In this interview, Basumatary talks about ‘Gorai Phakhri’ and its underlying themes, her previous directorial ‘Jwlwi: The Seed,’ her acting career and upcoming projects.
Rajni Basumatary dons multiple hats. Hailing from Assam, Basumatary is a script writer, director, actor and a producer. Her latest directorial ‘Gorai Phakhri’ (aka Wild Swans) is set to have its world premiere at the 2023 Vancouver International Film Festival. The uniqueness of this film is that it is an all-female-cast film that packs a punch. Not since Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ has a film exhibited such a strong sorority spirit. ‘Gorai Phakhri’ will also be screened at the 22nd Dhaka International Film Festival in January, 2024.
Basumatary wrote and produced her first film ‘Anuraag’ in 2004 which went on to receive multiple State Film Awards on Assam. She debuted as a director in 2014 with ‘Raag, The Rhythm of Love.’ She has acted in a few highly successful films, including Mary Kom, Shaukeens, III Smoking Barrels, ‘Jwlwi – The Seed,’ and the Netflix series ‘Rana Naidu.’
In this interview, Basumatary talks about ‘Gorai Phakhri’ and its underlying themes, her previous directorial ‘Jwlwi – The Seed,’ her acting career and upcoming projects.
Q. Your latest directorial ‘Gorai Phakhri’ is set to have its world premiere at the 2023 Vancouver International Film Festival? How does it feel to have your work showcased on an international stage?
A. The annual Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is a showcase of exceptional cinema in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. I couldn’t have had a better festival than this to have our world premiere. This year VIFF will present approximately 120 features and 100 shorts and expand the frame with talks, creative development opportunities, performances, and other unique events that celebrate film and film culture. I am planning to attend it physically and hoping to have a good networking opportunity besides watching great films.
Q. What inspired you to create ‘Gorai Phakhri’? What is the central theme of the film?
A. Wild Swans is my fourth film as a script writer and third film as a director. Here, I tell interwoven stories about village women ganging up against patriarchy in the armed conflict milieu of India’s Northeast region.
The uniqueness of this film is that it is an all-female-cast film and most crew members are women. Jani Viswanath, a poet, writer, artist and a philanthropist has agreed to produce the film. We have had a pleasant experience of working together in our last film.
Q. How did you choose the setting of Bodoland in Northeast India for the film? What do you hope the audience will take away from ‘Gorai Phakhri’?
A. I belong to this region and it was a natural choice for me to pick up and tell stories rooted here. What I have tried to depict in the film are not mere stories but part of my own upbringing. One can’t help but observe how patriarchy is so deeply rooted in the culture that women themselves toe the line. If there are three pieces of fish in the plate, two pieces would be given to the son and one piece to the daughter. If a couple has a son and a daughter to educate and they have no means to educate both, they invariably choose to somehow educate the son, making the girl drop out of school or college. If a man and woman are caught in a scandalous relationship, the woman is punished and the man is spared. “If the woman is virtuous then what a man can do to her,” they reason. An ageing lady gets raped by armed force personnel during night raids. Her husband chases her away from home, terming her ‘unclean’.
I am hoping that this film will help to take forward dialogue on the subject. Everyone, regardless of ones’ gender, must enjoy equal rights and responsibility. This is what I hope the audience will take away.
Q. Your previous film, ‘Jwlwi – The Seed,’ also received acclaim. Can you tell us about the themes and messages explored in that film?
A. ‘Jwlwi – The Seed’ was set in Assam’s insurgency ridden decades beginning from 90s. It is a story of hope lost and found through resolute perseverance even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. During the insurgency many lost their lives either in the hands of State or separatist groups. Many went missing keeping family in tenterhooks without a closure. In the film, the protagonist, after losing her son and everything else and suffering much in her life finds a ray of hope at the end by discovering that she has a grandchild in a foreign land that could well be her seed. I picked up several stories from the region and threaded together to make this film. The central plot of the film was based on the experiences of me and my family. The one message I tried to convey in ‘Jwlwi – The Seed’ is that gun violence uproots and destroys families. The barrel of a gun doesn’t know who is in front; its one and only aim is to kill.
Q. How do you look back at your journey in the world of filmmaking? What draws you to storytelling as a medium of expression? How has your filmmaking style evolved over the years?
A. I became a filmmaker because I like writing stories. My first published story was written when I was in 9th class. But no-one in my family was remotely connected to the world of cinema. But I plunged into like I had no other option in life. No film school experience, no funding source! It was difficult in the first few years. But my acquired confidence improved my situation. Luckily for me, I met my spouse, Shirish Jain, who is a police officer but is very passionate about cinema himself. His support saw me through my dips. Then I met my producer, Jani Viswanath. ‘Wild Swan’ is my second film with her. She is an artist herself and she loves seeing others flourish in what they want to do in life.
I watch films a lot, read and keep revisiting my previous films. I notice hundreds of faults in my films and try to better it in my next film. I think I am better equipped today to tell my stories more effectively compared to, say my first or second film.
Q. You have had a successful acting career as well, including your role in ‘Mary Kom’ and recently the Netflix series ‘Rana Naidu.’ How does acting influence your approach to filmmaking?
A. I am an independent filmmaker who makes films in shoestring budgets. But I have had the opportunity to act in big budget projects, whether it’s films, OTT series or television and print commercials. My association with these projects makes me ambitious in terms of scale and educates me about the technicalities employed in filmmaking. But it also teaches me how to be economic and not waste resources unnecessarily. I get the most satisfaction by mounting a project as a writer-director and see it come to see the light of day. Acting is my way to escape to more sainted space; I feel pampered as an actor, which I quite like. I produce only when no one is producing my film. This is my least preferred part of
Q. Are there any upcoming projects or ideas you are excited to explore in the future? Is there a particular genre or theme you haven’t worked on yet but would like to in the future?
A. I have something in the pipeline but it’s in too early a stage to be able to talk about. I have made film in Assamese and Bodo language. Next, I want to make something in Hindi. Let’s see how what I am working on shapes up.