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Nipon Goswami: Superstar Diaries

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In the world of Assamese celluloid, his is a name which needs no introduction. His is not just a name; in fact, his name represents one of the most glorious eras of Assamese cinema. The first formally trained actor of the Assamese cine industry, he is credited with acting in the highest number of Assamese films, serials, stage shows, television serials, et al in a career which has spanned more than 50 years. A man who reigned the hearts of thousands of people during the glorious era of Assamese cinema is still standing strong, continuously re-inventing himself to cater to the needs of the modern day cinema. Yes, we are talking about none other than Nipon Goswami – one of the flagbearers of Assamese cinema in today’s world.

Much has been written about Nipon Goswami and his contributions to Assamese theatre and cinema. The recipient of a number of epitaphs and awards like the Prag cine Award, Natya Surya Phani Sharma Award, his journey in the world of cinema can be said to be as vast and remarkable as our cinema itself. A true son of the soil, he has proved his versatility as an actor in numerous platforms and has been an indispensable part in the growth of modern Assamese cinema.

An actor who has carved a special place for himself in the hearts of every Assamese as an evergreen hero and versatile actor, he has acted in hundreds of Assamese and Bengali movies. Some of his popular Assamese movies include ‘Dr. Bezbaruah’, ‘Mukuta’, ‘Manab aru Danab’, ‘Morisika’, ‘Abhijaan’, ‘Santaan’, ‘Aashray’, ‘Meghamukti’, ‘Ajoli Nobou’, ‘Man aru Maram’, Aparupa’, ‘Ghar Sansar’, Kakadeuta, Naati aru Hati’, Nayanmani, ‘Jiban Surabhi’, ‘Arati’, ‘Pratidan’, ‘Siraaj’, ‘Deutar Biya’, ‘Jon Jole Kopalat’, and many more. One of the first actors from Assam to work in Bollywood, he has worked in seven Hindi films as a character artist and was also part of the blockbuster hit, Do Anjane, in which the legendary Amitabh Bacchan and Rekha essayed the lead roles.

Nipon Goswami was born in September, 1957 at Kolibari in Tezpur. Born to a family with deep-rooted interest in the arts, his father Chandradhar Goswami was a famous actor of his times while his mother, Nirupama Goswami, was a versatile singer. He did his schooling from Kolibari Lower Primary School and Tezpur Government High School. After completing his graduation, he went to the Film Institute of Pune (now known as FTII) in 1965 and graduated to become the first professionally trained Assamese actor to work in Assamese films.  An ardent mobile theatre artist who has spent a number of his childhood and growing up years working in the mobile theatre industry, he got his first break in the Assamese movie Sangram (1968) while he was still a student. His second film, Dr. Bezbaruah, which was a landmark film in Assamese celluloid established Nipon Goswami in the cine world of the State. Since then, it has been a rollercoaster journey for this humble and down-to-earth artist who has regaled multiple generations through his performances on the big screen, stage as well as television and radio.

Following are excerpts from a recent interview:

  1. From Sangram in 1968, you recently completed 50 years in the world of Assamese cinema. You are credited with acting in the highest number of Assamese films. How do you look back at your journey in retrospect?

Ans: Yes, it has been a memorable journey fill of ups and downs. Coming to your point, I don’t think there is any other actor who has acted in more Assamese films than I have done, and I continue to act in movies and the small screen even today. I must have worked in over hundred films till date.

In retrospect, I saw the camera for the first time in 1957 on the sets of Piyali Phukan, directed by late Phani Sharma. My father had played a part in the movie and I had a small role as a child artist. That was the first time I got to know what cinema is; I got to see the cameras, lights, reflectors and how films are made. After that, I got busy in my studies and cinema took a back seat although I was always involved in theatre and stage performances. After completing my graduation, I went to the Pune Film and Television Institute (now known as the Film and Television Institute of India – FTII) for a diploma course in acting. While in the final year at Pune FTI, I received a letter from late Amar Pathak with an offer to play the lead role in his film, Sangram, which was based on one of his novels. I came to Kolkata for the shoot and that marked the beginning of my cinematic journey.

After Sangram, I worked in Dr. Bezbaruah by Brajen Baruah, which was a record-creating movie. That movie was the turning point in my career and there has been no looking back since then.

