Project Desh : An artistic experiment that questions popular perspectives
Five nascent themes, five young, enthusiastic and creative directors and one producer with dreams in her eyes who wants to explore deeply through audio-visual medium the nuances of the socio-cultural thoughts that haunt the present-day impatient Assam. Thus, a concept was born which was actualised by implementing, with precision and painstaking devotion, the first cinematic venture under ‘ Project Desh’ banner, a platform for a cross-geographical exchange of ideas of Assamese diaspora on contemporary cultural issues The producer is award-winning documentary filmmaker Roopa Barua of Kahini Media, Mumbai based but intimately connected to her roots in Assam. Deeply disturbed by the happenings in Assam where tranquillity and turmoil seem to co-exist quite unconcernedly, she decided to set aside the ring side view and sip in real terms the full range of feelings ,emotions and contrasting thoughts by producing five short films that depict the socio-cultural milieu of contemporary Assam honestly and imaginatively.
So, she invited thematic scripts from budding directors of Assam and from the numerous entries that she received, she selected five that best represent her vision. This is what I understood from what Roopa said in her opening remarks before unveiling, to a select audience, Project Desh showcasing the five short films at Rabindra Bhawan on November 3, 2016.
This has really been a bold experiment as finances were scarce and resources limited. But the outcome has justified the commitment and confidence that Roopa and team Kahini Media had on the concept and on the creative people associated with the project. Five magical short films of about 10 minutes duration were constructed – ‘Bheko Bhaona’ by Sagar Saurabh, ‘Rong’ by Ajit Giri, ‘Chaatak’ by Sristhi Shreyam,’ Modar’ by Amrita Goswami and, ‘ Red + Yellow =’ by Snehankar. Five different visions are woven on a colourful canvas depicting the hues, rhythms and tones of Assam’s socio-politico-cultural mosaic - a landmark cinematic endeavour with some clear messages to society and people. Words, visuals and sequences were innovatively and creatively stitched together in all the five short films, each to tell a story of its own without losing sight of the key message that is intended to be imparted.
One may feel that at times the intended messages got blurred under the influx of symbolisms and allusions used so dramatically to tell a story. It may, however, be a cinematic imperative to take help of such literary device to draw the attention of the viewers to a potentially sensitive situation particularly as seen in Snehankar’s film. In any case, artistic prudence requires that one allows some degree of latitude or cinematic freedom to the budding directors like Snehankar whose treatment of a potentially explosive and currently relevant subject had been simply excellent.
One can not forget the image of the simple village flute- player playing a mesmerising tune on the flute which is spewing out fire through the holes under the agitating playing fingers of the youth. Quite clearly, Snehankar has delivered his message. Similarly, all the other four directors have been able to drive home their take on the contemporary socio-cultural issues prevailing in Assam thematically through their well produced short films. Special mention may be made of the modern woman character in Chaatak which was enacted by talented Amrita Goswami with ease and elan. I had recently seen a beautifully crafted Egyptian short film (just over four minutes), ‘The Other Pair’, directed by 20 year old Sara Rozit that had won an award at the Luxor Film Festival. To my mind, these five short films fall in the same league.
The take-away for me from this interesting evening is that these five budding directors have made us sit up and think, not through boring lectures but by artistically portraying situations in visually beautiful narratives with gracious sprinklings of metaphors, symbols and allegories. For this, the credit must go to Roopa Barua who had the courage to undertake this unique initiative.
( Dr. Bhupati Kumar Das is a noted writer and poet. An alumnus of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad and Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, Dr Das is the Managing Director at Bharat Oman Refineries Limited. )