Assam’s debutant director, a low budget movie and its sprawling success story

Assam’s debutant director, a low budget movie and its sprawling success story

By DIPANKAR SARKAR | July 05, 2018

Calendar (2018), an Assamese film by the debutant Himjyoti Talukdar, that depicts the tale of a retired school teacher and his wife residing in a small town in Assam signals a newfangled approach and can be perceived as a beacon of hope for Assamese cine goers. The ninety minute long narrative examines the simple, intensely moving crisis of the couple invariably engendered by familial conflict, marriage, responsibilities, millennial sustenance within a minimalistic framework. The director treads the ineffable, the immanent and the nuanced within the minutiae of everyday life. At the prestigious 9th Prag Cine Awards, 2018, held in Guwahati the film had won seven awards including best debutant director. Here is an excerpt from an interview with the director of the film.

TNT: First of all tell us about the your web portal on the Assamese cultural heritage Enajori ?

Himjyoti Talukdar: Enajori.com is a dream project and I am still working on it. Way back in 2010, when I was pursuing my management post graduation course, I realized the lack of web contents regarding the rich heritage and culture of Assam. I started working on its digital preservation. It was launched in 2010 as the first bilingual web magazine of Assam. In these 8 years, under enajori.com I have started other three websites as xurorenajori.info, dipalibarthakur.info and sahityarathi.com along with a first of its kind Sahityarathi android App. Preserving cultural heritage is a never-ending process, hence work is still going on with these projects.

TNT: What drove your interest into the world of filmmaking?

Himjyoti Talukdar: I am an MBA graduate by qualification and never thought of becoming a film director but I had a keen interest in cinema since my childhood. When I moved to Delhi for my higher education I explored a different cinematic world. I started attending various film festivals there, regularly and had a chance to watch world movies as well as different regional cinemas. While watching these films my interest grew towards the technical aspects of filmmaking and hence I started reading different books related to films as well as watching YouTube channels on filmmaking. Such activities helped me to learn about the film craft and in 2014 I came back to Assam with a dream to become a filmmaker. In 2015, I became a part Assamese feature film Marksheet (2018) as a story, screenplay writer and a co-producer. It was my first practical experience in film making and from there I began the journey for my debut as a director.

TNT: How did you and your co-writer come across the idea of a simple story line revolving around few characters?

Himjyoti Talukdar: Simple is beautiful. When I ideated this story line about an elderly couple, I discussed with my co-writers Santanu Rowmuria & Jhulan Krishna Mahanta to present this story in a simple way with few characters. The story is inspired by true events. Long time ago, while visiting an old age home and during my conversation with aged people living there, they shared their experiences with me. The stories of their lives touched the core of my heart. I realized that this type of story portrayed in Calendar actually exists. The film is basically a slice of life, a reality in the current scenario where no one is to be blamed except the situation.

TNT: As a debutant how was your working experience with the veteran actors from the Assamese film industry Arun Nath and Malaya Goswami, who are seen together in the silver screen after a very long time?

Himjyoti Talukdar: That was a lifetime experience. Working with two stalwarts of Assamese cinema was definitely a great experience for me, which I'll cherish forever. The characters played by veteran actors Malaya Goswami & Arun Nath in Agnisnaan (1985) & Sarothi (1992) respectively influenced me a lot. That's why I always wanted to work with them.  If these two artists would have rejected Calendar, I would not have proceeded with this project, as only these two veteran artists were in my mind for the lead roles.

TNT: The official website of your films mentions the casting of Rimjhim Deka but her screen presence is not visible throughout the film. Why?

Himjyoti Talukdar: Many audiences asked the same question after watching the film. But the role Fatmea was played by none other than Rimjhim Deka. That was one of our promotional strategies for the film. I wanted to hide the character of Rimjhim Deka to make audience more curious about the film. I requested everyone in the cast and crew team to not post any working stills on social media as these may reveal the whole story before the release of the film. I did not want that. We promoted the film for one long year where everything related to the storyline was kept secret so was the character of Rimjhim. I told her during our shooting that I am not going to portray her character in any of our promotional events nor I would like to use her photo in our movie stills or posters and she happily agreed. I must say we were successful in this strategy. The character Fatema as Rimjhim Deka was a surprise package for the audience. She acted brilliantly in the film which is appreciated by all.

