Film Review: A tale of a government servant
Renowned film critic Prantik Deka offers a critical assessment of the upcoming Assamese movie, The Government Servant.
'The Government Servant' – the much-anticipated film directed by Prodyut Kumar Deka, had a star-studded special screening at the refurbished Rudra Baruah auditorium in the Jyoti Chitraban Film Studio premises, on September 3, 2023. Based on the novel 'Mayong' by the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer Jayanta Madhab Bora, the screening of 'The Government Servant' was attended by a good number of special guests, artistes, technicians, well-wishers and film enthusiasts.
Mayong – the very name that evokes magic and mystery! Over the years, people of all age-groups have been held spellbound by the stories of Mayong – the famous land of magic, the place of tantra mantras. Mayong even finds its mention in the mythological epic 'Mahabharata', along with Pragjyotishpura (ancient Assam). Legend has it that Ghatotkach, the son of Bhima and Hidimba, took part in the battle of Mahabharata after attaining the unique magical powers of Mayong, which was originally known as Maibang.
Situated in the Morigaon district of Assam, Mayong has a high concentration of traditional knowledge, beliefs, folklore, black magic, exorcism, historical, environmental, natural and archaeological monuments.
It must be a high priority then, that everyone must make a concerted effort towards protecting, documenting, preserving and promoting these unique and indigenous cultural and social heritage of Assam as it's only through a proper projection and promotion of those natural resources that can make Mayong a world heritage site.
But for all of its rich tradition and resources, Mayong is still, somewhat tucked away from the rest of the world.
As the saying goes, whenever someone visits Mayong, a pira (stool) is forever stuck on the buttock, on the way out!
But what really springs to mind is, is Mayong really a land of magic as it's made out to be? Is magic and witchcraft draining out of the land?
Doesn't it have any other identity?
Probably, for the first time, this new Assamese film – 'The Government Servant', has portrayed Mayong in a completely different light that actually deconstructs the notion of it being a land of black magic and witchcraft.
The story of the movie, as the name suggests, revolves around a government officer Arnab Bora, who is posted in Mayong, and is lodged temporarily in the house of Harmohan, a teacher of a local government school.
Harmohan's wife had gone to stay in their in-laws house for a while, which prompted him to let Arnab stay in his house. Harmohan shows him the place around, which seems quite mysterious, but Arnab still refuses to believe those stories around the old legend. But nonetheless, the beauty and the serenity of the unusual hills, archaeological relics and artefacts among many other things that surround the mythical land captivates him, evoking feelings of mystery and timelessness.
The black magic that was once diligently nurtured by the natives, seems to have lost its shine in the present context.
Arnab did ask some of the locals to think rationally and ignore superstitious beliefs, from time to time, but to no avail. The die-hard, stubborn villagers, even the educated ones, explain to Arnab in a rather dismaying tone that the witch doctors no longer seem acquainted with the true ancient mantras which may have been lost in the mists of time!
Once, while roaming around the place, Arnab meets Bina, the attractive yet somewhat mysterious wife of a villager, and soon enough, falls in love, as they embark on a secret affair.
Soon Arnab finds himself in great difficulty because cases of misfortune are piling up out of nowhere.
As the story unfolds, Harmohan's sister-in-law's wedding has to be cancelled on the day of marriage as the bus carrying the groom's party met with an unfortunate accident. The groom was among the dead. The superstitious villagers attribute it to ill fortune brought upon by the girl. She commits suicide later. The incident leaves Arnab disheartened. Arnab realises that he couldn't heal people out of their age-old beliefs. Even in this age of scientific reasoning, superstitious beliefs still run riot!
However, when Bina, too, dies due to a complicated disease, kept hidden for long, Arnab, filled with the enormous heartache of loss, didn't feel like staying in Mayong any longer. And much to his relief, he moves out of the place as soon as he receives his transfer order.
'The Government Servant' makes a sincere attempt to portray the mystique of Mayong through a different perspective, while trying to discover new and interesting aspects about the place and its inhabitants. The film doesn't have anything to do with witch doctors or Ojhaas chanting mantras or using copper plates to treat diseases or to alleviate pain. Instead, the film has attempted to depict Mayong from the viewpoint of a sceptic government employee, taking us on a journey fraught with strong emotional thoughts and feelings, beyond the rich tapestry of myths and magic of Mayong, a place where black magic, which is transmitted down through the ages, is still practised by some of its residents.
The film raises questions and the uncertainty of the answers are its real strength. The 90-minute long film engages for most of its part, with a content which is quite relevant and captivating at the same time, backed by sound technical aspects.
For the cast, it is imperative to understand the characters they are portraying. Kopil Bora, who portrays the titular character, has done very well. It's perhaps his most prominent role after Bidyut Chakravarty's acclaimed 'Dwaar', released in 2012. He is adequately supported by Hiranya Deka, Nikumani Barua, Upakul Bordoloi, Dipjyoti Kakoti, Durgashree Bora, Devashri Das, Hemanta Debnath, Himangshu Sarma and Parthajit Barua.
'The Government Servant' is produced by Debashish Goswami and Lipika Medhi Sharma under the banner of Manjushree Films and Pahi Production. The movie is scripted jointly by Prodyut Kumar Deka and Jayanta Madhab Bora. The film is cinematographed by Minakshi Bhagawati, edited by Ratan Sil Sarma, sound designed by Dipak Dutta and Babul Das, costumes by Rosy Bora, make-up by Jonali Boruah, while the music is composed by Debashish Goswami, subtitles and publicity done by Prantik Deka, and the VFX works carried out by Jiten Das.
The event was gracefully anchored by actress Madhusmita Borkotoki Chaudhury. The film will soon be streaming on the OTT platform 'Reel Drama'.