Ishu: Assamese children’s film wins hearts

Scene from Ishu, Assamese children's film

Utpal Borpujari, director of Ishu
Utpal Borpujari, director of children’s film, Ishu

Utpal Borpujari’s directorial debut Ishu looks at the evil practice of witch-hunting in Assam through the eyes of a child.

Director Utpal Borpujari is a well-known film-maker and media critic from Assam. A product of IIT Roorkee, he won the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India in 2003.

For the past seven years, Utpal has been involved in filmmaking and has made several acclaimed documentary films such as Mayong: Myth/Reality, Songs of the Blue Hills, Soccer Queens of Rani and Memories Of A Forgotten War among others.

He has served on international and national film juries and curated films for the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. Ishu is his debut fiction feature produced by the Children’s Film Society of India (CSFI). As a professional journalist, apart from cinema, he has written extensively on politics, society, culture and literature among others.

Recently, Utpal was felicitated at the 65th National Film Awards held in May 2018 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, when his film Ishu won the award for Best Assamese Film.

Ishwar Prasad Rabha or Ishu as everyone calls him stays in a remote, tribal village in Assam. Ishu is 10, goes to the village primary school, and is always busy with his friends or Bhalu, his pet puppy. And if he is not to be found at home, he is to be found at the house of his favourite Ambika “Jethi” (aunt) next door. Happy-go-lucky Ishu is pampered by his grandmother and uncle and loved by his parents. But unknown to him, dark clouds are descending on this happy world of Ishu. The village “Bej” (quack), declares Ambika as a witch. The superstitious people of the village easily get swayed by him, and burn down her house. Ambika vanishes, and no one seems to know where she is. Ishu, heartbroken, starts looking around. Will he find her? What happened to Ambika? Based on famous Assamese author Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s novel by the same name, Ishu takes a look at the still-continuing despicable practice of witch-hunting in Assam from a child’s point of view.

When asked about his film team, Utpal said, “I am really fortunate to have A. Sreekar Prasad and Sumon Dowerah, both national awardees; also, musician Anurag Saikia another national award winner who has provided music for hit movies like Dangal and Dil To Hai Mushkil.”

SANTOSH MEHTA spoke to Utpal Borpujari about Ishu after the 65th National Film Awards.

What inspired you to direct Ishu and how do you select subjects for your films?
When I decided to make a feature film, I was keen on starting off with a children’s film because in India there have not been many children’s films made till now. My idea was to make my first feature film in my mother tongue Assamese. Hence, I chose this wonderful story written by popular Assamese author Manikuntala Bhattacharjya. The story, also titled Ishu, attracted me because of its depiction of how a child, through his or her innocence and simplicity, can make a change in the immediate society around.

Is this a true story? Does this social problem still exist?
It is not a true story, but such incidents have been happening in Assam even now. It’s a very sad and crucial social problem, which the state government, social organizations and many others are trying to end. Unfortunately, the superstition is exploited by unscrupulous elements to perpetuate this problem.

How long did it take you to direct this movie? Tell us about the locations.
The film took around one year from start to finish. However, before that the scripting took nearly two years as I wanted to make it as realistic as possible and thus had to do a lot of research and also visit interior areas of Assam. The film was shot in Gaia area of Goalpara district in lower Assam, bordering Meghalaya and West Bengal.

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Santosh Mehta

Santosh Mehta

Santosh Mehta has over 20 years experience as a journalist and art critic. An executive member of the Indian Women’s Press Corps, she has written for leading publications such as Deccan Herald, The Tribune, The Statesman, The Asian Age (New Delhi) and Press Trust of India (PTI) among others. She has directed and scripted a TV programme for NRIs and has written scripts for AIR and Doordarshan.
Santosh Mehta

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Santosh Mehta

Santosh Mehta has over 20 years experience as a journalist and art critic. An executive member of the Indian Women’s Press Corps, she has written for leading publications such as Deccan Herald, The Tribune, The Statesman, The Asian Age (New Delhi) and Press Trust of India (PTI) among others. She has directed and scripted a TV programme for NRIs and has written scripts for AIR and Doordarshan.