Barkha Bahar: An emerging talent in Assamese cinema
In recent Assamese films, many new faces have emerged, but Barkha Bahar stands out for her focused work. She is a 'new hope' in Assamese cinema, with a lot of possibilities. People are quite excited to watch, The Seventh String, in which she played the lead role.
Parthajit Baruah has an extensive conversation with Barkha Bahar, who penned the screenplay and played the lead role in the upcoming Assamese film The Seventh String.
- Could you please tell us a little bit about your background (family, theatre, academics)?
BB: Because of some interesting magical force, I happened to be born into a family of theatre practitioners. My parents, who are both into theatre never imposed their craft onto me. However, they made sure to pursue their dreams. From a very young age, I used to travel around with them as they performed in different places in India. I sometimes used to get on the stage during performances whenever a scene demanded a group of people. I was always so happy to be a part of it. I realised that theatre is something that I enjoy too.
I had done my schooling at three different places. I was in Maria’s Public School from Playgroup to class 1. I then went to Sarala Birla Gyan Jyoti where I had done most of my schooling from. I was there until class 10. I had done my 11th and 12th from Gurukul Grammar Senior secondary school.
Since I was interested in writing as well, I always imagined myself doing my bachelor’s in English. However, I found a triple major course in Theatre Studies, English, and Psychology at Christ University (Bangalore) and it felt like the BA was made specifically for me. I was fortunate enough to get into the course mentioned above and I graduated last. Recently I got into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London for an MA in Theatre Lab. If things go well, I should be in London by the end of this year.
I had taken a gap year after my graduation where I explored the creative fields that I was interested in. I attended multiple theatre workshops under eminent theatre personalities and directed an original play. I feel extremely fortunate that my parents have such a creative space like the Seagull Theatre Academy, where I can bring my ideas to life. I have multiple interests, such as writing, playing instruments, acting, directing, and much more. I believe , for me theatre and films are a way through which I can incorporate all of those interests into creating an artistic piece.
Film Still: The Seventh String
- Since you wrote the screenplay for the forthcoming film The Seventh String, please describe how and when the concept for the film first came to you.
BB: It would be hard to mention the exact way I came up with this idea. When I was in class 11, back in 2016, I watched a music video where I got to learn about what self-help groups are. That is where I got the idea of making a story about people gathering at a small hut and talking to people they don’t as well as people they do not know. However, there was another topic that was on my mind. I also wanted to write about how an individual can be hurt by the actions of other people. Soon the idea of a young girl falling in love with a man much older than her came to my mind. Then I decided to incorporate all these ideas into one single story.
There were multiple things I wanted to express as a then young girl and now a young woman. Sharing it through a story was something that I was the most comfortable with. It is NOT based on my life. However, I made sure to express what I wanted through the film. Initially, I was writing a play script for stage. However, after talking to abba regarding this, he came up with the idea of turning it into a short film first and then into a feature film. By 2017, the story was written. By early 2018, my father and I sat down to write the script for the film. By 2018 October, the script started to be shot.
When I initially had the idea, I never imagined the idea to take such a shape. I am extremely grateful and excited for people to watch it.
- The film's title, The Seventh String, is quite intriguing and seems to be highly meaningful. Tell us a little bit about it.
BB: Initially, when we were thinking of names for the film, I thought of ‘The Seventh String of a Violin’. The violin plays an important role in the film, even metaphorically in some ways. However, the name was too long and it was shortened to ‘The Seventh String’.
Usually, a standard violin has four strings. Sometimes, it can also have five strings. Now electrical violins have more strings. However, a standard one would usually have only four. Therefore, the seventh string is an imagination of the mind or could be seen as an illusion. An imagination or an illusion is not real but here I am questioning what even is reality. Isn’t reality based on our perspective or our imagination? What might be the reality for one person might not be for another. These are some of the things i had in mind when I thought of the name.
- You have a fresh, new perspective, therefore I'm curious: as the film's screenwriter, what aspects did you prioritize?
BB: I still cannot believe that I had written something like The Seventh String. It feels like a dream and it is still hard for me to explain what I prioritise at this moment. I am still a young confused person exploring life. However, I can surely talk about my likes in a story. While telling a story, I believe, what we want to express does not have to be spoonfed to the people or rubbed on the faces of people. I really enjoy open-ended or subjective topics. This allows the audience to think and be a part of the craft where one has their own understanding of what is presented in front of them. Every person experiences pieces of creative work in their own way. Hence, I believe, I enjoy telling stories or hearing stories that put forward what they want to say without forcing anyone to think in a particular way.
I also really enjoy interesting endings, mostly open-ended ones. I sometimes imagine the beginning and end before writing a story and then add all of the other elements in between. But I would not say that is the only thing I focus on. I also focus on what exactly I want to express and I try to work around it in a way that puts forward my idea without forcing something to agree with me. I like playing around the grey areas.
