‘Life in a Puppet’ directed by Rajen Das is the first Assamese film to hit the big screens after movie-going was decimated for the second time by the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Released on Friday across cinemas halls of the state, ‘Life in a Puppet’ explores the issues surrounding the survival of the once-famous Puppetry, or Putola Naach of Assam.
“There was a time when puppet theatres were an integral part of our socio-cultural life, but as the modern era arrived, the attractiveness of the art faded away and with this film, I aim to take this glorious culture of ours to the world stage and draw attention to its current state”, said director Rajen Das.
Previously screened as a part of various national and international film festivals, the film narrates the life struggles of puppeteer Satyanath and his family as they come to terms with the decline of their only source of livelihood. The survival of this ancient form of folk drama has faced significant challenges with the advent of modern entertainment and rapidly transforming cultural systems.
The family of three breathes and lives among the puppets, awaiting their invitation to village fairs and festivals with tremendous anticipation. Even though the number of such invites has dwindled over time, Satyanath never gives up hope.
According to Das, at present, there are around a hundred and fifty puppet artists and some twenty groups who are actively engaged in their pursuit to preserve the art form. “As I researched more about the subject, met the people involved, and attempted to understand them, these real-life hopes of puppeteers, as well as their determination to keep the craft alive, have greatly moved me”, he added.
With a simple story, director Rajen Das tries to portray the fears and aspirations of their little world, in all honesty. The film was shot in natural light and around the natural locations of Das’s village near Patacharkuchi, and along the banks of the Kaldia River with mostly non-actors to retain the realism.
“Narayan Deka, who plays Satyanath in the film, is a puppeteer in actual life, and his reality is no less different than that of his on-screen counterpart”, revealed Das.
Completed within a budget of less than Rs 20 lakh, the film is visually stunning, and the imagery also bears strong resemblances to Rima Das’ visual vocabulary. With characters quietly meditating alongside rivers, atop trees and in the lap of nature, the rain, the fields and the beautiful magic hour shots are guaranteed to remind viewers of both Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing.
“I have watched Village Rockstars several times and, inspired by storytelling, I have tried to tell my story in a similar way which is genuinely rooted to the simplicity of village life”, said Rajen Das.
He also praised Rima Das, who was his classmate in Cotton College, for opening the doors of independent filmmaking, which helped him to fulfil his dream of showcasing Assamese life and culture worldwide.
In this story of a family battling poverty, director Rajen Das, a professor of philosophy in Nirmal Haloi College, himself had to overcome numerous obstacles to make this film.
He told EastMojo, “From doing my camera work to ensuring that the cast and crew understand every single shot to addressing the post-production budgetary challenges, the entire journey of making this film has been a learning experience for me.”
Produced by Rajen Das and Minakshi Das, Life in a Puppet has already won laurels at film festivals such as Slovakia’s Kosice Film International Film Festival, Port Blair International Film Festival, and Indo-Global International Film Festival.
“We also couldn’t afford the services of Mumbai-based film curating companies, which select films for the major international film festivals. So whatever we have achieved so far is on our efforts”, he added.
But he believes his greatest achievement will be the day when puppetry in Assam will get a new lease of life, and the people will embrace their culture with pride.
Apart from ‘Life in a Puppet’, only two other Assamese films have managed to secure their theatrical release this year, Arunjit Borah’s ‘Midnight Song’ and Himanshu Prasad Das’ ‘Goru’.
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