"I am also working on another documentary on the famous House of Baruahs in Guwahati, which had given Assamese cinema 29 feature films and some of the greatest film music and songs"
Utpal Borpujari is a national award-winning film critic and filmmaker from Assam, whose latest short film Xogun (Vulture, 2021) has been striking all the right chords and the audience is all praise for his work.
Xogun is a resolute account of the ravening quest for news and this 16-minute-long short film calls attention to its censorious depiction of a strong clash between sustaining moral sensibility and the manipulative nature of work ethics.
The short film has been selected for the 21st New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF), held virtually from June 4 to 15, 2021.
The short film is currently streaming virtually on the MovieSaints platform, along with few other films, as a part of the 12-day-long film festival.
Born and brought up in Guwahati, Utpal Borpujari, completed his higher secondary and then completed his Bachelor in Sciences (BSc) from Cotton College, Guwahati.
After completing his BSc in Geology, Borpujari completed his MTech in Applied Geology from IIT-Roorkee (then University of Roorkee) in 1993.
While in college, he used to write for newspapers and magazines like The Assam Tribune, The Sentinel, North East Times, Prantik, and also for North East Sun published from Delhi.
Later, he also contributed to newspapers like Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and Sunday Observer.
By the time he was doing his final semester in Roorkee, Utpal Borpujari decided to become a journalist.
At the 50th National Film Awards, held in 2003, he won the award for the best film critic.
He received his second National Film Award, fifteen years later, for the best Assamese film Ishu (2017), which was also his debut as a feature film as a filmmaker. He has also directed a couple of documentary films.
He has also directed documentaries like Mayong: Myth/Reality (2012), Songs of the Blue Hills (2013), Memories of a Forgotten War (2016) amongst others.
In conversation with Dipankar Sarkar for The Story Mug, Utpal Borpujari speaks at length about his latest short film and sheds light on several previously unspoken experiences.
Dipankar: Congratulations on your short film Xogun getting selected at the New York Indian Film Festival, 2021. How important is this festival for you?
Utpal Borpujari: Thank you. It’s one of the most prestigious festivals of Indian cinema abroad and is a great showcase for Indian cinema in North America, and thus it’s really satisfying that Xogun got selected for it.
Dipankar: What attracted you to Manoj Kumar Goswami's short story that you decided to make Xogun?
Utpal Borpujari: This is one of his most acclaimed short stories that take a very critical look at how a section of the media operates.
It was written decades ago, but I felt that it’s more relevant now than ever with the downward spiral of the image of the media and the proliferation of fake news, paid news, ‘impact features’ that masquerade as news, and whatnot.
And if we talk of the broadcast media, the less said the better. Add to that the declining moral standards of journalists overall.
As a former journalist (and once a journalist is always one), I feel very strongly about what’s happening all around us, and this film is my reaction to that.
Dipankar: Maya (Rimjhim Deka) tells Atul (Dhananjay Debnath) that the place will now get famous through your photos. Otherwise, who cares if they exist or not. Thus, the film takes a critical look at contemporary journalistic ethics where technology plays a vicious role.
Utpal Borpujari: That is what is the reality. Journalists come and cover an incident in a remote place, and then they move on to the next story.
The media, barring the immediate local ones, do not remember what happened to victims of many such heinous ethnic clashes, be it the Kuki-Naga, Karbi-Naga, Bodo-immigrant Muslims, and many such.
The only one that is remembered is the Nellie massacre because it got huge prominence immediately after it happened.
And I have given just a few examples from Assam and its neighbourhood – there are many such examples from many parts of India. And this is true for any incident, not just riots.
Dipankar: Towards the end, Arun Mishra (Sanjeev Hazarika) tells Tutu (Kapil Garo) that if they find a single rotten apple, he should throw it away immediately. Is there a subtext to the spoken lines or am I over-reading the context?
Utpal Borpujari: You have read it correctly. It’s meant to be a comment on the rotten apples in the profession. But hope lies in the likes of the younger journalist, who represents the future of journalism, hopefully.
Dipankar: The beginning and closing of Xogun bring a kind of circularity with the vehicle seen moving at a distance from the field. What was the purpose behind the two long shots?
Utpal Borpujari: I tried to use it as a visual metaphor, symbolising the transient and short-lived nature of our interest in incidents that happen in remote places – we enter those spaces and then leave them within a short period, leaving behind the Tutus and Kons to their own miseries.
Dipankar: How did IFT get involve in the making of Xogun?
Utpal Borpujari: IFT India is a Guwahati-based socio-cultural organisation, which has earlier made a couple of documentaries. The people associated with it showed interest in producing the film.
Dipankar: Is the short film scheduled to participate in other film festivals?
Utpal Borpujari: It was selected at the 14th Signs Festival in Kerala, which I feel is a great honour as it is one of the most-sought after documentary and short film festivals in India.
Before that, it had won the Best Film award at the Short Film competition at the 13th International Guwahati Film Festival organised by Gauhati Cine Club.
After NYIFF, I hope it will travel to more festivals in the near future.
Dipankar: Is there any project you are currently working on?
Utpal Borpujari: Due to the pandemic, a documentary film on the Mask Art of Majuli that I had been making for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), is stuck.
It was filmed in mid-2019 and I had submitted the rough cut to IGNCA, as per their regulations, in early 2020. They had a few queries and suggestions on the rough cut and I had sought some information and given my feedback to them.
But, after that, the pandemic struck and it’s in limbo. I will complete the film as soon as I get to hear from them.
I am also working on another documentary on the famous House of Baruahs in Guwahati, which had given Assamese cinema 29 feature films and some of the greatest film music and songs.
The house will complete 100 years in 2023. I have done part filming and again, the remaining filming has got stuck because of the 2nd wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And again, thanks to the pandemic, a few ideas I had been working on for my next feature film(s) are also stuck.
Dipankar: You are amongst the few Indians who have successfully traversed the journey from a National Film Awarded film critic to a National Film Award-winning film director. Did your journalism background sow in your mind the seed of becoming a filmmaker?
Utpal Borpujari: In a way, yes. Since I had been writing on cinema even before I became a professional journalist, and had generally been crazy about cinema, I guess that seed was somewhere there always.
And after nearly two decades as a professional journalist, the mind said I needed to switch to filmmaking from writing on cinema.
Dipankar: Do you have any favourite filmmaker in particular who has influenced your cinematic sensibilities?
Utpal Borpujari: Many actually, and that list is quite long.
Dipankar: From writing about cinema to making documentaries, feature film, and now a short film. Which among these is your favourite medium and why?
Utpal Borpujari: I feel I would prefer to continue working in both fiction and non-fiction formats, as I find that some stories lend better to non-fiction and some to fiction. And there is no dearth of stories to tell.
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