  1. Have you encountered any major changes in the way films were made back in the 60s and in today’s date?

Ans: The changes have been drastic. Technology has improved tremendously. When I first acted in Piyali Phukan and a few films after that, we were totally dependent on the film industry of Kolkata. We did not have our own camera nor did we have any professionals in our midst. We had to take the help of technicians and even make-up artists of Kolkata. Late Brajen Baruah changed that scenario when he made Dr. Bezbaruah. Using local technicians and cameramen, he showed how an Assamese film can be made without being dependent on professionals of Kolkata. And the more amazing part was that he showed how a film can be shot inside a living room setting and not just outdoors. Dr. Bezbaruah was shot mostly indoors. It was truly a path-breaking movie and paved the way for the emergence of Assamese cameramen, technicians, make-up artists, et al. It heralded the growth of a movie industry in the State.

Today we are not dependent on others and a lot of youngsters are experimenting with a lot of new themes and subjects. But I somehow miss the feeling of bonhomie and brotherhood that we enjoyed during the shooting of films in the 60s and 70s.

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During the demand for setting up Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio in Guwahati

  1. As you said that a lot of changes have come about in the Assamese film industry. Do you feel that we have developed into a professional film industry?

Ans: We are all professional artists. Professional in the sense that we all earn money for our services. However, I do not think that professionalism has developed to its fullest in our industry. Just earning money does not make anyone a professional. I feel we still have to imbibe a lot of other qualities, like maintaining the time schedule, preparing and studying scripts, studying about cinema and various characters, and the like, before we can really call ourselves to be professionals.

  1. You were one of the first Assamese actors to have passed out from the Film Institute of Pune (present day FTII)…

Ans: I was not the first. Dulal Saikia was there before me and there were one or two more people who had completed courses in editing. But yes, I was the first Assamese to get a diploma in the acting stream from the Film Institute of Pune.

  1. Tell us about the period after Dr. Bezbaruah. You have been an integral part of Assamese cinema when it was as its peak…

Ans: The period after Dr. Bezbaruah was really a very sweet period for me and I have fond memories of that era. The people showered their love and affection on me in abundance. No other heroes had come up at that time and I continued to do one film after the other. Then late Biju Phukan entered the industry. We both became very close and did a number of films together. Biju and I used to share our joys and sorrows together. I know that we all have to leave this world but he left us rather early. I really miss those days with him and that period in general.

  1. Out of all the films that you have done, which is the most memorable one for you?

Ans: It is very difficult to answer that question because every film is memorable. I try to be fully involvement in every film otherwise it does not come out well. From that viewpoint, since I have given my best to every film, each one of them is memorable. However, I have fond memories of working in late Jones Mahaliya’s Dooranir Rang (1979). I loved the character and the film was very sound technically.

  1. Do you feel that acting can be a career option for today’s youth?

Ans: This is a question I have been asked many times. When we started, there was hardly any infrastructure for films in Assam. My father agreed to send me to Pune to study films because he wanted me to learn about new trends in filmmaking. But at the same time, he wanted me to become a lawyer. So in the early days, it was very difficult to earn a livelihood through acting alone. But nowadays, a lot of new opportunities and avenues have come up through television serials and other formats. A lot of new films are being made. The mobile theatre is very vibrant today. So I feel that acting can be a viable career option for today’s youth.

  1. Your father was also a noted actor of his times. How was the environment in your family?

Ans: My family was deeply interested in the arts. My father was a prominent actor of his times; he even received the title of ‘Macha Konwar’. My mother was also a versatile singer. In fact, I developed an interest in acting while watching my father do rehearsals at home. My father’s friends late Phani Sharma and late Bishnu Rabha used to have animated discourses at our residence and their talks motivated me immensely. I used to mimic their antics and rehearsals and that is how I developed an interest towards acting. Later on, I performed in school and college plays and that passion remained intact.

  1. You have also performed in mobile theatres….

Ans: Yes, I spent almost five seasons in the mobile theatres. I grew up watching performances of the Ban Theatre near our house and somehow that interest made me perform in plays myself. I have performed in several mobile theatres like Kohinoor, Abahan, Hengul and Abahan and feel that they have helped me develop as an actor.

