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KIFF 2017: Bobby Sarma Baruah hired an assistant just to teach her Rajbangshi

The director worked for almost seven years on her biopic on Pratima Barua Pandey, a woman who broke several norms and helped to preserve Rajbangshi music.

Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Manigandan KR

Bobby Sarma Baruah, director of Sonar Baran Pakhi (The Golden Wing), is an extraordinary filmmaker in every sense of the term. Her film, which was screened here at the first Kazhcha Indie Film Fest, is testimony to the immense passion she has for filmmaking.

Sample this. Baruah's film is the first in India in the Rajbangshi language. The language is spoken by a considerable number of people in parts of Assam. It is also spoken in Nepal and Bangladesh. However, it hasn't got due recognition.

Despite the language being new to her, Baruah, who is Assamese, took it upon herself to make a film in the language to chronicle the life, efforts and contributions of Padma Shri awardee Pratima Baruah Pandey, an outstanding singer from a royal family who dedicated herself to the cause of preserving and promoting mellifluous folk music in the Rajbangshi language at a time when it was fast being forgotten.

Talking to Cinestaan.com, the cheerful  director admits with a smile, "I did not know the language, but I learnt it. I could understand the language but not speak in it. In fact, I had an assistant to help me learn. The language is so sweet that I learnt it."

After learning the language, Baruah researched for four years before she even began making her film. Add another two to three years for making the film and you get some idea of the phenomenal amount of work she has put into making this commendable picture, which today serves as evidence of the remarkable contributions made by Pratima Baruah Pandey, not only to the field of music, but also to the cause of  breaking stereotypes of gender and caste.

It is evident that Bobby Sarma Baruah has nothing but admiration for the woman whose life has been made into this biopic. "She was brave at a time when the odds were against women," she explains. "She is a symbol of women's empowerment. How she reacted to society,  questioning  and overriding some of its stringent norms, is impressive."

Baruah has a point. Pratima Barua Pandey was a rebel who, in her own nonchalant way, broke several unfair practices such as the one that girls should be married by the time they were 19 or 20.

Pratima Baruah chose to learn and collect folk songs by speaking and freely mingling with the poorest of the poor at a time when children from aristocratic families were chided even for attempting to sing or learn folk songs, considered songs of the lower castes.

"If you want, why don't you sing songs of Rabindra sangeet? They are renowned all over the world," her mother is believed to told the young Pratima, who simply refused to do as dictated.

All of this has been beautifully showcased in Bobby Sarma Baruah's film which came in for much praise at the festival.

"I love the dedication this woman has shown to the cause of preserving folk music," says the director as one of the reasons for making the biopic. She says the family of the legendary singer, who passed away in December 2002, loved her film.

It might have taken six to seven long and arduous years to make the film. But the effort has been worthwhile. Sonar Baran Pakhi, before being screened at KIFF, has been screened at 19 other film festivals and won three awards.

"My film was premiered at MAMI [in October] and won the Grand Jury award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. It also won the Audience Choice award at the Dhaka International Film Festival, " says the director, who admits she was able to make the film only because of her family's support.

"The Assam State Film Finance Development Corporation gave me Rs18 lakh and my husband Basanta Kumar Baruah and I pitched in with the rest. The film cost us Rs40-45 lakh to make," says the director with a look of satisfaction.

Finally,  ask Baruah if she is in any way related to the singer and she laughs. "Several people ask me this question because there is a Baruah in my name too. But no, we are not at all related!"

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Kazhcha Indie Film Festival