Culture — films, books, art — is a soft target for extremist elements and inevitably suffers collateral damage during times of insurgency. Kashmir has had no movie theatres for almost three decades now. Same is the case in Assam, where the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) banned screening of Hindi films in theatres across the state in 2003. To enforce the ban, Ulfa even triggered bombs in several cinema halls.
As many as 170 of 200 cinema halls across the state shut shop at that time, and 150 remain closed even today. Movie halls were converted into marriage halls and shopping complexes.
Aaideo Talkies has so far held 300 screenings in rural Assam in districts like Kamrup, Darrang Sonitpur, Lakhimpur, Nalbari and Golaghat
Now, 15 years on, two young Assamese film buffs are screening movies on LCD screens using a projector, a Blu Ray player and a generator. Aaideo Talkies — named after the first female Assamese actor Aaideo Nilambor Handique — has so far held 300 screenings in rural Assam in districts like Kamrup, Darrang Sonitpur, Lakhimpur, Nalbari and Golaghat.
Pappu Kabeer, 27, and Ratna Das, 32, ex-students of Jyoti Chitraban Film Institute, Guwahati, started Aaideo Talkies on August 20, 2013 by screening Assamese film Bhal Pabo Najanilu at the district library of Mangaldoi town in Darrang, 75km from Guwahati. Today, it has branches in 12 districts of Assam and 1,200 members across the state.
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The film was screened on a 35x24ft hard cotton screen with a luminance 5000 projector, a 3kg generator and a Blu Ray video player. It attracted over 500 people in its very first screening, and made Aaideo Talkies Rs 59,000 in three days with a total of nine shows.
“Villagers cannot afford the Rs 150-Rs 300 tickets that multiplexes charge. Our aim is to generate interest in Assamese movies. We price tickets at Rs 30, Rs 50 and Rs 70,” says Kabeer.
The show must go on
Aaideo Talkies takes a makeshift pandal along with 500 chairs to places where there are no auditoriums or theatres. “Since 2003, I hadn’t watched an Assamese film on the big screen. When I got to know of Aaideo Talkies, I was delighted. I watched two films at a go in an open-air set up in my village,” says Rumi Baruah, 45, of Golaghat.
They are often asked to organise movie screenings by clubs or organisations. “If we are invited by a group of citizens or a club to screen a film, we charge a fixed Rs 15,000 per show,” says Kabeer.
“Since 2003, I hadn’t watched an Assamese film on the big screen… I watched two films at a go in an open-air set up in my village” — Rumi Baruah of Golaghat
Whenever there is a new release, if the producer agrees, Kabeer and Das rent the film for a fixed number of days. “These days, even if an Assamese film does well, it is taken down if it clashes with Bollywood releases,” said Pappu.
Recently, Assamese movie Local Kung Fu 2 was taken down from screens midweek for Baahubali 2 despite packed houses. Ditto with Shakira Ahiba Bokul Talar Bihuloi, taken down to accommodate Raees. The producer of Local Kung Fu 2 has now sought a “protectionist policy”, like in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
“Aaideo Talkies is for films taken down despite people wanting to see them. We hold screenings across the state where there are audiences for Assamese films but no cinema halls,” says Kabeer.
“Aaideo Talkies is for films taken down despite people wanting to see them. We hold screenings across the state where there are audiences for Assamese films but no cinema halls” — Pappu Kabeer, cofounder of Aaideo Talkies
They have also taken up a film project — ‘Mission Five for Revive’ — under which five films will be made through crowdfunding.
The duo uses social media extensively to keep track of which Assamese movies are in demand. “We have a Facebook page — Aaideo Talkies — on which we promote our upcoming films. We also ask people about their preferences and monitor the comments closely,” says Kabeer.
The members maintain 12 WhatsApp groups, which send bulk messages on films being screened in a particular area. They also have a YouTube channel of the same name.
They’re now looking to enhance the film-viewing experience for their audiences with an LCD projector and a screen they just bought for Rs 1.65 lakh.
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Images: 101Reporters Photos Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Syeda Ambia Zahan is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.