Jyotiprasad as a filmmaker

Jyotiprasad Agarwala, One of the greatest cultural figurers of Assam since Sankardeva,scion of an enlightened Rajasthani family who married into Assamese society and became thoroughly assimilated ,made in 1934-1935 a film that still surprises us with its innovative use of the medium. That very first Assamese film Joymati was a highly satisfying work of work. It was both produced and directed by Jyotiprasad, the noted poet, dramatist, actor, composer and literary critic of Assam, who dominated the state’s cultural scene in the30s and 40s with his songs and plays in particular.

Jyotiprasad was born in 1903 into a culturally gifted family of tea planters. He went to England in 1926 for higher study in arts in the Edinburgh University but, instead, became interested in music and film. Leaving the university he went to Germany and had some training in movie production and cine direction in the then famous UFA studio with the help of Himanghsu Rai,who was at that time producing a film its banner .Back home in 1930 Jyotiprasad took part in the ongoing national freedom movement of 1931-32 and underwent imprisonment for15 months. While in prison he wrote the script of Joymati based on a historical play of renowned literateur late Lakshmi Nath Bezbaruah.

       Assam did not produce any silent films .Its first film,Joymati, was produced in 1935 by Jyotiprasad, who drew on historical and literary sources to depict the tragic patriotism of a Ahom princes, while also portraying parallels with the situation 0f disorder and disharmony unleashed by the British rule on the people Assam for aligning themselves with the National Movement .Although not  a commercial success ,it is notable that at a time when the Bollywood was producing mythological  films,Joym ati  was about a historical event

 .               Story                                                                                

For production of Joymoti Jyotiprasad wanted to establish film making in Assam on a permanent footing. To translate his idea into action he arranged for camera and sound recording equipment and built improvised studio floors and a laboratory at Bholagori tea estate, at about 60 miles of Tezpur town for shooting of Joymoti and processing its negatives. The film was shot mostly outside studio with natural background and the rest in an improvised studio complex temporarily built in Bholaguri naming it Chitraban.Incidently Assam governments only film studio was named as Jyoti-Chitraban to commemorate the pioneer in this field. The film was edited and printed at a laboratory in Lahore .Finally Joymati was released at Kolkatas Rounak cinema hall in a press-show on 10th Marsh 1935 and regular show in Assam started from 20th March 1935 at Guwahati’s   theatre –hall-Bhaskar Natyamandir.

    For production of Joymati Jyotiprasad had to build up everything out of nothing .There were practically no people in Assam who knew the work of art of cinema

Belonging to the different branches of film making .He had, therefore, to plan and perform himself all the works except those of photography and sound recording for which professional technicians from outside were engaged. Female characters in dramatic performances in those days were enacted by male male actors. Jyoti Prasad had to travel to various nooks and corners of Assam in search of suitable girls who would be willing and be allowed by their guardians to act in the female roles of Joymati.After overcoming untold obstacle he could somehow manage to merit the requisite number of girls all of whom except one belonged to the rural areas and without any education.

        Jyoti Prasad’s laborious quest ultimately resulted in the discovery of Aaideo Sandikoi,Mohini Rajkumari,Swargajyoti and Bhaniti Buragohain, all from very respectable families, to play the lead ,role of Joymati and other important roles of Rajmaao(Queen’s mother),Dalimi,the Naga damsel ,and Tarabari the ,maid of the palace .Leela Baruah, a post graduate lady student of the Calcutta University was commissioned to sing the last song of the film,Luitore Paani Jaabi Oi Boi.

                While Bhopal Shankar Mehta’s camera work was moderately good, Baizi’s sound recoding system failed miserably causing disaster for the film.Jyoti Prasad had to work very hard to retrieve the sound, all alone, without any one’s help and in that endeavour had to dub his voice to different actors and even to sing some of the songs.

             Jyoti Prasad had to make the film Joymati on a shoestring budget and therefore could not indulge in gorgeous décor of a historical film .But he did not compromise with realities of depiction. He was well acquainted  with the architectural patterns of the Ahoms and used banana trees with their other covers removed to give the effect of ivory pillars in the sets made for the King’s palace. He collected indigenous palanquins from aristocratic families and made abundant use of bamboo Jhapi (Assamese headgear) and big ornamental brass receptacles, called Sarai in Assamese, to add local colour to the sets and decor. For music he used indigenous musical instruments and had the tunes set to local songs. Jyoti Prasad was also responsible for the introduction of playback singing in Indian film making.

In spite of praises earned from the greater sections of critics and writers for its artistic qualities, Joymati failed miserably at the box office- only about half of its total production cost of 60,000/- could be recovered. To make up for the losses Jyoti Prasad had to sell his camera and other equipments and abandon the idea of establishing a film studio in Assam.

        For years later in, 1939, Jyoti Prasad made second and last film Indramalati by hiring equipments and floors of a studio in Calcutta. It was a social based on a short tale of love between a town boy and a village girl. It was made with a shoe string budget of Rs.20,000/-.But for its natural acting style and local colour, technically the film failed to bear any mark of distinction. It was however, commercially successful.

It is indeed unfortunate that the historians of Indian films have so far failed to notice the magnificent contribution of Jyoti Prasad Agarwala as one of pioneers of the Indian talkie .Would some of them make an endeavour now, to focus attention on the courageous attempt of this first Assamese film maker, whose spirit has, undoubtedly, inspired directors like Padum Baruah , Bhabendra Nath  Saikia,or Jahnu Baruah to earn both National and International acclaim?                                                                          

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