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Dr. Rashmi Sarmah
Date of Publish: 2016-12-27

Sonar Baran Pakhi: The Golden Wings

 

Sonar Baran Pakhi: The Golden Wings, is an admirable effort by filmmaker Bobby Sharma Barua, to bring to us the life of a legend whose soothing and melancholic voice, and strong persona with an undying love for the soil and its folk culture continues to inspire many.

The indisputable queen of Goalpariya Lokogeet, Padmashree and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Protima Baruah Pandey, whose immortal songs like Hastir Kanya, O Mur Mahaut Bondhu re, Kamala Shundari, and many more, comes alive through the film that has been doing rounds at film festivals across the country and will be released soon.

The film opens with the enchanting voice of Pandey as Hastir Kanya plays in the background while little Buchu (Protima’s nick name given by her parents) sits and listens to the legend of an young priestess who turns into the elephant queen. Her aunt explains how the water from the rainbow coloured spring brought eternal joy to Hastir Kanya; eventually young Protima also respites in the lap of nature with folk songs touching her soul.

Born in Calcutta in 1934 into the Royal family of Gauripur, Protima’s greatest inspiration to sing folk songs came from her father Prakritish Barua. Renowned filmmaker and her uncle Pramathesh Barua, though tried to help her establish herself as a playback singer in films, the young lady could never part with the natural beauty of her native place Gauripur in Assam, and her special moments of joy amidst wilderness by the river Gadadhar.

The film well justifies the singer’s dedication to folk music and culture and her untiring efforts to understand the medium well by not just mingling with common villagers and mahouts employed by her royal family but also by devoting herself to lokogeet completely. What makes Sonar Baran Pakhi all the more special is, all songs used in the film are original tracks by the legendary singer herself taken from All India Radio.

The filmmaker, Bobby Sharma Barua, believes that this film is like a gift of God to her. She could grow further as a filmmaker and a woman in the course of the research for the project. “I had taken this film as a challenge since a biopic on a legend, who is no more, is a job that needs a lot of devotion and caution at the same time. I was influenced by Protima Pandey’s personality as I read more and more about her and listened to some original interviews given by her. She defines feminism and folk culture in a different manner,” says Bobby, whose debut feature film ‘Adomya’ depicting the plight of people, especially women suffering from HIV was awarded the best film in spiritual category at the 13th Dhaka International film festival and was screened as official selection for more than 15 international film festivals.

She adds, “Her life has so much to tell but not all can be shown in a film, so I have taken only those aspects of her life that reveal the beauty of her personality as a singer and strength as a woman. I have had to train my actress on various skills to get into the character, and Pranami Bora (The actress who played Protima) has very well stood by the expectations.”

The songs so well depict the various situations in the film, whether it is the good times or the bad times for the family. But no matter what, Protima, and her blessed voice is on a constant quest to keep the folk music alive in all hearts.

The scene with herd of elephants in the wild by the river Gadadhar, where the sad and happy songs of the Mahauts come as life’s lessons to the young singer, and her conversations with her father who tells her to listen to the songs carefully, lays the base for the rest of the film. She remains an amalgamation of grace, elegance and the wilder side of a woman, as she shifts roles; a Khaki clad hunter and elephant tamer sometimes, and the simple sari clad girl with her trademark red Bindi, who is mesmerized by the folk songs or Desi gaan, as she called them.

A Jalsha at her father’s palace where Bhupen Hazarika discovered this amazing talent became a turning point in Protima’s life as a singer. Her singing in Hazarika’s Era Bator Sur paved the path for Protima to take the folk music of the region to the outside world.

The film beautifully portrays the parallel development of Protima’s music and her closeness with nature. The journey though has its obstacles as constant resistance from her mother (Who is concerned about her child’s future as a woman, especially from a royal family) troubles her a bit, but her father’s faith in her conviction to take Goalpariya Lokogeet to new heights helps her overcome all hurdles. Her connection with the villagers, her relation with her musicians, and her quest for understanding and finding more and more of these folk songs, became her life, which also took her into the roller coaster ride of love and relationships.

The film moves into flash backs with the little girl so enchanted with life, and the flash forwards with an aged Protima contemplating her life’s journey. She is a happy daughter, a struggling musician, a loving mother, an honest wife, a charming lover and an inseparable part of nature, who does not fear to bathe in the river at midnight or merge herself in a muddy pool to feel more connected to the soil. She not only defied rules of the royal family and spent time amidst common villagers, but also travelled in an ordinary manner with her musicians to different village festivals and functions giving performances, slept on the floor every now and then.

Her audience, as the film beautifully shows, consisted of common people as well as the elite, and what mattered to her was not the status of the listeners but their devotion to folk music.

The film very well creates the royal atmosphere with props reflecting the period and also in a subtle manner talks about the legend’s struggle to create a niche for Goalpariya lokogeet among music lovers amidst the popularity of modern Assamese and Hindi music. Protima even tells her mother that if singing the people’s songs will bar any royal groom from marrying her, she does not care and she would prefer to remain unmarried and devote herself to music.

As the film comes to an end, the protagonist, in shaking voice explains how she is satisfied with what life has given her, and she very well understands that no one can have a life that has all desires fulfilled. The film ends with ‘O Jibon Re’ as old Protima moves beyond the horizon of life. The song says how the body has no value without its soul, just the way Protima claimed all her life that she can face anything in life, but would never survive without her Desi songs.

Assam State Film (Finance & Development) Corporation has produced the film in association with B.B. Entertainment Private Limited. The film was screened as official selection at the 18th Mumbai Film Festival, 2016, the 22nd Kolkata International Film Festival, the Khajuraho International Film Festival, and the 15th Third Eye Asian Film Festival. It has also been invited for screening as official selection at the 15th Dhaka International Film Festival, 2017.

Dr. Rashmi Sarmah

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

A trailer of the film

 

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