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Thursday, March 23, 2006

The first radical, realist, feminist film from India?

The current issue of HIMAL has a very interesting piece on an Assamese filmmaker, Jyotiprasad Agarwalla (1903-51), and his 1935 film Joymoti. A polymath - he was a playwright, musician, poet, and writer - for this film, Agarwalla was producer, director, script writer, lyricist, music director, art director, choreographer, costume designer and editor all rolled into one!


Altaf Mazid writes:

He made only two films, far less than other filmmakers, yet with his first film alone he could be distinguished as a radical auteur of all India.
Joymoti, released in 1935, added a new chapter in the chronicles of Indian cinema, primarily in the discourse of realism. Further, Jyotiprasad was the only political filmmaker of pre-independent India, though there were many in post-independent India, starting with Ritwik Ghatak. Above all else, Joymoti is a nationalist film in its attempts to create a cultural world using the elements of Assamese society. It is the only work of its kind of that period.

The rest of the article is a really informative take on the many influences that shaped Agarwalla's work, the remarkable circumstances under which Joymoti was made, how he went about building a film studio (Chitraban), his understanding of how "innovative cinema" could be articulated to anti-colonial sentiments in India at the time, and how examining Joymoti can help us think through the question of "realism" in the world of Indian cinema. As Altaf Mazid, the author of this piece points out, so far, discussions of realism have been confined to mainstream Hindi cinema. "Even the phrase ‘regional reality’, which has been used for Pather Panchali," he suggests, "could be redefined by going back to this work of Jyotiprasad’s."

Altaf Mazid, a Guwahati-based filmmaker, has worked over the past few years to restore Joymoti. Go here to read an interview with Mazid where he describes how he went about restoring the film, and his plans to get the film into the international circuit.

Pic: Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla editing Joymoti
Pic Credit: Mitra Phukan

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