Assamese Cinema & Stage
Joymoti: A Cultural Statement

by Bobbeeta Sharma

It’s been 73 years since the first Assamese film Joymoti, produced and directed by Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla saw the light of day. Yet, Joymoti still evokes great sentiment, pride and of course, unending interest in its maker as well in its theme. In 2006, Jyoti Prasad’s Joymoti was restructured in its original form with English subtitles by Altaf Mazid and it got its first official world premiere in the Sttutgart Film festival in Germany – the land where Jyoti was initiated into learning the art of filmcraft. In 2007, Joymoti found its presence back on the silver screen on a coloured canvas in Manju Bora’s film of the same name and Arup Manna’s Aideu, which touched the tragic life of the real protagonist Aideu Handique, who had portrayed the role of Joymoti in the original film.

Just as Jyoti Prasad’s Joymoti evokes great interest even today, similarly, it generated immense response from critics and enthusiasts alike right from the time of its inception. Curiosity about films as a medium of entertainment as well as a means of commercial venture arose when people came to know about the proposed attempt of Jyoti Prasad to make the first Assamese film. It is interesting to note how the people responded to Joymoti. Newspapers carried reports about Jyoti Prasad’s initiative in trying to make the first Assamese film. They also published shooting reports from the sets itself.

In a published article titled - Asomot Chalachitra - Films in Assam dated 30/12/33 in the Teenidiniya Asamiya, a person named Nagendra Narayan Coudhury commented on the prospects of films in Assam and mentioned about the attempt undertaken by Jyoti Prasad in making the first ever Assamese film. He wrote - “Films are an exceptional discovery of the 20th century. It is the ultimate manifestation of shadow pictures. Presently, films are not only moving –but talking too. Today, through these talking pictures, we have had the opportunity to see and hear the songs and dances of the male and female singers of America, England or Europe etc, as well as view their realistic acting while sitting in a house in far off Assam. Deserts, seas, mountains, forests, cities, etc can be presented in front of our eyes in an unprecedented manner. For this reason, in education, sermonising, forming public opinions and other related matters, films have become an indispensable thing. Whether in the myriad display of Nature, whether in the art of acting, whether in the technical dexterity, in every sphere the talking pictures have today overshadowed the bhaona, jatra, theatre and other dramatic presentations, acquiring the topmost position.``A nation is known by its theatre” (meaning through theatre a nation is known) is a quote which has been expressly proved by the bioscope. Admittedly, America’s Hollywood has attained the highest position in this art of film-acting. It is followed by German, English and other European artistes. China has also accomplished much in film-acting. Many places in India like Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Punjab etc have also made great progress in films. Especially in Calcutta, some films like Puran Bhakat, Mourar Ei have made Bengal proud. However, in many such films, the actors and actresses are from different regions. Although a few Assamese actors have managed to get some opportunity in some outside production houses, Assam, for a long time, even though exposed to the variety of theatres, bioscope of the different regions, their national progress, culture, tradition, creativity and various arts and crafts had remained almost passive. However, such a state of affairs is not forever. Since the last few years, a few young men have had discussions on the possibilities of establishing a film company in Assam. Meanwhile, Kumar Shrijut Pramathesh Baruah from Gauripur had already established a company to shoot bioscope films. However, no Assamese got a chance to express his talents through that company. The said company also did not run for long.

“It is a matter of great enthusiasm that Srijut Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla has established a company in the name of Chitralekha Movieton Company and is making arrangements to shoot a bioscope film. He is well-versed in music, acting etc. He also has ample knowledge about theatre and drama. We are confident that under his direction, good film-acting will make progress.

“It is the ardent belief of our learned men that the mountains, rivers, streams, forests, the different tribes, the wild animals of Assam as well as many fascinating historical tales can be presented on film, which will not only win great regard in our own land-but also worldwide. Once the art of film-making is established and receives commercial success, there is no doubt that it will not only bring about progress and development of acting, dance, song, music, photography, painting and other arts but, at the same time, also open employment opportunities for the unemployed youths. It is worth mentioning that the rich in foreign lands have made lakhs and lakhs of money through such business concerns. At the same time, competent actors and actresses have also earned a great deal of wealth.

“We hope that Agarwalla will give special attention that the people of our land get their opportunities and that the people of Assam will also be sympathetic towards him.”

There were many such other newspaper reports and when the actual shooting for the film began, it also generated great interest among the people and shooting reports were published in leading Assamese newspapers. These newspapers not only published reports about the progress of the film, but also carried news about the general day to day happenings on the sets in Chitrabon – which housed the laboratory and shooting sets in the Bholaguri Tea Estate in Tezpur.

Such a report was published in the Teenidiniya Assmamiya by a person named Harinarayan Barua under the caption Chitrabonot Erati – Chalachitra Jagatot Assamiyar Uddyam, which means A night in Chitrabon – Effort of an Assamese in the cinema world.

He wrote – “The other day, on 1/1/34, while on the way to Tezpur from Lakhimpur, drawn by the desire to watch the ongoing work of the Joymoti film, I got down on the banks of Gamiri along with a friend at around 6 o’clock to proceed on foot towards the Bholaguri Tea Estate. On reaching Chitrabon (was established at the Bholaguri tea-estate) at 8 o’clock, went straight inside the studio. The scene in Chitrabon actually managed to attract tired travelers like us by mersmerising us with the various fascinating activities. Standing in the midst of such an exemplary scenario for a moment, I was lost to the outside world. My heart was filled with pride and happiness. Saw therein that the young actors and actresses of Joymoti, attired in their respective characters, were busy rehearsing their scenes. Felt as if in Chitrabon itself these young Assamese men and women were gearing up with a sense of pride to announce to the world the prestige of Assam.

