Bhabendra Nath Saikia

Bhabendra Nath Saikia: The Master Who Weaved Local Tales With A Universal Appeal

February 20, 2022

Today is the 90th birth anniversary of legendary Assamese filmmaker Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia, whose feature films through the usage of understated cinematic language have achieved an uncompromising feat.

His narrative style associates his character with the physical environment surrounding their social life and in the process reveals many detailed intricate aspects of their existence.

Through the calculated pace and rhythm of his narrative, he presents a vivid picture of individuals grappling with their dilemmas and conflicts. By striking a carefully judged balance between form and content, the story of his films reveals his genuine feel for human values and relationships.

In order to support my argument, I would like to discuss a short segment from his National Award Winning Assamese film Abartan (On the run, 1993).In the film, Jayanti (Mridula Barua) is a glamour actress of repute celebrated for her enchanting performance as a mobile theatre artist. Her family members are completely dependent on her earnings. One day, on a bus journey, she met Parimol Dutta (Tapan Das), an engineer by profession. The coincidental meeting gives both the characters an opportunity to introspect their individual life. Soon the friendship develops into a full-grown relationship. The couple decides to get married and their decision results in bitter revelations about the realities of a narrow-minded society.

In the following clip, the principal characters meet for the first time in their bus journey to Bornogor. For the first few moments, they do not speak to one another despite seating next to one another. Parimol breaks the ice and initiates the conversation in a polite and concerned manner as a co-passenger. Since Jayanti is uncomfortable due to the bright rays of sun entering through the window, Parimol is ready to change his position with her. But she has her reason for not changing her position, a subtle gesture that speaks a lot about her character. The sunlight plays the role of the ray of hope in their informal talk, in a metaphorical sense. As both, the characters continue to absorb information about one another we discover their profession as well as get a brief glimpse into their traits. For example, when Parimol asks Jayanti how she feels working in the mobile theatre, Jayanti responds that her reply varies from person to person. Her response is devoid of hypocrisy and underlines the fact that individuals who are popular face have to acquire a dual identity. It is a compulsion and not a necessity. Dr Saikia’s films always have strong female characters and Jayanti is an addition to this cinematic universe. The bus journey also serves as the beginning of togetherness between both the characters and heralds a new chapter in their life.

To watch the clip, click Abartan (1993)

Through his films, Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia always showcased that dialogues can be used meticulously and creatively to give us vital information regarding the characters. Such concisely crafted dialogue contributes to the creation of well-defined and lively characters.

His innovative way of shooting dialogue and rigorous commitment to visual symmetry helps him to capture the complicated human relationship. All these cinematic choices essentially conveyed a poignant examination of human lives, through his eight feature films, that have left a lasting impression in the history of Indian cinema.

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