Wild Swans (Gorai Phakhri, 2023)
On 22 April 2021, film director and actor Rajni Basumatary wrote to me an email about her screenplay Wild Swans (Gorai Phakhri). I received a working draft of the scree play and we started a fellowship of discussing the film, Anthropology, and her vision as a director. The film is about everyday experiences of patriarchy and gender violence in a Bodo village along the India-Bhutan border. An all-female cast, this Bodo film promised to be exciting, and I was drawn towards the screenplay. Rajni and my shared interest in finding ways to tell stories from Northeast India, especially about Indigenous communities and gender relations drew us closer as fellow travelers. In the middle of a global pandemic lockdown, Rajni and I discussed her screenplay and our lives in Melbourne (me) and Delhi (Rajni) as we were stuck in confines of our homes. I was inspired by Rajni’s previous feature film Jwlwi, a Bodo language film on social justice and the impact of militarization in Northeast India, and accepted her invitation to work on the screenplay as a mentor and a consultant.
Since the protagonist of Wild Swans was a doctoral student from the Department of Anthropology in Guwahati University, Rajni was eager to learn about ethnographic fieldwork. What did anthropologists witness? How did they bring their own lived experiences and social world in the field? Is there anything like objectivity while doing fieldwork in militarized societies? Like all ethnographers who do fieldwork in region like Northeast with a long history of militarization and armed conflict, I shared my experiences and how the field also transforms researchers. When I read multiple versions of the screenplay and suggested changes and edited the script, Rajni was perceptive. She listened to the turmoil and struggles researchers undergo during fieldwork, and we discussed at length about the character of the protagonist, a sheltered urban researcher from Guwahati who is clueless about rural life.
I had the opportunity to watch the film on 25th July, 2023 with the crew and cast of the film Wild Swans. It was a treat. Rajni’s film is a powerful testimony of storytelling, gender justice, and most importantly reconciliation in a post-conflict society. I was personally thrilled with a night scene in the film where the protagonist (researcher/anthropologist in training) is writing her fieldnotes and her reflections lingers on the testimony of a woman who shared her story of violence earlier that day. This is a scene I had closely worked with Rajni and supported her in rewriting the “fieldwork” moment. To watch that scene play out on the screen was overwhelming because it is what we (ethnographers) go through as well. I felt I was right there in the room with the protagonist. As far as I am aware, this is the second Assamese film in recent years where the protagonist is a student of Anthropology. The first film was Amis (2019) which focused on food, intimacy, and the desire to test and taste the boundaries of taboos.
By making me a member of the Wild Swans team, Rajni encouraged me to explore story telling processes that go beyond academic text. I am grateful to her for giving me this opportunity. This is my first experience mentoring and supporting a film director to read and work on a screenplay, especially sections which concerned with research and fieldwork moments. Rajni is an excellent storyteller but her directorial skills and discipline on set was inspiring. When she suggested that I should have a cameo appearance in the film as the doctoral supervisor of the protagonist, I witnessed her as a director on set. It was exciting but I realized that I am a typical teacher. I digressed from the script constantly.
Watch the movie trailer here
BWISAGWKHOU SAKHI DWNNANWI
Music and Lyrics: Shatrajit Narzary
Singers: Bina Brahma, Nizara Brahma Choudhury, and Pulmati Boro