It was the encouragement received by National Film Award-winning cinematographer Mrinal Kanti Das in 1997 that prompted Assamese director Manju Bohra to direct her first feature film Baibhab in1999. While she has addressed several issues through her films over the years, her latest, Dau Huduni Methai (Song of the Horned Owl), chronicles the ill-effects of insurgency and counter-insurgency on life in Assam through the recollections of young Raimali, a victim of sexual assault. The 59-year-old Guwahati-based director’s film was screened at the 12th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in Delhi last week. Excerpts from an interview with her:
The title of your film is Song of The Horned Owl. Is there a cultural significance of this bird among the Bodo people?
In Assam, we believe whenever a horned owl flies or calls, something bad is going to happen. In the film, the bird and its call is a metaphor for
the sounds of the gunshots and activities of the insurgents and armed personnel, which disrupt the lives of the villagers.
The movie is based on a short story with the same title by Rashmi Rekha Bora. What inspired you to make the film?
I was inspired by the short story, which is darker and more poetic. The project is very personal. Whenever I visit these villages, I feel sad for the villagers. I am a director and film is my medium. I made this movie to tell people what is happening there. The relationship shared between Raimali and her grandmother is influenced by my own relationship with my grandmother. I come from a place near Jorhat, which is similar to the village in the film.
Did you face any challenges during the shooting of the film?
The film was shot at a location one and a half hours away from the Guwahati airport in Goalpara district, bordering Meghalaya. The local people were very helpful and warm. A few sequences couldn’t be shot because encounters were taking place and the army asked us to leave for our safety. However, the authorities weren’t as forthcoming as the villagers.
How has the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act changed the way things work in Assam? Do you think the government is overlooking the atrocities inflicted by the forces on the locals?
The population structure in Assam is complex, with many communities. Each has its own identity. Most of them feel that they are being deprived
of their political rights and neglected. As a result, young boys often join the insurgents. And the common people suffer.Such things are common across the world, where there are similar situations. An army officer once said to me that even they are humans. Young officers are not supposed to go to villages and pull out and kill young people. But they are being hired by the local administration to find the miscreants. Only proper governance and local leaders can solve the problem.
Are you working on any other projects?
I am working on a biopic of religious and social leader Sankardev. It is going to be the first Assamese animation film. I am also working on some