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Jahnu Barua remembers good friend and veteran Assamese actor Biju Phukan

The filmmaker offered his condolences to the actor's family while IFFI director Sunit Tandon led the audience in observing a minute’s silence.

Biju Phukan

Blessy Chettiar

Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua remembered veteran actor Biju Phukan fondly and paid rich tributes to him at the 48th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) today.

Phukan, who was suffering from cardiac ailments for the past few days, was admitted to the Apollo Hospital in Guwahati at about 4:30pm yesterday. Doctors said he breathed his last at about 6:15pm. He was 70.

Speaking at the ongoing festival in Goa, Barua said, “This is a very sad moment not just for Assamese cinema, but also for the entire state of Assam. Biju was a very jovial person, he was one of the best human beings I have ever met. He did not go to any film school, but was self-taught as an actor. It was my [good] fortune that I got to work with him in my first two films.” Barua and Phukan worked together on Aparoopa (1982) and Papori (1986).

The multiple national and international award-winning director remembered the time when they were shooting for Aparoopa, and how Phukan, his lead actor, egged him on to complete the film.

“When I was making Aparoopa, I had a lot of problems. I struggled for almost two-and-a-half years just to complete my shoot. I used to be very disheartened. He was the one who kept encouraging me being the lead actor in the film. He was the one who kept telling me. It was my first film and I was trying to make two versions. And he was always there, [he] read my face and told me, ‘Don’t worry, we are all with you, just smile and start shooting’.”

One of the more prominent actors of Assam, Phukan acted in over 80 films, including some in Bengali, from the 1970s through the 1990s, many of which went on to be big hits.

He made his debut with Dr Bezbaruah (1970), and the last film he acted in was Door, which was released last year. His first role as the lead actor in Baruar Songshar followed by Aranya (1971) established him as a hero in the industry. Aranya was also adjudged the Best Regional Film at the National awards.

“You know in Assam, we make films under such strenuous constraints," said Barua. "As an actor, Biju showed how to adjust to such situations. Many of the film workers hardly get paid, though it is their profession. He always came forward to help the filmmakers and the industry.

"With a lot of hard work and effort, the Assamese film industry has been moving. Biju was always there for any difficult situation we came across. He always helped. We worked together trying to fight it out and personally, he has been a very good friend to me. We met every now and then and whenever we had to fight together, he would be one of the first persons to come forward,” said Barua.

Barua also spoke about their fight with the government for a state policy for Assamese cinema. “We had many tussles with the state government. As the industry is small, there was no state policy. It had become very difficult to make films in Assam. So we had discussed this a lot. He is one of the persons who always came forward to help to better the situation. Now we have a state film policy."

The filmmaker said he did not want to go on about problems. “They are part of life," he said, and on behalf of the audience offered my condolences to Phukan's family. "It is such a loss to Assamese cinema," Barua said. "His absence will always be felt.”

The director offered his condolences to Phukan’s family ahead of the screening of Assamese director Bidyut Kotoky’s Xhoixobote Dhemalite. Following Barua’s tribute, IFFI festival director Sunit Tandon led the audience in observing a minute’s silence for Phukan.

With inputs from IANS

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