Assamese Cinema

How a fan’s persistence led to the rediscovery of Assamese classic ‘Dr Bezbarua’

The 1969 Assamese thriller would have been lost forever but for the efforts of enterprising cinephile Jayanta Sharma.

The release of Assamese film Dr Bezbarua in Dibrugarh’s Rangghar cinema hall on November 7, 1969, marked a pivotal moment for the industry. Produced by Rangghar Cine Production, it was the first Assamese thriller to see instant commercial success. It was also the first Assamese film to be shot completely outdoors. According to film critic Utpal Dutta, before Dr Bezbarua, filmmakers were dependent on studios in Kolkata for resources, including facilities for indoor shooting, editing and technical staff. “The film brought freedom to the Assamese film industry from the rule of studios and technicians in Kolkata,” Dutta said.

Dr Bezbarua began for the industry a phase of successful commercial cinema. The film used familiar elements from popular Hindi films of the 1960s, such as a lost-and-found plot, in which family members separate and reunite, romantic songs, dance numbers choreographed in the Western style, and elements of comedy.

Brajen Barua, the film’s director, was also the main lead. Barua cast himself in a double role, as the eponymous doctor and the villainous character, whose cynical grin and wicked expressions made him one of the most memorable villains of Assamese cinema.

The multifaceted Barua was also one of the finest music directors of Assam, whose compositions from the ’50s remain popular. However, for this movie, he chose to entrust his brother, Ramen Barua, with the music. “It’s still a mystery to me why [he] asked me to take [this] responsibility,” said the younger Barua, who was initially apprehensive about the audience’s reaction. His doubts were misplaced as the music went on to become very popular.

A song from Dr Bezbarua (1969).

The movie also played a major role in the acting career of Nipon Goswami, then a fresh graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India. Goswami, who had made his debut in Piyali Phukan (1955) as a child actor, underwent rigourous training for the dance and action sequences. This helped him give a highly stylised performance of the kind Assamese film audiences had not seen before.

However, for all its cinematic brilliance, Dr Bezbarua may have been lost to the present-day cinephiles but for the efforts of Jayanta Sharma, whose hometown, Dibrugarh, formed the backdrop of the movie. Sharma had been fascinated as a schoolboy with the excellence Barua achieved with minimal resources. As Sharma developed a greater interest in cinema, it dawned upon him that Barua’s immaculate understanding of the psychological time factor was key to the movie’s success.

However, to Sharma’s dismay, the movie was unavailable in a proper format. Both the producer and the National Film Archive of India had damaged prints that could not be played on a projector.

Undeterred, Sharma contacted Film Services, a laboratory in Kolkata where the negatives of the film had been originally processed. He was turned down when he requested a print. Bengali thespian Soumitra Chatterjee offered to help Sharma. The laboratory found a print in a highly damaged state in a building on its premises.

Sharma was eventually rewarded for his persistence when, in 2002, he managed to rediscover the movie through a source in Guwahati. The print being in the outdated U-matic (High Band) format, Sharma took help from an old studio in Guwahati to find a compatible player and convert the print into an accessible format.

Thanks to Sharma’s efforts, Dr Bezbarua returned to the Assamese audiences. The film was screened for the first time in many years on June 27, 2006, in Guwahati.

Jayanta Sharma.
Jayanta Sharma.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.