By now a lot of people must be aware of filmmaker Bidyut Kotoky and his struggle to get his bilingual film- as the River flows (Hindi)/ Ekhon Nedekha Nodir Xhipare (Assamese) released. Though an NFDC production, for some reason or the other the film was lying in cold storage for quite some time. Towards the end of 2011/early 2012 things started looking up with the news of the Assamese version being in contention for the National Awards. But then came the controversy over the film not being considered for the awards and thus it was back to square one for Bidyut. But patience does pay in a lot of cases and that’s what happened with the Assamese version of the film, Ekhon Nedekha Nodir Xhipare finally getting released in Assam on 14 September. Prior to this the film also got screened at OSIAN, New Delhi and at a special occasion in Mumbai to mark the birth anniversary of the late Bhupen Hazarika and as a peace initiative, jointly by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Maharashtra and Assam Bhavan.
Ekhon Nedekha Nodir Xhipare (ENNX from here on) is probably the first Assamese film I have seen on the big screen. But like many other cinephiles even for me Doordarshan with its Sunday afternoon regional cinema slot gave me an exposure to films made across the country, wherein I really ended up watching many gems. I remember seeing a few Assamese films as well of which the one I vividly remember the most must be Chameli Memsaab . So I was more than excited to get to watch the film along with part of the cast and crew as well. ENNX is a film shot mainly in Majuli, Assam with a few scenes shot in Mumbai as well. The film for those unaware does take inspiration from real life, in fact the case of the well known rural activist Sanjay Ghose’s disappearance from the island Majuli in Assam in 1997 is supposed to be an act of murder by ULFA.
ENNX talks about Sridhar Ranjan, a social activist who has gone missing from Majuli, the largest inhabited river island in the World. It’s been nearly 7 years since Sridhar went missing and as per law he is about to be officially declared dead and that’s when his old friend and journalist, Abhijit ( Sanjay Suri ) goes in search of Sridhar all the way to Majuli. Abhijit arrives in Majuli and finds himself to be a stranger of sorts in a place that’s infested with terrorists and where both the police and the terrorists seem to be suspicious of him. Abhijit does find some company in the form of Sudakshina ( Bidita Bag seen recently in the Hindi film From Sydney with Love), his local guide. Sudakshina apparently also was the guide for Sridhar when he came to Majuli initially. Sudakshina however seems to be living with her own fears and stops short of getting close to Abhijit whenever an occasion comes up.
So is Abhijit able to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of Sridhar? Does he go on to experience what his friend already experienced? What’s in store for him as the River flows? All these and more are addressed in the rest of the film. At the very outset I need to make it clear that ENNX is a film made with a heart. Though a controversial topic (disappearance of Sanjay Ghose) the whole subject has been dealt with a lot of sensitivity and there’s no attempt to sensationalize anything here unnecessarily. The film is circular in nature with the start and the ending getting linked together in a very unassuming and seamless manner. The film moves in a very leisurely manner which works quite well in this case yet the pace is more or less even. However I’m not sure if the Mumbai portion (or part of it rather) was really needed. But I will leave that to the filmmaker’s judgement as I guess it has been deliberately to let us know the contrasting lives that Abhijit faces across two different locations at the same time.
For those who are not familiar with Assam or the problems that the state is facing, ENNX also acts as a guidebook of sorts. On one hand you get to have a look at the wonderful natural beauty of the state and yet there are quite a few realities addressed like the constant erosion leading to shrinking of land mass at Majuli, the terrorist insurgency and the impact it has on families affected by the same, how ‘outsiders’ are perceived in Majuli etc. Madhu Ambat’s cinematography more than does justice to the greenery of Assam and in particular one needs to look out for the night shots. Just like Madhu Ambat the film also boasts of many other known names among the crew of the film including Rajesh Parmar (editor), Nakul Kamte (sound design), Zubeen Garg (music), Bhupen Hazarika etc.
Despite most of the actors being non Assamese most of them seem to have blended in well with the plot and the surroundings in the film. Sanjay Suri suits the role of Abhijit quite well and you can feel his frustration when he is unable to find out anything about his friend’s disappearance. Bidita Bag makes a confident debut (she did ENNX much before From Sydney with Love) and carries of the complicated character of Sudakshina quite well. The supporting cast is mostly spot on. Victor Banerjee as the grandfather of Bidita and Nakul Vaid is excellent, watch out for the scene when the police disrupt the performance of a play and where Victor breaks down, definitely admirable. Raj Zutshi as Jayanta Doley, an ex-militant is also quite effective and he really carries of the character well. Naved Aslam as the cop also suits the role. But Preeti Jhangiani’s presence in the film is a mystery for me. Neither does she create any impact in the film and nor does she appear natural trying to break into Bengali every now and then.
At the end when the movie gets over you tend to ask yourself many questions like why do people continue to have the locals vs outsiders concept even today across the country? If you have lived all your life in a particular state but technically have your roots elsewhere does it make you less of a local? What is the price that one needs to ultimately pay for ensuring peace in the state/country? How can one remain ignorant of what’s happening around us? I can go on and on but the fact is that as the film ends you are automatically made to introspect and in that respect it’s a victory of sorts for Bidyut Kotoky. Here’s hoping that the film reaches out to as many people as possible and that the Hindi version gets a Pan India release soon.