Suspended Inspector Boro: How an Assamese film about trafficking, martial arts became a success
How does one draw in audiences for a movie that takes inspiration from real life events, but aims at being instructional from the margins? Kenny Basumatary has relied on what he has developed as a niche genre: mixed martial arts and cheeky comedy, in Assamese. After the release of his first two movies, Local Kung Fu 1 and Local Kung Fu 2, which have acquired cult status for their goofiness, the 37-year-old filmmaker's third film is on human trafficking, albeit keeping alive this style of comedy through some slick martial art moves.
Basumatary’s latest, Suspended Inspector Boro, was released in Assam on 7 December, 2018.
At an evening show in one of Guwahati’s multiplexes, Basumatary was mobbed by the audience, and he obliged every fan who asked for a selfie.
Nearly 70 percent of the cinema hall was filled — something that, Basumatary acknowledges, is a success in Assam.
Suspended Inspector Boro or SIB follows a Nepali woman who heads to the city for a job, but goes missing. A suspended police officer is tasked with finding her, and in doing so, unravels a trafficking racket operated from a hotel, frequented by politicians and managed by another senior police officer. Basumatary plays the role of the corrupt police officer whom nobody dares question.
Basumatary says that he has always felt strongly about certain issues, but knew that they should not be conveyed in a preachy manner, whether it is the pitfalls of chewing gutkha and the excessive consumption of alcohol, as he did in Local Kung Fu 1, or the moral policing of women and littering of plastic in his recent movie.
During an afternoon conversation over tea in Mumbai, at a Mexican-themed restaurant which was once an Irani eatery, Basumatary explained how news reports prompted him to write SIB in 2013 – the same year when he released Local Kung Fu 1 as an experiment with his Canon 550D camera, with Rs 1 lakh, that his mother could spare.
“I had read about an autorickshaw driver who had visited a brothel and had met a girl who spoke his native language. He approached an NGO to have her rescued. This could be a good beginning for the story. There was another news report about a girl who was kidnapped by her boyfriend and trafficked. And then another news report was from Assam, about a massage parlour and prostitution racket being operated by the police,” said Basumatary, adding that he began to stitch the story together from all these incidents.
But since the story demanded a female actor who knew martial arts, and he wasn’t able to find someone, the idea was shelved.
Meanwhile, he had produced, written, directed and edited Local Kung Fu 1. His crew comprised his friends from his maternal uncle’s martial arts school, where he learnt Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu. “I had to consider whose house we could shoot at, who could act, who could be a hero. I wrote the story to suit the resources, and not the other way round. Utkal and Bibhash [two of his actors in all of his movies] knew of a hilltop location that could be used for fight scenes; there were kids playing cricket nearby. When I wasn’t acting, my cousin held the camera,” Basumatary explained. Most of them have continued to work with him in Local Kung Fu 2, which he said is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.
But Local Kung Fu 1 was pirated and distributed illegally via pen drives when he had submitted one copy to a local TV channel in Assam, hoping they would air it. The seven lakh rupees that were spent to release the movie in cinema halls was lost when Besharam was released on a Wednesday, instead of a Friday.
But Basumatary heard that the pirated version was being widely consumed; memes from the movies’ dialogues float across social media. Eventually, it was aired on a local TV channel. “It’s ironic that gutkha ads were splattered across the screen during segments from the movie that addressed the bane of chewing gutkha,” Basumatary said, in a serious tone, belying the goofiness he rendered to his character in Local Kung Fu 1 and the crookedness in SIB.
Basumatary had been, by then, living in the city of Bollywood dreams for nearly a decade and had acted in a few other TV shows. He had directed an episode of Confessions of an Indian Teen for Channel [V], as well as five episodes of Savdhaan India. He realised that he’d have to create his own path to become a director, in the absence of a “crorepati baap”. “I also did not want to assist someone and take gaalis from them,” said the actor-filmmaker, who played Subhash Chandra Bose in Raag Desh.
Sometime in 2016, Basumatary saw a young woman practising kickboxing at a park in Mumbai’s Yari Road. “It wouldn’t be wrong to say that I had been looking for someone like Poonam Gurung for five years,” said Basumatary, adding that together, they began to practise Judo and Taekwondo, to prepare for SIB.
If the absence of women who had substantial screen time was conspicuous in Local Kung Fu 1, then SIB seemed to correct that. And the strong personality of Sabrina Rai, that 28-year-old character Poonam Gurung plays, is what drew her to film. “Kenny had told me that a female character should be in the movie for a reason, without a saviour hero. I could connect with Sabrina Rai, because she had to step out of her home and go to another city to earn a livelihood, just like me,” said Gurung, who began her career as a background dancer and found her calling in acting in 2014, after she was cast for an episode of Heroes for Channel [V]. Fluent in Hindi, English, Nepali and Bengali, and learning Assamese and Nagamese, three of the movies that she has acted in – Chinese Whispers, Khoj and Uribo – have earned critical acclaim at international film festivals.
According to film critic Utpal Borpujari, what draws in audiences for Basumatary’s movies is his consistency, within the limited scope of projects which have no budget for SFX. “For a state with a limited number of cinema halls, a movie that runs for two weeks has to be considered a success,” Borpujari said.
SIB faced the same fate as Local Kung Fu 1 did in 2013; this time, it was ousted by the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero. “The performance of SIB at the box office was the same as Kedarnath – it was released at the same time, and the cinema halls had to decide which of the two should get a third week. Kedarnath got it,” said Basumatary.
Meanwhile, Gurung is still figuring her way in the film industry, with a keenness to explore action movies and those in other languages. She is hoping that a recent Bengali movie that she worked on, alongside a superstar from Tollywood, will be released this year. But she is acutely aware that only connections or a “market value face” gets an actor the best roles. “Casting directors now remember me when they need someone who looks like she is from North East India. But I don’t see myself being cast as a regular Delhi or Mumbai girl anytime soon. I was almost cast for a Hindi feature film, for the role of a Nepali girl. Eventually, they hired a ‘market value face’, even though she was neither Nepali nor from India’s North East,” Gurung said.
Most of the actors cast in SIB have gone back to their regular jobs; only four others, including Gurung, continue to pursue acting. Basumatary is keen on releasing SIB in Hindi, possibly on TV. He is also aware that he could’ve done a better job with the movie’s publicity, had it not been for the small budget. He is working on ad films in Mumbai, but has begun to write a Marathi action comedy. “It’s about an Assamese guy who is assigned to be a bodyguard to a rich girl from Mumbai, who is going to Guwahati,” he chuckled.
Updated Date: Mar 13, 2019 09:22:58 IST