life also. Though he romanticized the life he never succeeded as a materialistic person. In fact this is the irony of cinema industry. Unlike the other regional film industries of the country Assamese cinema has never got the financial security. Despite having the demigod status Assamese film personalities has never got the financial benefits they duly deserve.

Biju Phukan, the happy go lucky person with his ever smiling face used to dwell in people’s heart in every nook and corner of Assam but he never built his own fortune. But Assamese society as a whole and Assamese cinema in particular is fortunate to have a Biju Phukan.

Farhana Ahmed

( Farhana Ahmed is a journalist with The Assam Tribune, a film critic and a documentary filmmaker. She has authored the book Cine Nama and translated Anupama Chopra’s Sholay: The Making of a Legend (Penguin) into Assamese. )

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