Filmmaker Bidyut Kotoky was clear about his vocation since his early years. He feels his homeland has umpteen stories that can be mirrored by his preferred medium of filmmaking.
“I never had to look too far for stories. Time and again, my homeland beckons me with a new story to be told. Whether it is the maidams (burial vaults) at Charaideo in Assam with their fascinating similarity to the pyramids of Egypt or the longest limestone cave of the subcontinent situated in the hills of Meghalaya, the villages of Nagaland or the people living in a border land in Tripura, you have ample stories to be crafted,” he says.
The filmmaker has taken the sights, smells, tastes and tales of the Northeast to the rest of India through programmes such as Surabhi on Doordarshan, Sare Jahan Se Achha on Zee TV and Good Food Guide on Star TV.
With his recent directorial venture, Ekhon Nedekha Nodir Xipaare, he has poured a “tinge of tang” for the Assamese audience to savour.
Dwelling on his directorial journey from documentaries to films, he says, “It has been an interesting journey so far. Talking of documentaries, we try to tell a story there too, but the form is different. The main difference I have experienced while directing my first feature film after many documentaries is that the size of the cast and crew is much, much bigger. I had to psyche myself to lead a team of 150-odd people on the first day of our shoot as compared to five-seven people that make a crew in most documentaries.”
He is still soaking in the experience, as the journey is yet to be over. He has enough on his plate, as the Hindi version of Ekhon Nedekha..., called As the River Flows, is yet to be released.
He has pulled up his sleeves for other ventures as well. “Dreams are many. Quite a few scripts are ready. Three of them are in Hindi and one is bilingual, in Assamese and Bengali. Let’s see for which one I manage to get the funds first.”
A feature-length documentary, Guns & Guitars — a Musical Travelogue, is in the post-production stage and should be his next release. It is based on the music scenario of the Northeast in the backdrop of insurgency.
“This documentary rendered a strikingly different experience, moving through India’s eight north-eastern states. The journey gave me the opportunity to observe and fathom better what gave shape to the voice and music of this land, its cultural and socio-political milieu, the budding rock bands, and to catch up with the man on the street and share a few thoughts with music fans, young and old,” says Kotoky, who also takes interest in reading, travelling, cricket, photography and trekking.
He is also working on a Hindi feature film, Khel Toh Hume Khelne Do, which tells the story of how football lured a group of youngsters away from guns and terrorism.
As a director, which part of filmmaking does he consider most important? “Script, undoubtedly, is the deciding factor. If I’m not convinced by a story, how can I tell it convincingly to you?” he says.
Kotoky was born in Assam but his father’s profession took him and his family across the Northeast. Consequently, his formative years were spent mostly roaming the hills and vales of the “seven sisters”, leaving an indelible impression on his young mind that cemented a bond with the land.
Over a period of 10 years, Kotoky has directed over 140 short non-fiction films on wide-ranging themes of “human interests, lesser known facts and unsung heroes from India and abroad”.
In 2007, his first feature-length documentary, Bhramyaman Theatre — Where Othello sails with Titanic, based on mobile theatres of Assam, won a special mention in the National Awards. The Mighty Ahoms (2010), which was telecast on National Geographic and Fox History channels, followed.
On the subjects he may be looking at in his future films, he says, “A wide range of topics interest me. As long as I am convinced about a subject, I am open to deal with it in a film.”
On whether filmmakers in Assam face any limitations, Kotoky says, “I think we need to look at breaking the physical boundaries and reaching out to more people. I sincerely believe that we shouldn't expect people to watch a film because it is an Assamese film. It should be watched because it is a good film. Why can't we look at enlarging the market and the budget of our film by making bi-lingual films?”
Asked whether “critical acclaim” matters to grow in his profession, he candidly says, “Definitely, as long as it is honest criticism.”