Creative renaissance: Why we are giving Assam its own LitArt Fest
Lima Das, Adil Hussain, Joi Baruah (L to R)

In addition to awe-inspiring landscapes, the Northeast of India is also a treasure trove of hundreds of indigenous cultures with their folk literature and art. The indigenous heritage and forms of expression in the Northeast merit national and even international representation. To be precise, stories from the region need to be translated into bestsellers, while the arts and crafts need to be displayed or performed in front of a global audience. Screen adaptation of local literature and lore (into potentially gripping films) is also a pressing imperative.

In the words of actor Adil Hussain, “It is only because of some independent producers that film productions are happening in Assam. There are hardly, or at best, a few film producers or studios. We only have a cottage industry of filmmaking in Assam and the Northeast. In such a scenario, you cannot expect the number of film productions from the region to be high; you can only expect a select few works from the region to receive national and international recognition. Consequently, a significantly large pool of talented people in the domain of arts is and will be deprived of employment opportunities in Assam. And, this is surprising considering the huge pool of talent we have at our disposal in the Northeast. This reservoir of talent can be nurtured and promoted to boost intellectual tourism in the state.”

Focusing on the need to bridge this gap, The LitArt Foundation will organise the annual Assam LitArt Fest and facilitate meaningful collaborations between creative professionals in the region and their national contemporaries. The Foundation shall provide internships to aspiring creative professionals with reputed design, publishing and production houses. It shall host workshops, panel discussions and other knowledge-sharing platforms to facilitate informed discussions so that creative professionals in the region understand the nuances of the business ecosystem from experts in their respective fields nationally and globally. With the Foundation’s efforts, experts from around the country shall engage in discussions with creative professionals in the region on the importance of publishing a book in different languages, exploring new and upcoming platforms for promoting their work, best marketing practices and adaptations from book to screen.

The LitArt Foundation is co-founded by Proyashi Barua and Jyotsna Neog Sirpal. Formerly a journalist, Proyashi is a novelist and columnist while Jyotsna is a scriptwriter and short film producer.  

‘Aamis’ actor Lima Das expresses that the Assam LitArt Fest is the need of the hour and that we are in need of more such initiatives. She says, “It is a great initiative and I extend my support to the LitArt Foundation towards a successful fest, both in terms of scale and outcome. It is going to be one of a kind in this part of the country. I believe a lot of creative professionals, especially among the youth will benefit from the Fest and the other initiatives of the Foundation. It will be a coming together of professionals, amateurs and everybody who has a creative streak and is able to express themselves creatively.”

Speaking about the initiative of organising Assam LitArt Fest, internationally acclaimed Indian actor Adil Hussain says, “Every initiative or a discussion, even writing this article could prompt someone in the government to reflect on ways to boost intellectual tourism in the state and work towards the need of the hour. I will always support the Assam LitArt Fest and similar initiatives to enhance the artistic activities of the region.”

Joi Barua, an Indian singer and composer, observes from his glorious decades in the music industry that there is a need for collective voices like The LitArt Foundation for writers, thinkers, artists and filmmakers. He observes, “The Northeast region can boast of its regional talents as people from many states in the Northeast are inherently good in music and arts.  But sadly, these talents still remain undiscovered and hidden from the world because of the lack of supporting systems and infrastructure.”  Joi adds, “Also there is a clear need to secure our creative professionals with necessary platforms so that they get exposure and much-deserved success.”

Vouching for the Assam LitArt Fest, Barua, a singer for Hindi, Assamese and Telugu films says, “The Assam LitArt Fest will be a veritable platform in many significant ways- it will be a platform to come together and work together. More importantly, it will be a platform to express our thoughts through our art. A platform like this will be a major asset and encouragement for creative professionals in the region as it would provide the necessary exposure, build collaborations between artists in the region and their national counterparts and impart the necessary know-how on how best to produce a work of art and how to market it for success.”

Joi Barua adds, “The initiative taken by The LitArt Foundation and other organisations working towards a similar goal will not suffice if people do not realize why they need to participate and why such congregations of creative professionals are needed and how to best take advantage of such initiatives.”

Actor Lima Das attributes the lack of career and learning opportunities in filmmaking in the region to the lack of a film industry in Assam and the Northeast. She says, “Guwahati has much less scope for creative professionals compared to metro cities. The lack of the right kind of exposure is because we do not have a film industry as such. We only have a film fraternity with only a handful of small-time producers and studios. We don’t have big-budget producers or even a noteworthy number of small-scale producers. Films in the region are only made by a few passionate film enthusiasts who spend from their own pockets to make films once in a while.”

Artists and actors in the region have voiced their concern that the ratio between the talented populace in Assam vis a vis the number of production houses is drastically contrasting. ‘English Vinglish’ actor Adil Hussain reveals, “If there are 100 people who would like to act or write or direct, there will be only 2 producers who have some money and are willing to produce. This is a very drastic disparity in terms of demand and supply.”

According to Lima Das, despite the best creative efforts, filmmaking in the Northeast is not a sustainable career option. This can be attributed to the lack of government support, production houses and exposure in general.

Talking about this gap, a veteran in the film and theatre industry, Adil Hussain says, “Art should always be sponsored by the government as it will bring peace to the society and the government will have to spend less on law and order. To take these initiatives requires a visionary government and a visionary leader who understands the importance of art in human society. The arts help in human growth and help people understand the nuances and the subtle aspects of life. Our government needs to realize that art teaches how life can be celebrated and it is high time we think about how to start filling the gap that we have created by othering the arts and artists. Art can bring society together and make it very rich culturally. Our leaders must reflect.”

He adds, “They must work towards the vision of making Guwahati a film-making hub in the Northeast and that is possible with the available talent pool. Guwahati itself has a beautiful location on the banks of the Brahmaputra and we have amazingly talented writers and actors. Writers, both book and screen, need training. They need training in the right direction, not to make Bollywood kind of films, but to make films which will be an international success. There needs to be aesthetics in films and only good writers can bring that. We need to move past the hero-villain binary in films and we need to focus much more on films with aesthetics, good taste and an international appeal. We need films which will allow the Assamese population to enhance their idea and awareness about what life is!”

Reflecting upon his experience in theatre, Adil Hussain points out, “All forms of art, be it sculpture, artistry, crafts, handloom, local food, cottage industry, handicrafts or pottery needs the support of the government to flourish in the region. It could bring in so much revenue!” He assures that it will lessen the pressure on the government to provide employment to many millions of Indians who are artists in their hearts and would do a much better job bringing the nation revenue by being employed as artists in their very own trade.”

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Voicing the needs of the theatre fraternity in Assam, Adil Hussain says, “I think there should be one repertoire company in each district if not each block. There should be headquarters, proper theatre halls and at least 20-30 good actors, directors, musicians, floor and light personnel and designers and other art forms which are related to theatre. They should be engaged under the payroll of the government.”

The veteran actor concludes by reiterating that Assam’s Cultural Ministry should realise the vast potential for intellectual tourism and basically understand the value of art.  

The writer is an independent content creator and journalist and the Head of Media Strategies for the Assam LitArt Fest. 

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