  1. Please tell us about a bit about your family.

Ans: My wife Ranjita Goswami passed away around one and half years back. She was the pillar of strength and support for me. She helped me become what I am today and it is because of her that I am still here today.

My son Siddhartha Goswami is a software engineer by profession and lives in Mumbai. But he is deeply interested in films and might soon take up a few film offers. He performed reasonably well in Mission China and has kept the family’s legacy in acting alive. His wife, Kinkini, is also an artist and is into acting.

 

Mr. Rajkumar’s new movie on rhino poaching

Mr Rajkumar

The elusive Mr. Rajkumar, who has become a cult figure for an entire generation in Assam, recently announced that his new movie would be based on the burning issue of rhino poaching. “The one-horned rhino is Assam’s pride. If poachers drive the one-horned rhino to extinction, what will remain of the Assamese society. We should be more aware. (Akhingia gor axomor gourab. Jadi sorang sikariye aibur mari khekh kore axomor ki hobo. Aami xojag huwa tu usit),” Rajkumar posted on his Facebook account as he announced the on-going shoot of Animal Hunter.

Mr. Rajkumar, who has made films like Terrorist Enter my House and Criminal Hunter, is a sort of legend amongst the young generation, primarily on account of his uncanny takes on various issues of the day. Incidentally, he is the producer, director, singer, songwriter and lead protagonist all rolled in to one in all his ventures.

Although not on the commercial radar, Rajkumar’s popularity as an actor, singer and songwriter can be gauged from the heavy responses to his Facebook account the moment he opened one last month. With a fan base extending from as far as Dibrugarh to Mumbai, it would not be wrong to say that Rajkumar is nothing sort of a phenomenon in the Assamese socio-cultural milieu.

For thousands of Assamese film buffs, and even from other States, some of Rajkumar’s film dialogues have become an integral part of their colloquial idiom. The roles he portrayed, like Selim da, and his unpretentious on and off screen candour, are primary reasons for his sky-rocketing popularity. This is also reflected in one of his candid updates soon after he opened his Facebook account, “How many more friend requests will I accept? I never knew I was loved so much.”

And as his fans eagerly await the release of his next movie, we can be rest assured that Mr. Rajkumar will do justice to his new found reputation as the most admired vigilante next door of the state.

Fighting the odds

What is it that makes a person stand out from the rest? What is that quality that separates the men from the boys, the winners from the usual lot? A tough question this, surely. But looking at the life sketches of the personalities featured here in these pages every week, one thing is clearly discernible in the life all of them. And that is faith – faith in His power and grace, and confidence and belief in his or her own abilities. After all, didn’t somebody say that faith can move mountains?

I don’t know about mountains but I do know that belief and faith can indeed bring about change – change in life, in perceptions, our attitude and outlook, et al. Instances of it are spread across the course of history for if certain men, confident about their own selves and abilities, had not dared to go against some of the established dictums of life, then mankind’s pace of progress and development would have had been markedly much slower. Talking about faith, confidence and courage, we remember legends like Albert Einstein – a man whose determination to overcome his slow verbal development and whose rebellious attitude towards conventions and life led to his emergence as one of the most creative scientists to have been ever born in this world.

A similar story of faith can be found in the tinsel world of our State Assam, whereby a young man dared to rebel against conventions and push forth his own ideas. He battled criticism from several quarters, to the extent of being mocked upon, but ultimately emerging successful in the end. Now before proceeding further, let me reiterate that in no way am I comparing this man with Einstein. But the courage and determination exhibited by him did bring about a change, however small it may be. And this kind of an attitude, I believe, surely needs to be saluted by one and all.

To start from the beginning, in the last decade of the twentieth century, when film editors often had to compromise performance for price, a company from Los Angeles introduced into the Indian market a editing product called ‘SlingShot’. SlingShot was basically designed to bridge the gap between digital video and digital film editing. Indian filmmakers, however, were wary of this new software and almost all of them rejected it, saying that editing simply could not be done with it. The mood of the moment had been perfectly captured in the memoirs of critic Barry Silver, who in his visit to Assam during that time had noted, “You can’t make films with SlingShot was the view many heard in Guwahati, the capital of Assam.”

