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Article Assam

In some auditions, Northeasterners are expected to speak bad Hindi, says actor-director Kenny Basumatary

Basumatary, whose latest offering is the Assamese web-series Tomar Opekhyat, says OTT platforms are a lifesaver for smaller regional film industries.

Dwijiri B Basumatary

Kenny Basumatary, a director, actor and writer from Assam, has carved a niche for himself in cinema. With roles in the films Shanghai (2012), Mary Kom (2014), Raag (2014) and Yaara (2020), among others, he has also directed Assamese action comedies Local Kung Fu (2013), Local Kung Fu 2 (2017) and Suspended Inspector Boro (2018).

In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, the multi-faceted Basumatary reflected upon his career and said, "It’s quite satisfying, considering that there are a lot of people who can't make it work in the film industry. The competition is very, very fierce. And to think that I have been able to be a part of a few good films, I consider that decent success." 

Basumatary grew up watching films by Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, moving on to David Fincher and Guy Ritchie movies. And then, of course, there was Christopher Nolan. In Indian cinema, he likes the works of Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee. "There will be two or three more whom I have forgotten about for some reason," he said, laughing. "But there will be more."

Local Kung Fu is an Assamese action comedy which revolves around the martial art form of kung fu. In this genre, Basumatary was influenced by the comedy and action that one sees in the works of Jackie Chan.

On the roles offered to him in Hindi cinema and the typical roles reserved for artistes from the Northeast, he said, "The roles that I got, thankfully, have been non-typecast roles. But during the auditions it can be a painful process sometimes. One thing that happens in the audition is that they expect us to speak bad Hindi!" The irony is that Basumatary had to work hard on his Hindi when he was in class 9 and 10! "So that’s a funny thing," he said, laughing, "It is kind of true that some people from the Northeast speak bad Hindi. But still, why force it [in films]?"

Recently, Basumatary directed and acted in the Assamese web-series Tomar Opekhyat which has been released on reeldrama.com. Speaking of his latest project, he said, "Reeldrama had approached us last year to acquire our films Local Kung Fu and Inspector Boro. They also asked me what else I had written. So I sent them my synopsis and story and they asked me to make this one. We shot it last year and released it this January."

The show is a seven-episode romantic comedy which follows four different couples and their relationship struggles. There are plenty of twists and turns in the story and Basumatary expertly weaves the various strands into one another.

Discussing the process of writing the script, he said, "I guess one needs to have the experience of reading and watching a lot of stuff so that when you are writing something you know that it is unique and not seen before. If it has been seen before, it should have a fresh twist or a new take so that we are not repeating what somebody else has already done." He also suggested making stories as "local" as possible, which, incidentally, is his forte.

Despite these unstable times, Basumatary remains optimistic about the state of Northeast cinema and sees OTT platforms as an outlet that will encourage more regional content. "Releasing films costs a lot of money," he said. "And when there are few halls, there is very little chance of recovering the money invested in the film unless you have a big star like Sachin Bora or Zubeen Garg."

Assam has only about 70 theatres compared to, say, Kerala which has close to 600. "If we had a huge number of theatres, it could have definitely been financially stable," he said. "But we don’t. So OTT platforms are a good investment. They take away the expenses and risk associated with the release of a film, because that is also a very high cost — digital prints and posters, publicity and trailers, all these things cost a lot of money."

Basumatary is now planning another comedy web-series for Reeldrama and has his hands full with other projects. He shot and directed his first Hindi web-series, Karne Jund, for Eros Now in March this year and is currently editing it. After that, he is set to work on V Priyashini’s comedy web-series.