Folk tales are my favourite form of story telling. They not only just adjust the reader according to the world it is introducing the reader to, but also enchant the reader with its mysterious and magical characters. Folk tales, which are usually written for children, become a bigger lesson for adults.
Folk tales are the most authentic way of understanding a region, its legend and people. Although they always don’t draw similarities with real people and circumstances, but the tales are woven with real emotions, teaching its readers a lesson in the end. How else will someone ever discover characters that marry a python or about the witch or woman who gave birth to a vegetable?
This week my recommendation is Bhaskar Hazarika’s gripping debut feature film Kothanodi (the river of tales), a blend of four of the most popular Assamese folk tales, available on Netflix.
Longline: Based on a collection of traditional Assamese folk tales, this anthology film re-imagines four disquieting stories of mothers, daughters and death.
The movie starts with visuals of the river and scenic Assamese village. We see a man burying a new born baby alive, then a father – a merchant – leaving his lively and pretty teenage daughter with her stepmother who slaps her as soon as he leaves, a group of men capturing a wild python so that it can be married off to a wealthy village man’s daughter and a young woman who is followed by an Outenga or an elephant apple that she gave birth to.
Although separate stories, the characters overlap each other’s stories. Like Tejimola, the merchant’s daughter is friends with Bonolotika who is marrying the python and the merchant meets the young woman who gave birth to the elephant apple for trading clothes and helps her bring her child out of the fruit. The four narratives run parallel never intersecting or confusing the viewer. The stories between mothers and daughters cutting between birth and death, superstition and greed, god and witches keeps oneself glued to the screen, peeling off each story like layers of an onion, opening fully in the end.
Based on traditional folk tales of Assam, these four stories were revisited by writer-director Bhaskar Hazarika based on Buri ai’r Xadhu (grandmother’s tales), a collection of oral folk tales by popular writer Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Set in precolonial Assam, India the visuals are stunning, yet minus the tea estates.
Bhaskar Hazarika makes a strong debut with Kothanodi, revisiting stories he read as a kid, painted beautifully with mature strokes. The detailing in each character of the bygone era and understanding their behaviour, their psyche, makes each frame come alive. Shot fantastically by Vijay Kutty. A lot is shot at night and special attention is paid to source lighting. A particular scene, at night, where the step mother is grinding along with Tejimola, light and shadows give chills or the scene when the python is climbing on his human bride.
The biggest take away was the spine chilling sound design by Jatin Sharma. Edit by Suresh Pai and music by Amarnath Hazarika is also very well done.
Actors Seema Biswas and Adil Hussain, as bride’s mother and the merchant respectively give brilliant performances and suit the roles perfectly. Zerifa Wahid as the stepmother is simply outstanding and Kasvi Sharma as Tejimola steals your heart. Overall, all the actors play their parts well, much credit goes to the director as well for distinct performances and not confusing them with the stories and the ensemble cast.
Kothanodi premiered at the prestigious BUSAN film festival and toured other film festivals internationally. The film rates 7.8 on the IMDB
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(Shweta Basu Prasad is a national award winning actress, famed for Makdee, Iqbal and television show Chandra Nandini. Shweta is a graduate in mass media and journalism)