Nagaon: The father of cinema in Assam, Jyotiprasad Agarwala, had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to produce the first Assamese film in 1935. However, despite our pride in his achievements, we must admit with a note of regret that we have never truly honored his creations.

Now, even after 86 years, his hope of shaping up a film industry in Assam has only partially been materialized.

Another concern that has long bothered enthusiasts of the art form in the region is the vague mention of Agarwala in relation to the history of filmmaking in India. This is why internationally-acclaimed film critic and documentary filmmaker Parthajit Baruah’s new book Jyotiprasad Joymoti Indramalati and Beyond – History of Assamese Cinema seeks to re-establish Agarwala in the national and international light.

“Jyotiprasad Agarwala made tremendous contributions to the growth of Indian cinema. But sadly, in spite of his tireless efforts to give a new meaning to Indian cinema, he has not received due recognition as one of the pioneers of Indian cinema. This book attempts to redefine Jyotiprasad as one of the pioneers of Indian cinema which many historians of Indian cinema tend to ignore,” notes the scholar.

Offering an analytical and comprehensive account of the history of Assamese cinema beginning with Joymoti (1935) to the present times, the well-researched book not only documents the journey of Agarwala as a filmmaker but also offers us a glimpse into the production of Joymoti and its newspaper advertisements and promotional posters along with the photographs of some invaluable letters and scripts. It also puts Agarwala’s less discussed second film Indramalati (1939) into context.

The previous efforts to document Agarwala as a filmmaker in English comes from national award-winning film critic Apurba Sarma (Jyotiprasad as a Film Maker, The Lone Ranger in a Forsaken Frontier: The Unsung Pioneer of Indian Cinema in the North-East) and Bobbeeta Sharma (The Moving Image and Assamese Culture: Joymoti, Jyotiprasad Aggarwala, and Assamese Cinema).

When asked about how the new book stands out from the already existing books on Agarwala, Baruah states, “This is the first book to feature an image of Joymoti‘s sound recordist, Mr. Faiz Mahomed (1935) and it discusses in-depth about Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s legal battle with Mr. Faiz Mahomed over the sound issues in the first film among others. But it is for the academicians and film historians to find the difference between the three books.”

“I’ve also substantiated every point made in the book with relevant documents and I’ve relied on primary sources to support my arguments. They are not based simply on any secondary sources or myths,” says Baruah, further highlighting the uniqueness of the book and the painstaking effort that went into writing it.

An outcome of four years of unceasing efforts, author Parthajit Baruah, too, had to brave many odds to complete the mammoth task of research and visiting many places that Agarwala himself had visited including The University of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Calcutta. 

It is also worth mentioning that Baruah had previously received a grant from the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) to visit The University of Edinburgh, Scotland, for his research project on Narratives of Asssamese Cinema. It is in this context that he had said, “Jyotiprasad Agarwala went to Edinburgh for his higher studies in 1926, however there isn’t much information available about this period.”

“While working on the book, one among the many such challenges, I had to also face was the unwillingness of international publishers to invest with the claim that Jyotiprasad Agarwala can be sold only in Assam. This further fuelled my desire to present Jyotiprasad Agarwala before an international audience,” says Baruah.

He adds, “Now that the foreword for the book has been written by an internationally acclaimed film critic from Italy, Massimo Lechi, and many renowned names of Indian cinema and film critics like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Jahnu Barua, Aruna Vasudev, Prof. Anil Zankar, Dr. Shoma A Chatterji and Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri have lent in their reviews for the book, I think Jyotiprasad Agarwala has transcended the geographical boundaries of Assam and Northeast India.”

“The book lucidly contextualizes the historical, political, cultural and sociological evolution of Assamese cinema and will fill a large vacuum in the knowledge base of Indian cinema in general and Assamese cinema in particular,” reads an excerpt from Dr. Shoma A Chatterji’s review of the book.

Released on December 29 at the Nagaon Press Club, the book was inaugurated by Satyashree Agarwala, daughter of Jyotiprasad Agarwala, in the presence of filmmaker Arup Manna, writer Sibananda Kakoti, and litterateur Krishna Dulal Boruah among others. 

Speaker Dr. Subrat Jyoti Neog, Head of Department of Assamese, Tezpur University, praised Baruah’s labour as a source of national pride and said, “This book will be useful in debunking numerous myths about the history of Assamese cinema. Therefore, as time passes, the significance of this work will grow.”

He said he also hopes that the book will secure a place in the reading list of the film studies curriculum of Tezpur University.

The book is dedicated to Agarwala’s three daughters – Jayshree Chaliha, Gyanashree Pathak and Satyashree Das – and also to Pabitra Kumar Deka, who is an inspiring voice for the film critics of Assam.

Published by Kailash Kumar Rajkhowa on behalf of Krantikaal Prakashan, Jyotiprasad Joymoti Indramalati and Beyond – History of Assamese Cinema is a new year gift to everyone who loves cinema and takes pride in Agarwala’s contribution to cinema in Assam.

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