Doyen of Assamese Films

Assam and its sister states namely Meghalya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh & Nagaland jointly called 7 sisters once upon a time constituted only one state and were known as Assam only. Like every other state and great diversity of cultures in India, Assam and its sister states have preserved their unique culture alive. One reason for this is lesser contact with rest of the country due to nature of terrain and Central government’s apathy for years. Despite being very rich in resources, the area has not seen the prosperity due to it. The most important ingredients for an area to progress economically are transportation facilities, communications and raw resources. First two have been neglected for over 57  years.

During the British rule, it was their sole aim to plunder the wealth of state namely petroleum, tea and precious wood. This trend continued almost unabated even after the independence. The area was taken for granted by the government at centre. The result was disillusionment and rise of unrest and many militant groups which also took their toll of progress.

So one can imagine what must had been the scene way back in 1900. At such a time Jyoti Prasad Agarwala was born into a Marwari family which had migrated some generations back to Assam. Marwaris are a business community from Rajasthan. They have the business acumen in their blood.They don’t need any degrees to be successful businessmen. They are highly adventurous as far as the reaching such remote places where no one will thought of going for establishing their shops. Most of them are non-vegetarians and are known for eating simple food, abstain from drinking, the ingredients which make them ideal businessmen. They spread to the remotest corners of Assam whose people were content to be where they were and eat and wear whatever was available locally. They would not venture outside in search of better opportunities. They are pleasure and self content people. Despite being endowed with most beautiful landscape, Assam could not develop its tourism industry. In this respect Goa and Kerala have been the most enterprising in selling the beauty of nature to foreign tourists. One reason may be their proximity to sea which adds to the natural beauty of the place. One positive aspect of non development of tourism have been that the pristine beauty and unpolluted environment is still intact.

We have digressed much from the subject. It should have been along the straightline but we have made the journey sinuous. Coming to point, it is enough to say that there are abbreations sometimes. Agarwala who was affluent in wealth and was educated in Calcutta and Britain opted for a altoghther different carrer. He became the founding father of Assamese cinema. He was a script writer, song writer, musician and what not. He is fondly called the Roop Kanwar by Assamese people and his death anniversary is celebrated as Shilpi day. He made the fisrt Assamese movie called Joymati which depicted the extreme sacrifice of a princess for his husband who was imprisoned by the  King. She was successful in scheming to free his husband and went into exile. She was captured and tortured.

Agarwala was also a freedom fighter and participated in the freedom movement against the British. He died in 1951 suffering from cancer.

Joymati: The first Assamese Film

Joymati released in 1935, was the first ever Assamese langauge film. Based on Lakhminath Bezbaruah’s play on the 17th century story of Sati Joymati, the film was produced and directed by the noted Assam poet Joytiprasad Agarwala, and starred Adieu Handique and acclaimed stage actor and playwright Phani Sharma. Incidentally, Agarwala’s forefathers came to Assam from Marwar in search of setting the business in Assam.

Legend of Joymati

Joymati was the wife of the Ahom prince Gadapani. During the purge of the princes from 1679 to 1681 under King Sulikphaa (Loraa Roja) instigated by Laluk Sola, Gadapani took flight. At various times he took shelter at Sattras and the adjoining hills outside the Ahom kingdom. Failing to trace Prince Gadapani, Sulikphaa’s soldiers picked up his wife Joymati. Despite brutal and inhuman torture, the princess did not reveal the whereabouts of her husband. After continuous torture for several days she expired.

Joymati’s self-sacrifice bore fruit later. Laluk was murdered in November 1680 by a disgruntled body of household retainers. The ministers were now roused to a sense of patriotism, they made a search for Gadapani. Gadapani gathered strength came back from his exile in Garo hills to oust Sulikphaa from the throne. Joymati knew that her husband was the only person who could end Sulikphaa-Laluk terror rule. For her love and supreme sacrifice for her husband and the country, folk accounts refer to her as a Sati