“We may not have adequate knowledge about the art but from our observation we never imagined that progress could be made within such a short time (it was started only seven days earlier) at the same pace that we had seen. In this dawn of the new age, the fact that the Assamese women or young girls have not remained passive but have come forward and actively participated in this art, thereby creating a memorable niche for Assamese women in the world, is a step which has immensely filled me with happiness. That Assamese women would ever try to venture out from the corner of a moss ridden existence could never be imagined. Our misconception in this regard has been rectified. Was immersed in a feeling of elation. Felt that the Assamese community has truly made progress towards the manifestation of its nationality and culture. That with the availability of the right kind of employment opportunities, Assamese men and women can showcase their talent, can upheld the Assamese tradition, culture and nationalism for all the world to see, is a scene which has been demonstrated for the first time here itself. That to witness such a scene is so beautiful, so appealing, so much satisfying that it cannot be merely expressed in words.

“The view inside the studio was immensely beautiful – a bed was beautifully laid out right in the middle of the studio floor. In the middle of the bed was placed a well decorated throne. On either side of the studio floor were two galleries for viewers. In the front, the wheels of an electric generator was moving with a resounding noise. The light that emanated from the electric generator filled the studio, making it seem like paradise. Towards the right side of the studio floor, with a three-legged table in front, the director Shrijut Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, assistant Shrijut Rajen Barua stood instructing the artistes. The way Shrijut Jyoti Prasad Agarwala taught the artistes to do their scenes within the stipulated time – that scene was in reality actually wonderful. The dramatic portions of a scene had to be completed within approximately 12 minutes. To be able to interpret and perform the dramatic portions in such a short time span is really praiseworthy.

“The attempts of the various artistes like Gadapani, Lora Roja, Saudang Barua , Sakhi Konwar etc and specially the attempts of Dalimi to learn swimming and to climb trees are appreciative.

“It seems the beginning will be as follows – Citralehka, adorned in an Assamese attire and a nejpatiya finger ring will appear dancing with a sarai in hand, bow and write ‘Sati Joymoti’. Immediately after will be written, “In Assam, when the three ministers of the Ahom kingdom, the Burha Gohain, Bar Gohain and Barpatra Gohain come together, they can shake the pillars of the state and can even make or destroy kings.” These words would uphold the advanced culture of the people of ancient Assam when compared to the cultures of the other communities and also uphold the political power of the Ahom ministers in the eyes of the rest of the world. This will also be matter of great pride for the Assamese community. At the same time, it would also help the Assamese community to recollect their ancient culture. We hope that this new attempt of the young Assamese men and women would be a success.

“At the end, I would like to offer my heartfelt gratitude to the company management for honouring my request in allowing me to witness the rehearsal in the studio premises.”

It goes without saying that Jyoti Prasad’s attempt at making the first Assamese film was seen as a giant leap towards taking Assamese culture to new heights in India. Such was the faith of the people on Jyoti and the medium of the moving image which has a great mass appeal and reach.

That Jyoti Prasad himself nurtured similar intentions and hopes is evident from his public appeal prior to the release of the film, published in the Teenidiniya Asamiya dated March 5, 1935, where he wrote – ‘The way Joymoti’s illuminating visage has been able to shine through the dark annals of history with the help and co-operation of the people of Assam, in the same way, it is the wish of the writer of this appeal that Joymoti would be able to cross her provincial boundaries and shine all over the different provinces of India. With the help and co-operation of the Assamese people, the glory of the legend of Joymoti would spread all over India, in every household, among her teeming millions of men and women. Through Joymoti, Assam will be reflected in a new light in the whole of India.’

And when on March 10, 1935, Joymoti was premiered in Calcutta’s Rownac Hall and consequently released in Guwahati at the Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir on March 20, 1935, Gopinath Bordoloi, the then Chairman of the Municipality in Guwahati and who later became the first Chief Minister of independent Assam, penned his comments after viewing Joymoti in the Assamese bi-weekly newspaper, Assamiya’in the following words– “The artistic skill of the of the people of Assam in the past, the grandeur of the king’s temples, etc and the costumes of the king, the noblemen and the common people, the weapons used etc have been so well displayed that anybody who does not see this film will be poorer in his knowledge and appreciation of the life and times of Assam of the bygone days.’ He further wrote – ‘Assam’s lush green fields, Assam’s bamboo groves, Assam’s betel gardens, Assam’s flora and fauna, Assam’s hills and mountains, Assam’s plains and streams, how wide and wonderful is Assam’s Luit, how beautiful are its twinkling stars and its moonlight! The legend of Joymoti can exist only in a land as pure as this! Dalimi can sparkle like an angelic butterfly only in its undulating hills and streams! How can anybody remain at home and refrain oneself from visiting and experiencing this (Madhupuri) wonderland?”

But of course, along with praise came also critical analysis from literary personna like Rajanikanta Bordoloi who termed Joymoti as a Buranjir Apalap or a ‘Historical Fallacy’. However, apart from a couple of such critical reviews, the overall response to Joymoti was positive. The film was perceived not only as a cultural statement of the Assamese people, which would elevate Assam’s prestige in the eyes of the world, but also as an attempt to pave the way for establishing an industry that would involve and generate employment opportunities for men and women of Assam.

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune (March 2008)

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