Film Still: The Seventh String
- You played the lead role as Nishtha Kashyap in the film, which is a remarkable achievement. Have you ever felt weighed down by the fact that you are the daughter of famous parents Baharul Islam and Bhagirathi while pursuing the role?
BB: I would not say that it weighed me down while playing the role. However, if I am extremely honest, I do sometimes feel like I am not good enough despite having parents who are in this field. I sometimes also feel guilty for having all the privileges that I do. However, I try to look beyond them and just enjoy the process. I also try to make myself believe that there is nothing wrong with having certain privileges and since my interests lie in the same place, I make sure to make the most of it. I would surely want to take full advantage of the opportunities but also make sure to acknowledge them. I feel extremely grateful to have my parents. They have always provided a safe space for me to pursue my interests in ways I would want. I get to learn so many things from them so closely. I think it is surely because of them that I feel confident enough to get into a field that is uncertain and needs me to take risks. I try to not let my own thoughts weigh me down and just enjoy the process even though that might not always be possible.
- It's incredibly challenging to juggle the responsibilities of a lead actor and a screenwriter. Which was the most challenging for you?
BB: I think for some reason since I had written the character that I played, I feel like I might have understood her more. I think it might have gotten easier for me to play the role because I knew who she was inside out. It was an interesting process to create a new character. It was even more interesting finding out who the character actually was while playing her. However, the most challenging part for me was that while playing the character, I was worried Barkha Bahar would be seen and not Nishtha Kashyap. Since Nishtha is a different person I had created, I did not want my own personality to dominate. It is true that I would bring in a part of myself in the role. However, I did not want the character to be me with a different name. But during the shoot, my father along with everyone else involved really helped me in bringing Nishtha to life. Even though it was challenging to ask the Barkha in me to go to sleep for a while, I believe Nishtha would still seem like a character I created and not me.
- Recent developments in Assamese film seem to be fairly good. Few films could captivate the audience's attention. What are the strengths of your screenplay that would entice the audience to watch it?
BB: This is a really difficult question to answer. I believe all of us have different tastes in films and not everyone would like everything they watch. As I have mentioned above, how we perceive a creative piece is subjective. Hence, it would be hard for me to mention what exactly in the movie might captivate the audience’s attention. However, I can still try to answer.
The Seventh String deals with a sensitive topic. More than anything else, I believe the film would make people think and form their own opinions. I believe, the film has the capability to evoke various emotions and thoughts in the minds of people.
I think the movie also has good cinematography and music that would allow people to go on a journey with the lead character.
The movie focuses on morally ambiguous characters and tries to work around the grey areas which can be fascinating to witness as an audience.
The rest of the cast has done a great job where they have tried to make meaning out of everything they have said. This made me as Nishtha feel more like having a normal conversation with them rather than acting.
- Did you and your father engage in any creative debates over the film's scenes or plot? (For instance, sometimes you wish to perform the scenario in a certain manner, but your father disagrees.)
BB: Oh absolutely yes! We surely had a lot of discussions and debates. I believe, it was actually very much needed during the process. Sometimes he would have incredible ideas that did not match with what I wanted to express through the film. Sometimes, I was too attached to a certain idea and found it difficult to see his side of things. There were times I had to be humbled. There were times when I had to make my father understand that what he is saying at this moment is a great idea but does not match mine. We have had those healthy arguments and have worked through them. I do trust his judgments when it comes to direction. He too has been really respectful towards my ideas and thoughts and has taken my opinions into consideration.
In short, it was indeed a super fun experience to have such creative fights with my father.
Film Still: The Seventh String
- How excited are you and the rest of your crew for the release of your film in theatres on 2nd December, 2022?
BB: We are extremely excited about it. I really can’t wait anymore for the release of the film. I would love to hear what the audience has to say about the film as that would really help me improve. There is so much to learn in life. Hearing the thoughts of people who have watched the film really helps me grow as an aspiring artist. I believe, all of us hope for the hope and are in cloud 9.
- How would you love to see yourself in the future: as an actor, screenwriter, or filmmaker?
BB: I have like hundreds of interests and I do not know which one to choose. I believe I will end up choosing multiple things. However, most of my interests are in the creative field. I believe, all of these interests together can help me become a better artist if not anything else.
I definitely see myself as an actor. But I also see myself as a screenwriter, filmmaker, theatre practitioner, musician, painter, traveler, and novelist. I do love photography and videography as well. Funnily enough, I would not say that I am good at these things, at least not at this moment. I would just say that these are the things I like and would like to explore and surely get better at. I have had this strong urge where I have wanted to make creative pieces in any form possible for people to experience. I believe, all of my interests would surely help me. I see myself as a Jack of All Trades and Master of None. I think that is fun of it. There are so many things in life that I can explore. I would just want to explore one thing and stick with it for the rest of my life.
I might end up becoming something else altogether. However, I do believe that I am very much into creative things and this is the field I would want to get into in whichever way possible.
Barkha Bahar in the film poster.