Sunday, May 26, 2024

Jahnu Barua talks about nepotism in film industry, AI, and about India at the Oscars (Exclusive interview)

Edited by – Robin Bhuyan (Editor-in-Chief)

Written by – Rinku Sharma

Interviewed by – Parijat Handique

Jahnu Barua is a name that needs no introduction in Assam. A man who can be considered one of the most talented and renowned film directors in the country, Jahnu Barua has directed several notable films throughout his career, such as Aparoopa, Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai, Konikar Ramdhenu, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara, and Ajeyo. Along with several international awards, he has won the National Film Award 12 times and was also awarded the Padma Shri in 2003 and the Padma Bhushan in 2015 by the Government of India for his contribution to cinema. Enigmatic Horizon recently had the pleasure of having an interview with him, where we talk about several important factors such as nepotism in the film industry, the impact of AI in cinema, India at the Oscars, etc.

Your journey as an Assamese filmmaker goes from Bakata to Bollywood. Tell us about your journey.

Being an Assamese filmmaker, the journey from Bakata to Bollywood was difficult. I was born in the Lakwa tea garden, where my father worked. My time in Bakata offered me experiences I will never forget. Those experiences are really valuable to me. Those two years of my life are still vivid in my mind. I have fond memories of living in the village where I did my initial schooling. Then I studied at Moran High School and Barpathar High School. I pursued my college education at Sivasagar. I intended to pursue architecture, but my family’s financial situation did not allow me to do so.

My parents were very supportive. They would always encourage us to develop into men of integrity. My parents didn’t spend much time in formal education, but their wisdom was incomparable. My parents used to tell me that everyone, including my parents and ancestors, contributed to whatever success I may have had in life. Therefore, I feel that my success has a lot to do with my family. I feel really fortunate to have them as parents.

Tell us about your journey to Mumbai.

I worked for three years in Shillong. Thereafter, I returned to Assam and finished my B.Sc. at B. Borooah College. I had the opportunity to watch movies at the Gauhati Cine Club during this period. I wasn’t really interested in films, but after going to the Gauhati Cine Club, I started to develop an interest. Then I proceeded to the Film and Television Institute to pursue a career in film. And it was from there that my journey to cinema began.

You made a name for yourself in Bollywood as an Assamese. What challenges did you face?

Every new artist in Mumbai faces challenges. In my case, the challenge was tough, as I belonged to Assam. But I got lucky in some ways. One of my seniors hired me as an assistant in the film Shaque, which featured Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi. These days, star kids are entering Bollywood and working in commercial cinema. It is not something I would really support. There are many talents in India, but they don’t receive due attention. Bollywood has shifted to a very family-centric focus. However, this will go on, and I believe it is a waste of time thinking about this. Being a fighter and surviving in the field is all one can do, which is what I did.

Your movie, Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai, won numerous accolades. What impact did growing up in an Assamese village have on the movie? Additionally, how did you get Homen Borgohain’s permission to use his story?

I used to visualise the country sights while I was a student at FTI and always thought of making a film about village life. When I read Homen Borgohain’s narrative, I liked it right away. I was able to draw a comparison between the movie and the village life that I wanted to portray. When I was reading the story, I felt that there were several stunning scenes about the village that I might be able to showcase to viewers through my film. I imagined connecting the book’s narrative with the cinematic one.

Along with producer Sailadhar Baruah, we requested the rights to the story from Homen Borgohain. As I had completed two films and graduated from FTI, Homen Borgohain was convinced that I could do justice to the story. I only checked to make sure he was okay with the idea of a movie being made from a narrative he wrote. He gave us the go-ahead, and we made the movie. I had to make some changes to the film because cinema and literature are different mediums. However, even though I had to make multiple changes, I made sure that the core of the plot was still intact.

How relevant is the film Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai today?

I would say Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai is very relevant today. The things shown in the film has a universal appeal. Even though the situation may be different, the relevance will remain, even if you watch it after a thousand years. The depiction of the story in the film is very authentic. The film has a human touch to it, and is more than just an incident.

You directed the Hindi movie Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara. It received widespread acclaim. Next, you directed a segment of Mumbai Cutting. Tell us about the journey and the difference between Hindi and Assamese films.

Hindi and Assamese films are both cinematic works. The mediums barely differ from one another. However, there are differences between Assamese and Hindi films in terms of professionalism and technological sophistication. Bollywood is very technologically and professionally advanced. Modern technological tools are available for filmmaking in Bollywood. Additionally, the artists are quite skilled. But things are completely different in the Assamese film business. We have made very little progress here. When compared to Bollywood films, Assamese films still lag behind in professionalism and cutting-edge technology.

Tell us how Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara was made.

I wrote the story of Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara ten years ago before shooting the movie. I was looking for someone to produce the movie. Then I offered it to NFDC. They agreed to produce the movie, but they needed some time. When I was drafting the script, Anupam Kher came to mind. When I narrated the script to Anupam Kher, he instantly liked it and agreed to produce it. I therefore gave the film to Anupam Kher.

For the first time this year, two Indian films, RRR and The Elephant Whisperers, have been honored at the Oscars. What are your views on this? Do you think that there is a bias against India at the Oscars?

I feel the problem is that India has not been able to send good movies to the Oscars. The Film Federation of India is responsible for the selection of films. On several occasions, movies that should have been sent to the Oscars were not. Another factor is that we are less developed compared to world cinema. Sometimes, our content and narrative don’t mesh well with the Oscar selection. I would also like to say that the Oscar is a Western award. Their criteria for selection are different. Since the West sees the movies from a Western perspective, there is no reason to be upset about the fact that India hasn’t performed well at the Oscars for all these years.

I feel that it is good that the Oscars have appreciated Indian music. Both AR Rahman and MM Keeravani have great talent. In that regard, we have greatly advanced. Thus, it is wonderful that their work has been honoured at the Oscars.

What impact will artificial intelligence have on cinema?

Every time a new technology is developed, it has an impact on our world in multiple ways. A new technology has both good and bad aspects. But I feel that artificial intelligence is a curse for cinema because cinema is an art. I strongly feel that it will destroy real cinema. A simulation of human behavior has been created by AI. As you can see, AI now directs us instead of our brains. That implies that our brains are becoming useless. I feel that AI is destroying the capacity of our brains, and it poses a serious threat to us humans. I am not at all in favor of artificial intelligence.

Our film industry has been around for almost 100 years. But even after all these years, there are problems, such as artists and other crewmembers being underpaid. What would you say about this?

It is because the film industry has no proper structure. I’ve noticed a lot of artists battling for exposure, which makes them agree to work at lower prices. This is what allows producers to take advantage of them. Our film industry is not well organised. A film policy is not present here either. It is important that the film fraternity organise things as soon as possible.

What words of wisdom would you offer the new generation of artists and filmmakers?

My advice to the younger generation is to get educated before entering the film industry. Don’t just dive in without thinking. While everything appears good from a distance, reality is different. Although the industry appears to be magnificent from the outside, things are not as they seem. I took training in filmmaking and did 16 films, and throughout this journey, I struggled a lot. But I was devoted to films. Similarly, the newcomers ought to be dedicated if they want success. And only after receiving the appropriate training should they enter the industry. Despite the various problems in the film industry, if you are skilled enough, you should be able to survive.

Would you talk about your upcoming projects, if you are working on any?

Yes, I do have a few upcoming projects. But I can’t reveal anything right now. People will be able to view them once they are released.

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