by Juanita Kakoty
July 19, 2008 was a great day in my life. I discovered Joymoti on celluloid. So far, Joymoti was revealed to me through words in black, splashed in history books or newspapers and journals. I grew up with the knowledge of it being the first Assamese film, directed and produced by the legendary Jyotiprasad Agarwalla. In fact, Jyotiprasad Agarwalla also wrote the screenplay, lyrics and composed the music! The only thing left for him to do in the film was to act!
The songs of the film Joymoti are endearing and I have grown up listening to the extremely patriotic and soul-stirring Luitore paani jabi e boi… (Flow on, you water of Luit...). Joymoti also holds charisma for me because of the life it imposed on its protagonist Aaideu Handique. A young Aaideu could never get married and was almost ostracised by society due to the one role she played in a film ever in her lifetime. Her only crime: She addressed another man as her husband on screen and depicted unfailing love for him. No man would accept her after that. One film at a young age, and a life plagued with abandonment. Such are the vagaries of society.
But then, there is something that attracts one to a poignant life. And I, like several of my generation, wondered: What exactly did Aaideu Handique do on screen that condemned her to such loneliness? And wondered all the more: Will I ever get to watch the legendary Joymoti? Therefore, my excitement knew no bounds when I learnt in the papers about its screening at the Osian-Cinefan’s 10th Film Festival of Asian and Arab cinema in New Delhi (2008). I lost no time in grabbing a ticket and finding a good seat for myself at the Siri Fort Auditorium, the venue of the 10th Osian Cinefan Film Festival.
To my amazement, the auditorium was houseful! This was a new experience because I am quite a regular at Assamese film festivals and film shows in the capital, and I had never before come across more than 15-20 people at a time. This, therefore, was a welcome change.
Before the movie began, one of the organisers introduced the man who has made Joymoti possible at the national and international film festivals: Altaf Mazid. Mazid da’s brief introduction of how he put the film together, and my fortunate interactions with him after the film, opened to me a whole plethora of passion, struggle and persistence that has almost catapulted a resurgence of Joymoti in the field of cinema.
The film was released in 1935, but only one print was available. But, right after Jyotiprasad’s death, the print vanished and all traces of Assamese films’ genesis were lost. It was in the 1970s that Hridayananda Agarwala, the youngest brother of Jyotiprasad, accidently came across seven reels of the film's lone print. This he handed over to Bhupen Hazarika, who converted them into the documentaryRupkonwar Jyotiprasad Aru Joymoti (1976). But no one conceived of restoring it back to its original form as a feature film. Until, Altaf Mazid thought of it in the 1980s, when he witnessed a restored old French film at an international film festival in Hyderabad.
It took two decades to set up the right infrastructure and give shape to his ideas. He relentlessly worked on editing, clearing the soundtrack of the extra screeching noises, making the inaudible dialogues audible, and subtitling (with Pradip Acharya’s help) the film. And the rest, as they say, is history. And this history I witnessed at Osian’s on July 19, 2008.
I was stunned to see the brilliance of Joymoti in every aspect of filmmaking. Beautiful, captivating narration, natural acting, great songs and background scores — the film has it all. Even in 1935 they could create such worthy stuff. It’s enough to make every Assamese proud. But, as a lover of Assamese films, I am even more indebted to Mazid da for having rescued the film from oblivion.
Here, I would like to mention a word or two. Joymoti has archival significance now; not only in the field of cinema but also in history. Therefore, the State should take some action to preserve its prints. Secondly, it would be beneficial for the non-Assamese audience if a synopsis is presented right at the beginning of the film, to acquaint them with the story. And finally, titles/inserts can be provided in scenes where the soundtrack is missing. This would ensure a flow in narration. I believe Mazid da has already got down to working on these aspects.
These points came up in the discussion I had with him and the passion he has for Joymoti is reassuring. After all, it is his passion that gifted us a moment in history at Siri Fort the other day. I watched the first Assamese feature film that was lost somewhere in history! I will surely live to tell this tale.
Courtesy: The Assam Tribune (August 2008)
Thanks to Bipuljyoti Saikia for archiving this piece. It has great sentimental value for me not only because it is one of the first pieces written by me, but also because of the spontaneous articulation on having watched Joymoti.