But those people in Guwahati and the country were wrong. In Guwahati emerged Studio Brahmaputra, a professional digital non-linear studio for film and video editing. The studio’s chief editor at that time, Manas Adhikari, went on to prove a point by buying SlingShot to use on the film productions of Brahmaputra studio. And despite vociferous criticism from all quarters, he has not looked back to produce some of the most beautiful editing creations ever created on Assamese celluloid. The most memorable milestone, however, was the successful editing of a full-length Assamese feature film, Bhumiputra, on SlingShot.

One might now surely question as to what makes SlingShot or Manas’s action so noteworthy. Relevance, there certainly is. For until that time, all the production houses in the entire north-eastern region of the country had to depend upon the studios in Mumbai and Chennai on the other end of the Indian sub-continent for their production needs. The result was higher production costs and a tough time for the production crews who had to stay away from their homes for long periods of time. Though clearly a suffering lot, the filmmakers of the region, surprisingly, were wary of trying new and cheaper methods of film production; even going to the extent of criticizing those who tried to do so. Manas, however, dared to go his own way. As he reminisces, “People ask me about challenges in life. All I can say is that I didn’t face that many challenges from people outside than I did from the people of my own State. When I decided to make Bhumiputra using SlingShot, everyone brushed me off saying that films can be made only with Avid (the software used in studios that time). Sometimes, I felt that I was committing a big blunder but I carried on anyways. In the process, I proved a point and also showed the people that a cheaper method of making films does indeed exist.” And they had said it couldn’t be done.

Manas has always been a maverick rebel of sorts, eternally trying to rebel against the established and conventional dictum. An entirely self-made professional, Manas was the key person in the production of Bidexot Apun Manuh – another revolutionary feature that can be said to have opened a new era in Assamese television. For the unacquainted, Bidexot Apun Manuh traced the life and times of Assamese people and their families who are now settled overseas, and the same was highly successful and much popular amongst the people.

Criticism from my ‘own’ people is always present in my ventures, says Manas. He explains, “Bidexot Apun Manuh was a path breaking television series. I acted as the director, camera man, editor – all rolled in one. In the initial stages, people were fearful of the outcome of the production and they tried to stop me at every step through their so-called concerns. Had I listened to them and surrendered to their fear, Bidexot Apun Manuh wouldn’t have been made. Neither would have had Bhumiputra”.

Manas spent the initial part of his childhood in Kolkata where he studied till the eight standard in St. Thomas school. His inclination towards the world of films is evident from the fact that he used to watch the latest movies in theatres on the sly. A science graduate, his entry into the film world happened when he assisted Munin Baruah in the film, Pahari Konya. That was in the year 1987. After helping renowned film makers like Hemanta Dutta and Shiva Thakur as Assistant Director, he made his foray into the world of editing by assisting senior film editor Tapan Dutta. Since then, Manas has created a name for himself as a film editor of substance by repeatedly producing quality creations. An experiential yet successful professional who is always willing to take risks if it augurs well for the future generation, Manas has always been surrounded in the midst of controversies; yet emerging triumphant every time. Till date, Manas has worked as the Chief Assistant Director in as many as ten Assamese feature films and in more than twenty television serials besides editing more than twenty-full length Assamese and Bodo feature films, seven hundred and fifty episodes of Doordarshan and more than a thousand commissioned programmes of Doordarshan Kendra, Guwahati.

Success, however, does not come easy. Having seen Manas from very close quarters, I have personally witnessed his eye to meticulous details and the amount of labour he puts in to his each and every production. Besides writing a saga of valour and determination with his radical initiatives, he has also provided hope for thousands of youngsters of the State. His achievement has been dutifully recognized by the film world and the government, which has heaped a plethora of awards on his lap, including the Assam State Award for Best Editing (2007). Manas had earlier been bestowed with the Moon Light Media Award for four consecutive years in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, Jyotirupa Joint Media Awards for three consecutive years in 2003, 2004 and 2007, the RAPA Award in 2004, the Prag Cine Award in 2004 and the NE Peoples Choice Award 2004.

Manas lives in Guwahati with his wife and two children. With his wife Kabita now helping him run his studio, Adhikari Vision, bigger things can be expected from him. He dared to dream and made those dreams come true. His story proves that even if other people say that certain things cannot be done, remarkable things can often be achieved by putting the right technology into the hands of creative people. Manas has proved that they really can do remarkable things in uncommon places.

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