Birubala-The Fearless Crusader (2022): An Homage to the Lionhearted Attitude of a Woman
'Dhiraj Kashyap’s twenty-six-minute documentary ‘Birubala: The Fearless Crusader (2022)’ highlights the evil impact of this superstitious belief in which women are frequently singled out by family members, neighbors, or fellow villagers and blamed for diseases, financial difficulties, or even agricultural destruction', writes noted Indian film critic, Dipankar Sarkar
Dipankar Sarkar, noted Indian film critic and an alumnus of FTII, Pune, critically reviews Dhiraj Kashyap’s short documentary, Birubala: The Fearless Crusader (2022).
A few days ago, history was created at the Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati by 11,304 dancers and drummers in the creation of the largest Bihu dance performance in a single venue. The magnificent event has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, and the world became aware of this non-religious festival from the often neglected region of Northeast India. But at the same time, we cannot deny that there are certain evil practices in some of the rural regions of the state that, most of the time, go unreported in the mainstream media. One such atrocious practice and socially sanctioned barbarity is witchcraft. Dhiraj Kashyap’s twenty-six-minute documentary Birubala: The Fearless Crusader (2022) highlights the evil impact of this superstitious belief in which women are frequently singled out by family members, neighbors, or fellow villagers and blamed for diseases, financial difficulties, or even agricultural destruction.
The documentary begins with a staging of events showing various stages of how women are targeted, followed by how witch hunt survivors Anjali Hazong and Padumi Rabha narrate their horrific experience of escaping a near-death-to-life scenario. Soon, a voice-over narration will educate us on how remote parts of the northeastern village have been affected by such notorious practices. Then we are introduced to the protagonist of the documentary, who for the last twenty-seven years has been a major force in Assam fighting this evil mindset that has taken the innocent lives of lots of individuals. She is none other than Padmashri Birubala Rabha. Through her talking head interview, we get to know how she became a part of the crusade against witch hunting and the various hurdles she has to cross to achieve her mission. In one of the voiceovers, we get to know that she has to travel overnight to Majuli to hinder the killing of a young innocent life as a part of the evil practice of witch-hunting. Even human rights activist Aparna Borah praises the courageous efforts of Birubala in creating awareness across northeast India.
Birubala-The Fearless Crusader is a well-structured documentary that describes how the tireless efforts of a woman in a male-dominated society helped create change on a mammoth scale. The approach to the subject matter of the documentary is objective, and a voice-over narration along with interviews make the viewer discover the practices of social evil in the northeastern part of India. There are no fancy camera movements or stylistic editing patterns throughout the documentary. Such a simplistic method works in the favour of the documentary and keeps the flow of information very fluid. The filmmaker has kept Birubala at the center of the narrative and has made sure that our attention does not divert from her selfless and valiant efforts, which never go unnoticed. In an age when the attention span of people is decreasing day by day, this documentary works wonderfully as a capsule of the valorous deeds of a woman and her striving to eliminate an iniquitous mindset.
Birubala-The Fearless Crusader has won the award for Best Director (Bronze) at the recently held North East Film Festival, Mumbai, 2023.
Image: Dhiraj Kashyap