Review Bengali

Alifa review: Intricate novelistic saga that deconstructs conflict of migrants in Assam

Cinestaan Rating

Release Date: 30 Mar 2018 / Rated: U/A / 01hr 49min

Prateek Rawat

National Award-winning film Alifa is a multi-dimensional compelling film that engenders a poignant and engaging conversation within its multiple ideological stakeholders.

The 13th Habitat Film Festival screened filmmaker Deep Choudhury’s poignant film Alifa on 22 May at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi. The film premiered at the 22nd Kolkata International Film Festival and has won the Best Debut Film of a Director accolade at the 64th National Film Awards.

Shot in the Naraksura hills of Guwahati (Assam), the film anchors itself in the daily experiences of the Miya community, a faction of the Bengali Muslim communities. The film provides its commentary through its child protagonist Alifa, a curious, introspective, thoughtful, hardworking girl with a thirst for education, and an empathetic soul. Alifa’s parents belong to the working-class Miya community that dwells (possibly, illegally) in the forest reserves of the Naraksura hills overlooking the sprawling cityscape of the city.

According to Choudhury, the forest reserve shot in the film is also a zone prone to prowling leopards and frequent animal attacks on unsuspecting people especially young children. The looming leopard attack is also roped into the narrative of the film as the community struggles to find its place within the daily hardships of being working class labourers along with a conflict with the wildlife of the region due to human encroachment in their natural habitat.

Having moved to town as migrants looking for work, the community ends up encroaching in the natural habitat to set up dwellings as the town only provides slums, expenses and cheap work. Choudhury attempts to explicate the several conflicts that emerge from these close encounters between town and nature, urban classes and migrant labourers, humans and wildlife, along with the conflicts within the Miya families and the community at large.

The approach is a novelistic saga of multiple stakes in the narratives that allow several interconnected themes to emerge as the viewer is compelled to switch perspectives throughout the film since different dimensions of conflict play out either simultaneously or progressively. A series of internal monologues attributed to Alifa add a poignant commentary through the questions and ruminations of her childlike innocence. In fact, Alifa takes on the characters of an unsuspecting commentator, a voice of curiosity and reasoning both within and on the narrative, and a gentle searcher of truth.

When quizzed by Cinestaan.com about an explication of his own directorial positionality within the many conflicting stakes of the film, Choudhury said, “There are two ways of looking at the themes in the film and generally — natural and humanistic. As a storyteller, I wasn’t really sympathetic to any one particular thing in the film. There were no biases I had per se. I wanted to portray certain realities of the region’s society and its weaker sections. However, perhaps if pressed upon, what I’m really concerned about is the loss that nature suffers in all this.”

Aesthetically, the film deploys an amalgamation of styles to highlight specific concerns: impressionist shots of the city’s overview from the hills with Alifa’s monologue providing corollaries, documentary style representations of Alifa’s father in the town vying for work on the roadside, expressionist shots to provide psychological temperament like the one with Alifa on a swing ruminating quietly about the changing nature of her father and the domestic conflict she has been avoiding. What adds to these shots is the evocative soundscape, especially the use of background score to many intense scenes which further raise the stakes of the film and the affect it creates for the audience.

Choudhury’s film is a definite watch for it will hold a significant place within the contemporary regional cinema in India, especially Assam and West Bengal. It is a rarity of a film for the ways in which it intelligently layers its narratives with diverse concerns from the natural to the humanistic, without any heavy-handed complexity or pedantic poking.

An engaging, entertaining and evocative watch, the film is a touching and challenging invite to think critically. Ultimately, the deconstruction of conflict and the plethora of its manifestations in the everyday lives of unprivileged communities is a provocative feat.

Related topics

Habitat Film Festival

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