THE HOUSE OF THE BARUAS : A NOSTALGIC DOCUMENTARY ON AN ASSAMESE FAMILY STEEPED IN CREATIVE PURSUITS

Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji provides an interview-based article on Utpal Borpujari's THE HOUSE OF THE BARUAS, a feature-length documentary on a Barua family which is known in Assam as having contributed greatly to Assam's cultural history.

Jun 1, 2024 - 22:12
Jun 1, 2024 - 22:27
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THE HOUSE OF THE BARUAS : A NOSTALGIC DOCUMENTARY ON AN ASSAMESE FAMILY STEEPED IN  CREATIVE PURSUITS
THE HOUSE OF THE BARUAS : A NOSTALGIC DOCUMENTARY ON AN ASSAMESE FAMILY STEEPED IN  CREATIVE PURSUITS

Utpal Borpujari does not need much introduction among journalists, editors, filmmakers and critics of the country. He is a double National Film Award winner; one, as a film critic, and the other, as a filmmaker. In 2003, he won the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India. In 2018, he won the National Film Award, and 5 Assam State Film Awards for his debut feature film Ishu He holds an M.Tech degree in Applied Geology from the Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee). And is a member of the Film Critics Circle of India.

He slowly but surely shifted his focus from writing on cinema to making documentary and feature films that shed light on lesser known traditional arts, crafts, historic nostalgia and people linked to the North East where he hails from. His last film The Masks of Majuli creatively documents the Mask Art form of Majuli, focusing on the only two families that are keeping the practice alive at the Natun Chamaguri Satra, including award-winning mask maker Dr Hem Chandra Goswami. This film  will be screened on 29th May at St. Hugh’s College, University of Oxford with a lec-dem of Sattriya Dance by Oomona Das. The film has been just screened at the 16th Habitat Film Festival in Delhi and will be screened at the forthcoming New York Indian Film Festival in June.

The House of the Baruas carries the cinematic signature of Borpujari whose films are backed by intensive and extensive research comprised of interviews of the significant people who define the main subjects of the film, location hunting and shooting backed by a visually rich narrative style. Though this has a running footage of 71 minutes, The House of the Baruas does not drag at any point and sustains the interest of the viewers eager to know more about life in the North East, not popular among people in the rest of India.

Says Borpujari, “As someone born and raised in Guwahati, the Barua family has been part of my cultural psyche since childhood, as it has been for almost every Guwahatian, and even for almost every Assamese. The family is known all over Assam for the films made by Brajen Barua, Nip Barua, Dibon Barua and songs composed by Ramen Barua and sung by Dwipen Barua”

A 100-year-old house in Guwahati, Assam, North Eastern India. A house that gave 30 feature films and several directors, music composers, singers, actors, actresses and much more to Assamese cinema. And some of them were top cricketers, footballers, politician and much more. A house that is now facing an uncertain future.

The family name “Barua” is automatically linked to the great Pramathesh Barua who produced, directed and acted in Bengali films and lifted its aesthetics to a higher level of history and valuable content. These “Baruas” are different. According to Utpal himself, “On the eastern side of Guwahati’s historic Latasil playground stands an iconic Assam-type house that has completed a century of its existence in 2023. Constructed by engineer Chandranath Barua, this house has been home to some of Assam’s most-famous icons, such as filmmaker-actor-musician Brajen Barua, filmmaker-footballer-flautist-painter Nip Barua, singer-turned-composer Ramen Barua, filmmaker Dibon Barua, cricketer-turned-singer Dwipen Barua, cricketer-pilot-entrepreneur-politician Girin Barua and radio broadcaster Niren Barua. The Baruas are surely the only family in Assam, and perhaps in entire India, that has produced so many noted personalities in fields as diverse as cinema, music, sports and politics. This is the story of The House of Baruas, reconstructed through memories, archival film clips and photographs and lots of love. Now the house is in the need or repairs and faces an uncertain future.”

Explaining what inspired him to make a 71-minute documentary, Utpal says, “As a filmmaker with a journalistic past, I have always felt strongly about the lack of archiving local histories in India as a matter of national interest. All such archiving happens – when they happen – at mostly individual levels. Often, we don’t know the history of the locality or the town or the city we live in. That sparked in me the idea to document the House of Baruas in Guwahati. And what better way than to do it via a film, given that the family’s contribution to Assamese cinema has been immense. As the house completed 100 years this year, this is a tribute to that family – and that house – whose history is not widely known among the current generations.”

The characters interviewed right across the film are examples of education, erudition and sophistication and yet completely grounded in the narration of the illustrious past which is comprised of illustrious talents not only in films but in multiple areas of human creation, enterprise and industry. The film was almost entirely filmed in Guwahati, except for a small interview that was filmed in the Upper Assam town of Moran.

On the eastern side of Guwahati’s historic Latasil playground stands an iconic Assam-type house that has completed a century of its existence in 2023. Constructed by engineer Chandranath Barua, this house has been home to some of Assam’s most-famous icons, such as filmmaker-actor-musician Brajen Barua, filmmaker-footballer-flautist-painter Nip Barua, singer-turned-composer Ramen Barua, filmmaker Dibon Barua, cricketer-turned-singer Dwipen Barua, cricketer-pilot-entrepeneur-politician Girin Barua and radio broadcaster Niren Barua. 

The Baruas are certainly the only family in Assam, and perhaps in entire India, that has produced so many noted personalities in fields as diverse as cinema, music, sports and politics. This is the story of The House of Baruas, reconstructed through memories, archival film clips and photographs and lots of love. Now the house is in the need or repairs and faces an uncertain future.

Borpujari explains that the film was conceptualised along with producer Nayan Prasad in 2020, but due to the Pandemic, it was filmed in parts between the First and Second wave and then after the Pandemic ended. It got its CBFC certification in December 2023, but it has its world premiere as part of the Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa in November 2023.

The House of the Baruas is certainly not Borpujari’s sole documentary film. His list is quite long considering the uphill struggle of any documentary filmmaker to gather funds, search for original locations and find how these can be made suitable for shooting, the time and space facilities, looking for the human subjects and persuading them to actively participate in the making in the film. Among his other films are - Xogun (Short Fiction, 2020), Ishu (Fiction Feature, 2017), Memories of a Forgotten War (Documentary, 2016), Soccer Queens of Rani (Documentary, 2014) Songs of the Blue Hills (Documentary, 2013),For a Durbar of the People (Documentary, 2013), and Mayong: Myth/Reality (Documentary, 2012).

In response to the question, what does he feel now that the film is complete and has had several screenings for a select audience in Delhi, Goa and elsewhere, Borpujari says: “I feel I have been able to capture the essence of the family's contribution to Assam's socio-cultural, sports and social space. However, given that the contribution of each member of the family has been quite huge in their chosen fields, maybe it was not possible to capture everything about them in one single film. That is why, we plan to make another film on the musical aspect of the family, focusing on composer-singer Ramen Barua and cricketer-turned-singer Dwipen Barua - the two surviving brothers of their generation.”

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