MUMBAI — National award-winning Assamese filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika says that though he comes from the Northeast — which has been stereotyped and remains underrepresented in the mainstream Bollywood — as a storyteller he does not want to limit himself as a a flag-bearer of northeastern culture because he believes that stereotyping a community is a result of ignorance.
Hazarika told IANS: "We all know that cultural stereotyping happens out of ignorance. If people have a misconception about northeastern people, they should fix the problem. They should become well-versed, well-travelled and explore that part of the country. They should not be ignorant. I also think it is slightly unfair to filmmakers of the Northeast to become flag-bearers of their culture and only make films to represent their society. A story cannot be limited to a region."
His film "Aamis" has been screened under the India Gold section at the 21st Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star. The film features Lima Das, Arghadeep Baruah, Neetali Das, Sagar Saurabh.
The word "Aamis" refers to eating meat. Asked if the film intends to make a statement on the politics of eating habits, the director said: "If I wanted to make a political film on meat-eating, I could have been much more direct with the message, instead of making a love story. But yes, the whole topic of meat-eating is one of the elements used while weaving the story of a couple. It is an interesting element because in our society there is a lot of taboo attached to meat-eating. Having said that, it is a love story."
However, he admits the fact that cinema is a reflection of politics and the society that we live in.
"All work of art is a reflection of the artist's political view. The question is if it is overtly political or just incidental. Every story that we tell is the reflection of the politics and cultural norms of that time. Politics is inseparable from art. Perhaps that is why the audience would immediately connect “Aamis” with the politics of food and meat-eating. But the intention of my film is not that," he pointed out.
Starting his career in television, Bhaskar made his debut as a feature film director in 2015 with the film "Kothanodi.” The film won a National award.
Does he feel the responsibility of representing the Northeast through his films?
"Just because we are from the Northeast and the film is set in Assam, it does not mean the film represents the Northeast. It is a diverse culture and society. Not every Hindi film is representative of the whole of India, right? When I make a film, my primary driving force is to tell a compelling story. The location of the story and what it represents comes later," said Bhaskar.
He added: "As a storyteller I refrain from only representing the Northeast, just because that is my native place. Tomorrow, if I tell the story of a Jaat family in Delhi, should I not tell that story, because it is not set in the Northeast? That is not how a storyteller thinks!"
In recent times, young filmmakers as Rima Das have taken the Assamese film industry to global heights. How does he look at new-age Assamese cinema?
"Our film industry was actually flourishing in the eighties. Assamese people were proud of their films, with works of filmmakers like Bhabendra Nath Saikia and Jahnu Barua making a mark. Then, society was disturbed by militancy and a conducive atmosphere to make cinema ceased to exist. Producers were not interested to invest in Assamese cinema and the industry suffered. However, over the past few years, we are gaining back the respect we deserve as Assamese filmmakers, thanks to Rima Das," he replied.
"These days, films are being produced again and we are growing as an industry. My bigger dream is to see our film industry grow as big as the Bengali, Marathi, and Malayalam industries. We have the talent and the stories. With the right exposure, we are going therea!"
The Jio MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival with Star continues till Oct. 24.