Rajni Basumatary has always been fascinated by the art of storytelling and she began writing stories right from her school days.
The desire to tell stories remained even after growing up and telling stories through the medium of cinema became a natural progression for her.
Rajni Basumatary debuted as a director with the 2014 film Raag: The Rhythm Of Love, which was incidentally Adil Hussain’s first Assamese movie as the protagonist.
The film won three awards at the Prag Cine Awards in 2014, including Best Actor Male.
Rajni Basumatary has also written and produced the highly acclaimed Bidyut Chakraborty-directed Assamese feature film Anurag (2004).
Apart from directing, Rajni Basumatary has also appeared in numerous films, including Mary Kom in which she played the role of Mary Kom's mother Mangte Akham Kom.
Her sophomore movie Jwlwi-The Seed (2019) was made in Bodo, and it won the Best Film Other Than Assamese Award at the 11th Prag Cine Awards in 2021.
Dipankar: Tell about Jwlwi's casting experience
Rajni: Working with a cast where most artists were not professional actors was truly an enriching experience. I think it was advantageous as well because they were ready to learn. They became ‘director’s actor’.
Professional actors come with their style of acting and experience, which is not always in sync with a director’s vision.
Jwlwi's cast was fresh yet talented and eager. In the process, we explored together as a team.
Besides, when I could not find anyone to play the protagonist despite repeated auditions, I decided to play it myself.
When I saw my performance on screen for the first time, I told myself, ‘Well, it was not too bad a decision to cast myself for that role!’
Dipankar: What were the locations where you had shot the film?
Rajni: A major portion of the film was shot in Sengkhar- a village in Dimakuchi in Darrang district and Udalguri district.
A small portion was shot in Guwahati and Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Dipankar: How long did you take to complete the film?
Rajni: The first schedule was for 20 days and the shoot was carried out in Assam- 19 days in Udalguri and Dimakuchi and one day in Guwahati.
After a gap of two months, the shot resumed for two days and we shot in Chiangmai, Thailand.
Hence, the entire schedule comprised 22 days of shooting.
Dipankar: How did you assemble the crew members?
Rajni: Although I did not have much to pay to my crew members, the right ones joined in one by one. It could have been a combination of my skills to convince them and a decent script that I could put in their hands.
Starting from our executive producer Monali Bharadwaj to our talented young cinematographer Suruj Deka to sound designer Amrit Pritam, colourist Sujit Borah, and editor Hemanti Sarkar- everyone played their roles perfectly to help me shape the film the way I had envisioned it.
Dipankar: You also co-edited the film. What was the experience like?
Rajni: Hemanti Sarkar agreeing to edit the film was like a dream come true for me. I had approached her with a rough cut of the film. However, she wanted to read the script before she saw the rough cut. After reading the script, she agreed to be a part of it.
I had approached her not because she is one of the biggest names in the Indian film industry, but because I found some of her works sensitive, precise, and even poetic.
It was a bonus for me to discover during our working together that we share similar world views.
Dipankar: The important steps behind your successful crowdfunding campaigning
Rajni: Funding was the biggest challenge during the making of the film. I had approached a few influential people from our community to back the film. Sadly, they did not show any interests to collaborate. Some even did not respond. So, I had to finally resort to crowdfunding.
Wishberry is the crowdfunding platform that I had approached and I would recommend it to other indie filmmakers as well.
Two young inspirational women, who were working abroad, returned to India and founded this platform.
They helped me with the promotion of the campaign step by step.
Once the campaign was launched on the Wishberry website I reached out with the link to as many people I knew- family, friends, and acquaintances- and requested them to back my film without any inhibitions. Some backed and a few kept silent.
But the positive responses were generous enough to make me forget about the ones who didn’t respond.
Several large-hearted friends including Krishna Nanduri, Sano Mainao, and Roon Bhuyan became major crowd funders.
I must also specifically mention my co-producer Jani Viswanath’s name. She approved of the film when I showed her the first cut and readily agreed to help me to complete the film.
She is a Dubai-based philanthropist, involved in activities that heals and enriches lives in several regions in Africa and India.
Dipankar: Hurdles you had to cross for the release and distribution Jwlwi?
Rajni: The film is in Bodo so the traditional cine-goers for Jwlwi would have been from Bodo areas.
Unfortunately, there are not many cinema halls in the Bodo areas. So, we could release the film only in five theatres.
Fortunately, Bodo films are shown in Bodo villages through mobile projections.
Jwlwi was shown in more than 50 villages in Assam. As it also went to over 10 international film festivals, including the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. I estimate that Jwlwi has been so far viewed roughly by one million viewers.
Dipankar: Your thoughts on making films in Assam in other languages apart from Assamese
Rajni: I believe that the graph of regional films, in whichever language they are made, are cyclical. The graph goes up for a decade or two and then the slump sets in and then it goes up again.
Assamese films are in resurgence now. This is not only good for the Assamese cinema and its maker but also it is encouraging everyone to make films in their ethnic language as well.
Hope things stay that way and more and better films get made in as many ethnic languages as possible.
Dipankar: How do streaming platforms like Moviesaints help filmmakers?
Rajni: When OTT platforms began mushrooming in India around 3 to 4 years ago and started purchasing films' right, left and centre, small budget filmmakers thought things are now going to be easier for them.
But I think they overkilled it and flooded themselves with too much content. They have stopped buying small budget, especially non-Hindi films.
In this scenario, it is good to have platforms like Moviesaints, which is friendly to indie films. I am happy to have both my films - Raag and Jwlwi- are on Moviesaints.
Dipankar: Are you working on any project right now?
Rajni: I have finished the third draft of a script recently. I am planning to begin its production in September or October.