Two decades after she first brought her film to IFFK, the national award winning Assamese film director Santwana Bordoloi is back in the city for the screening of her latest film,’ Maj Rati Keteki’ , at the 21st International Film Festival of Kerala in the International Competition category.
After your first movie ‘Adajya’ (1996) which won you the National Award, the broad Bollywood platform was open to you. But what made you to take a long break of 20 years?
Yes, it’s a little strange from outside. I had two- three scripts inside me. But I’m too critical of myself and that keeps me away from creative works sometimes. I didn’t get inspired by any of my ideas ,so I kept toiling myself and discarded most of them.
Coming back to the industry after a gap of 20 years, how was your journey towards Maj Rati Keteki. Was it hard?
Yes, it was very difficult. Everything has changed and everything has become difficult. I’m not a very tech savvy person. My previous movie was a 16mm print which was blown to 35mm and they travelled all over the world for different festivals. The print was everything. Also over the last two decades I was not in contact with people within the industry. So, coming back was the greatest task. My daughter who is a Sathyajith Ray institute graduate is the editor of this film; her classmate Ganashekar is the cinematographer, and many other young people were of help.
What inspired you to come back after 20 years with’ Maj Rati Keteki’?
I personally believe, though old fashioned that, everything happens at its time. I had the subject of this movie for a long time. But nobody actually appreciated the idea of making it into a movie. There is a young playwright with who I have worked, from a small town in Assam. He told me my work is really wonderful and that really stirred me. That is where the movie started.
Your first movie ‘Adajiya’ dealt with the life of three Brahmin widows. What was the audience response towards the film?
That movie was based on three stories from Indira Goswami's novel 'Dontal Haatir Uiye Khuwa Haoda'. Till the release of the movie, I didn’t expect people would call me and my movie, feminist. It was just a film, just a script for me. Here the protagonist is a man and I have portrayed a few of the women in a negative way which is very human.
In ‘Maj Rati Keteki’ you have shown two old men from different socio-economic backgrounds, but equally betrayed by their families and they put us to tears. Is there any particular reason for placing these two characters?
What I actually wanted to show is, life goes on but somehow you are not moving. Same characters from the past can be seen here. The movie shows in parallel the lives of many characters from the past and the present where each character is related to the other.
Three types of exploitations are discussed in your movie including pedophilia and child labor. One is by a publisher to a young female writer. Have you come across someone in such a situation?
I have never met anyone like that, but I can imagine. It’s very easy to understand. We are always reading about such instances. Even people who do PhD are getting exploited by their guides. It’s happening everywhere.
There is this character of a woman who succumbs to death after taking indigenous medicine for abortion. As a pediatrician by profession, is this lady influenced by the women whom you have heard about in Assam?
Yes I have seen so many such bad deaths as a doctor in my life, but that part is way back in the 70s. It doesn’t happen anymore. Government has made abortion easier for couples who don’t want children. Family planning has also become much easier.
At the beginning of the movie the protagonist speaks about his fear about writing a movie because he will have to say certain truths which he never wants to. This makes us wonder how far the autobiographies that we have read are true to their core. What is your comment on this?
This has made you think and I feel extremely happy about it. Because I don’t want to make a glossy film where by the time you come out of the theatre you don’t remember anything or you remember only the glossy part of it. They will not make you really think. If my film really made you think, I’m very happy.
It is very natural for a human being. Suppose you are writing a script or a novel or even a science fiction, every time the writer comes across things that happened in his/her life. They will very automatically creep into it. The characters in my story sometimes will imitate the people in my life.
Though the author in the movie is Dalit and had to toil in order to reach where he is, the movie doesn’t speak this out directly. Instead it is through other characters that we come to notice. What is the reason behind this?
I hate underlining and highlighting things in my film. I believe that if I have to make a point then it has to come naturally. There is this character of a girl who speaks out she is a Brahmin and cannot fall in love with a Dalit boy, who is the protagonist’s brother. She is a social climber who uses people on her way and climbs up. But he took her seriously. Before that he was ready to let go of his career because of her and he fought against his father. These factors are invisible at times but I’m happy that people noticed.
Why do you concentrate on Assam movies?
When I write a script, my own atmosphere comes into it. It is very difficult to put my characters in some other city or situation speaking a different language. I have been thinking about it, but somehow the language is such an integral part of you!
Are you planning to have a theatre release?
Yes. Very shortly. Maybe after April.
You were the jury member of IFFK 2002 and you also got G. Aravindan memorial award for your first film. Could you share your experience vis -a- vis Kerala and Malayalam film?
For us this is the land of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and G. Aravindan. Films like ‘Mathilukal’ and ‘Chidambaram’ inspired me when I started watching serious movies. Their movies taught me how to make films. And Thiruvananthapuram for me is all about IFFK. I felt really overwhelmed by seeing the reaction of people towards my movie.
Q12. What is the idea which you try to say through the title ‘Maj Rati Keteki ’?
‘Maj Rati Keteki‘ in English means’ Midnight Keteki’. Keteki is the name of a bird called Indian Hawk Cuckoo which has a long whistling cry. In the middle of the night if you hear it, sometimes it sounds very tragic. There is an Assamees poem by Devakanda Baruva which equates this cry to that of a human heart. The birds sometimes cry for people who cannot speak out. Here the author’s sister, his friend Bhola, and the young writer are all voiceless.