Anupam Kaushik Borah’s directorial debut is full of laughter, drama, music, magical realism and beautiful subtlety.

Bornodi Bhotiai An elegant soul-quenching Assamese film you didnt know you neededBornodi Bhotiyai poster
news Cinema Tuesday, December 04, 2018 - 12:04

As a non-Assamese language speaker, there couldn’t have been a better place to watch Bornodi Bhotiai than at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, held in Guwahati this year between November 28 and December 2. As the final film screened at the festival, it’s hard to imagine a film that could better mirror the warmth and quality of BVFF than Anupam Kaushik Borah’s subtle, beautiful directorial debut, Bornodi Bhotiai.

Full of laughter, drama, music and magical realism, you can say that Bornodi Bhotiai tells the story of Moukan, the four men from the river-island of Majuli who are in love with her, and their hopes and dreams for themselves. You can say that it’s the story of one man’s illness (a persistent running nose that no amount or variety of Western or traditional medicine can treat). You can say that it’s the story of the culturally-rich island of Majuli, or of the Brahmaputra River (the Bornodi in the film’s title) itself. You could say that it is all of these things, and you would still not be serving justice to this rich, subtle, poignant movie.

The plot primarily follows Moukan, who earns a fearsome reputation in the village after a man that she says should be dead promptly drops dead before her because of a fatal sneeze. Despite a legion of men who are in love with her, she marries an animal welfare officer from across the river (who was honouring an old promise to his mother that he would marry a woman from Majuli). After a series of events, including a plan to maximise on a government goat subsidy, one of Moukan’s former lovers becoming a famous music star, and another running from Majuli to Guwahati and back in search of a cure for persistent cold that locals warn could turn into deadly pneumonia, Moukan finds peace, in her little river-island home.

When dealing with a movie as subtle and saturated with beauty as Bornodi Bhoiai, there isn’t really a clear way to trace a specific or linear plot. Thanks to the beauty of its elements, themes and cinematography, you could easily forget that it has or needs a plot at all, and you’d be happy to see it carry on for a couple of hours longer just for the satisfaction it provides the soul.

Of the 110 actors in the film, 105 are non-actors are from Majuli, and nearly all are blessed with exceptional dramatic and comedic timing. This was reportedly a deliberate choice by Borah (the first resident of Majuli to graduate from the National School of Drama), who wanted to celebrate and preserve the authenticity of the village in the film. And it wasn’t too difficult, either: home of the 16th century poet Sankardeva, the residents of Majuli continue to practice his form of “worship through art” with music (borgeet), dance (xattriya) and theatre (bhauna), making music, theatre and art part of their everyday lives.

There's also a distinct ease with which Borah is able to weave music and theatre into the plot of the story, and one emotional song, which spoke in unconventionally disgusted terms about the rains (calling the sky nauseous with vomit clouds), reflected the relationship the residents of the slowly-eroding Majuli have with the Brahmaputra River and the seasonal flooding it causes. Played against shots of different residents of Majuli looking straight into the camera, the song evoked a stunned silence and impromptu applause from the audience at BVFF. 

For a film that’s already made a name for itself at several film festivals (premiering at MAMI 2018), it’s full of laughs. The audience frequently erupted in laughter, and even those who don’t understand the language could be guaranteed to giggle often. And like the best examples of great art, it explored thought-provoking issues, like the disproportionate and one-sided impact of rumours on women, and the treatment meted out to women who “elope,” in a realistic way that leaves the viewer pondering over the subject. There is a scene where one of the four men in love with Moukan brings home a woman under non-marital circumstances, who then is appraised by his mother and father (who after an initial inspection at the door, goes back inside to get his glasses and appraise her once more). She is finally led in through the back door by his mother, who after a significant and loaded pause informs her that the front door isn’t meant for runaway brides, which gets a roar of laughter from the audience. But in that moment, you just know that that this is the good kind of laughter, one that appreciates the ludicrousness of the action and the thought behind it, while understanding the politics of the moment. The good kind of laughter that only beautifully-executed art can spark.

While it does make several jokes that may be lost on a non-Assamese language speaker, being able to watch it screened amongst a crowd of many Assamese film lovers at BVFF helps you pick up on the inflections and jokes that you may miss from just reading subtitles. It gives you a lovely dose of that barrier-smashing camaraderie, making it the perfect end to a jewel of a film festival in Guwahati.

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.