TNT: There were a lot of subtle details in the film such as announcements made by the mobile theatre group , the cure of piles in a television programme, pilfering of bamboos during the night of Bihu, a tipsy rider falling off his bicycle and such are other incidents are created off-screen with the sound design. Explain the process.

Himjyoti Talukdar: Sound played an important role in the film. We just wanted to create an ambiance of a small town through sound design. All these sound details are typical ambiances of a small town household and its surroundings whether it's a prayer from Namghar (Prayer House) or microphone announcement during Magh Bihu. We just wanted to let the audience understand the significance of sound that can actually play an important role as characters. In Assamese cinema, it has been noticed that most of the time sound is an ignored part. But we wanted to make the film more sound centric. My sound designer Debajit Gayan did a brilliant job with his skills.

TNT: The climax of the film reveals that every event marked by Manorama in the calendar with a circle leads to the exploring of a different tale, bringing a devastating effect on her husband Hitesh Kakati. In the pivotal scene that follows between Hitesh and Manorama's physician has been shot as an off-screen narration. Why did you opt for such directorial decision?

Himjyoti Talukdar: That was totally an experimental single shot. We tried to establish the physician's character with an off screen narration. Such scenes can be often seen in different films in other international languages. I just wanted to try that craft in an Assamese film. I thought this off screen conversation was a better idea than a typical on screen conversation between two characters.

TNT: The songs of your film are very beautifully composed but to use them at certain moments in the narrative somehow did not synchronise with the emotional pattern of the film. Why did you incorporate the songs when the background score was serving the purpose quite well?

Himjyoti Talukdar: We thought of accelerating the story line with the help of songs as it sometimes helps to make a collage of different moments which actually helps the storyline to proceed further. But yes, sometimes it may not be helpful in certain moments.

TNT: The entire mise en scène of the film is approached within a minimalist framework. How did you manage to make the film?

Himjyoti Talukdar: Calendar is one of the lowest budget Assamese feature films ever made. The film was completed with a budget of Rs 10 Lakh only. The whole crew team consists of only 18 members. Since we had to make everything possible within the budget, we worked on planning and strategies properly, which helped us a lot. We were looking for a middle class residence for our shooting the film in a small town which we found in Dergaon, a small town in the Golaghat district of Assam. It took twelve days to shoot the entire film. Since we did not have much budget, we used only two studio lights for night and low light shots. The entire film was recorded in sync sound which brought the true essence of the actual environment on screen. I am fortunate to have worked with a wonderful cast & crew team who helped me to complete the movie smoothly. I don't remember any major hurdles we faced during the project as everything was planned and implemented in a proper way.

TNT: So provided a chance what are the aspects in the films that you would improve in retrospect?

Himjyoti Talukdar: Due to the low budget I had lots of limitation making this film. And also as a debutant I had lots of responsibilities. We shot the entire film with the help of two Canon 5D Cameras, with my cinematographer Dikhit Das. The lack of some essential technical equipment due to low budget was one of the major critical situations during shoot. But with the dedication of Dikhit Das in camera, Debajit Gayan in sound, Jhulan Krishna Mahanta in editing, Tarali Sarma in music & Sujit Bora in DI, we overcame different hurdles and completed this project successfully.

TNT: The film was not only released in Assam but was also screened in some of the major cities of the country. What was strategy for releasing the film?

Himjyoti Talukdar: When we make a film, we need to focus more on its market too and there is a vast market outside Assam, yet competitive. We studied the market well, and with the help of our screening partner 1018mb we screened Calendar in different cities. Till date we have screened the film in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune, and Mumbai. All these shows were tremendously successful. We are now planning to screen the film in Navi Mumbai, Baroda, Hyderabad and Kolkata. The response was overwhelming. All theaters in different cities we screened were houseful, which indicates the big market we have for our cinema. Such screenings prove that you do not need to have the so-called 'commercial elements' in films to make the film a commercially successful one.

The writer can be reached at dipankar.dinesh@gmail.com

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