I wanted Haanduk to feature real people and not actors: Jaicheng
Jaicheng Jai Dohutia never dreamt of becoming a filmmaker. During his childhood, he would watch back-to-back films by running from one cinema hall to another, sometimes even covering a distance of an hour by bus or at times on foot. Such was his inclination towards films that he joined the Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Regional Govt. Film & Television Institute to learn the nuances of filmmaking. Presently Dohutia is in the news for his debut feature film Haanduk (The Hidden Corner) that has been selected in the competition category at the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star. The independent filmmaker opens up about his first film.
Your first film is going to compete in the India Gold category at MAMI. What does that mean to you?
To be a part of MAMI in the competition section is always a dream for every serious filmmaker in India. It makes me confident that I am on the right path, which is a big thing for me rather than name or fame.
What do you mean by the word Haanduk?
‘Haanduk’ is a Moran word, which means a very remote place or the dark, hidden corner of a house.
There were so many moments when the mother was silent but I could understand what she was going through
Where did the inspiration for this film come from?
I distinctly remember an article published in the June 2007 issue of Sadin, which is an Assamese weekly. It was the story of an unfortunate mother who went through an ordeal when she lost her son and was given someone else’s body, which was mistaken for her son’s. It was only the second time round when she actually got her son’s body. And all because of a mistake committed by the police. This incident triggered me to make a film on it.
I met the lady (the mother) with the help of Haran Sonowal who had filed the report and journalist Hindujyoti Gogoi. In 2012, I started penning the first draft. My friend Biswajeet Changmai always heard all my draft narrations. Then I met Suraj Duwarah, my script supervisor, who played a key role in motivating me to continue with this script. In 2013, I met Bhaskar Jyoti Das who is my well-wisher and also happens to be the co-writer of this film. We had a lot of discussions and reworks and finally locked the script in 2015. I also received immense support and guidance from my father Srikumar Dohutia. And my friends Manash Protim Dutta, Chida Bora, Debajit Gayan and Bhaben Mahanta constantly stood by me.
As an independent filmmaker, the budget is always an issue and it creates limitations. But I was ready to face all the challenges that came my way.
It took you eight long years to make this film. What kept you going through the years?
Good things always take time. I was in film school when I first read about the news and that influenced me a lot. After completing my studies, I made short films, documentaries and worked on films as an assistant. But at the back of my mind, I always dreamt about my film. And slowly it became so strong that I automatically started to research and write about it.
You mentioned that you met the mother who was given the wrong body. In some cases, it is really painful for people to recall those moments but for some letting go of the whole pain by talking about it becomes a cathartic process. How was your experience in this case?
I started by talking to her younger son who went to identify his brother’s body in the morgue. I spoke to the younger daughter as well. After they opened up to me, I met the mother. She is a very strong woman. Initially she tried to act normal and hide all her emotions. But gradually she started believing in me. There were so many moments when she was silent but I could understand what she was going through. Her mouth was shut but her eyes were exploding with emotions.
‘Haanduk’ means the dark, hidden corner of a house
Since childhood, you must have witnessed several insurgency related problems. Which aspects did you choose to highlight in the film?
Through this film, I’m trying to understand the value of humanity and human rights during the time of such problems. Problems exist everywhere in the world but the main thing is to try and overcome them. In my film, you’ll discover a place that is still untouched or less familiar with the modern world that we live in. It does not mean that they are totally unaware about these new changes. But their main prosperity is the love, faith and humanity that they have, which is diminishing from modern society.
The fact that you wanted this film to be realistic made you feature non-actors. Doesn’t the process become difficult because one also has to finish the film in a certain time period?
I always wanted Haanduk to be as realistic as possible. Hence we chose to feature real, local people instead of actors, wherever it was possible.
The biggest task was to find the protagonist. To play Mukti’s mother, I was looking for someone who had that visible trauma on her face. It took me two years to find my main protagonist, Bandoi Chetia. I bumped into her when I was scouting for locations with my location manager Rasendra Borah. Incidentally, I saw a woman talking to Rasendra’s mother. Something about her immediately struck me and I recorded her audition on my mobile. Initially, she was quite shy but I could see the dedication in her. And within a week, I finalized her for the role.
It wasn’t difficult to work with non-actors like her. In fact, I loved working with them. I normally shoot many scenes in a single shot. You will find 5-8 minute long dialogue shots without any cuts, but they (actors) never missed any performance. They practiced very well.
In this film, you’ll discover a place that is still untouched by the modern world that we live in
Haanduk was selected by NFDC’s Work-in-Progress lab as a Film Bazaar recommended film to be developed via their workshop and eminent panel of international advisors. What role have NFDC and Film Bazaar played in the journey of the film?
The NFDC Film Bazaar was a great experience for me. It introduced me to another platform, which I was completely unaware of. I met so many people from the industry, real film lovers, festival curators and programmers etc. from around the globe. Talking to them about my film was an eye-opening experience for me.
Where do you wish to take the film after MAMI?
I would be happy if an international audience can understand my film and talk about it. I am also looking for distributors for the film.