The National Award for the Best Assamese feature film this year went to Manjul Baruah’s film ‘Anur (Eyes on the Sunshine)’ which has been screened in several film festivals across the country. The film is based on the short story ‘Bhal Puwar Xomoi’ by Anuradha Sharma Pujari, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award.

The story is about a widow who finds herself captive in a claustrophobic loneliness, in the house built by her late husband, even though she gets regular calls from her son who lives abroad, and a maid comes to help her with domestic chores. She has a trusted young man at her beck and call on whom she depends for her other household matters.

But the silence of loneliness at the core of her is broken by a widower fr4om a different state. She initially responds to his presence with suspicion and as an unwelcome intruder into her garden and her life. But as she becomes friendly with him, she perhaps finds in him the world she wishes to escape into.

But does she really want to escape from her world? Or has she got used to her lonely world made lively by the two young people she has learnt to depend on – the maid and the helper? This ‘dependence’ on household help suggests a break in the hierarchy of the employer and the employee where both are brought down to an equal level without them even being aware of it.

Though it is slow paced at some places because the protagonist is an aged woman who is courageous and industrious too, trying to lead life without the help of others, she finds it increasingly difficult to carry on. Age and loneliness tend to slow her down.

She has two people helping her – one is her housemaid and the other is the boy she often finds irritating. But the young man is fond of the old woman and is ready to help her when she needs something to be fixed. She lives in her own home following her husband’s death and tries her best to cook and do household work as much as she can. She is educated and is working, but the home means everything to her and she is unwilling to change it for any reason.

The elderly man, Mudaliar, is not from Assam and has come to stay in the neighbourhood. The woman is surprised to find him enjoying the sun in her enclosed compound and is suspicious of his intentions.

But that is only the initial phase. The relationship grows over time with mutual respect and some understanding which rids both the gentleman (Rajit Kapoor) and the woman (Dr. Jehanara Begum) of social inhibitions for the time they can spend together.

Manjul Baruah is the nephew of the famous Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua and has trained under him for some time. ‘Anur’ is his third feature film, the earlier two being ‘Antareen’ (2015) and ’Kaaneen’ (2018).

‘Antareen’ is a woman-focused drama written by Sahitya Akademi Award recipient Dr. Rita Chowdhury and produced by Manabendra Adhikary. Tarali's life is a journey for sanctuary from her father's loveless environment, but her desire to unearth her father's wrongdoing lands her in a mental asylum. Samiran joins her struggle against patriarchy in that trap.

‘Kaaneen’, which won the Silver Camera Award at the 2nd Guwahati International Film Festival 2018, was screened at the Bangla Axomiya Film Festival 2018, New Delhi, and the 4th Northeast Film Festival, Pune 2019, was also based on a story by Rita Chowdhury.

The film is about Mandira, the housewife of a high-ranking police officer. She finds an abandoned newborn on the side of the road and takes the baby to the hospital. But it takes her back to her own baby from a premarital affair.

Suddenly, she is desperate to find and get back her abandoned child, whose whereabouts or destiny she has no clue about. Though her high social status hinders her search for her child, she goes against all odds and finds him in a humble shanty.

She discovers her grown son living with an elderly widow who worked in an orphanage and who he calls ‘mother’. Mandira wants her son back, but her conscience keeps screaming about earlier sin and eventually, she does not bring him back because she already has a husband and daughter and the foster mother truly loves Mandira’s biological child.

Though ‘Anur’ is also focused on the life of a lonely, aged woman, it is not necessarily a woman-centric film. It is more about the loneliness of old age where the loneliness is born more out of choice because she chooses not to leave the home which holds memories of her earlier life.

The technicalities are brilliant though the film does not move out into open spaces much. It captures the ambience of the home in which she lives, the apartment where the man, Mudaliar, has come for a change of scene and is not originally from Assam. He is a widower who lives alone with a helper.

As these two become friends, the director adds a soft touch showing the woman bringing home-cooked food for this man and this makes the bonding warmer and closer. The most interesting feature of such relationships between an aged man and an aged woman, both of who have lost their partners, is that it is devoid of sex and is yet close.

The other quality is that neither of them has an axe to grind from the other. No expectations and so no pain. Really no pain? One wonders.

What makes the film the moving celluloid document is the choice of the acting cast. The first prize should go to Dr. Jehanara Begum, a renowned actress who also played the female lead in Baruah’s earlier two films.

She is a superb actress as we see from her mobile face captured in close-ups, focused on her eyes, the soft wrinkles creasing her face, her subtle smiles and her suddenly angry outbursts. One shot of her looking at herself in a mirror, the mirror blurring the image a bit, a subtle hint of her ageing looks, is beautiful.

The film opens when due to a sudden short circuit, the home turns absolutely dark and she does not know what to do. This is a dramatic opening which sets the pace of the life of the old woman. But she is never afraid. Never.

Jehanara Begum received a certificate which was a special mention from the jury of the 69th National Film Awards this year for her wonderful performance in Anur. Jahanara Begum is a medical doctor, but is known for her long track record in Assamese theatre and cinema which she performs in only when she is convinced by the story and the character.

In ‘Anur’, the screen chemistry between Rajit Kapoor and Jehanara Begum is brought across with delicate and fragile manner thanks to the electrically charged performance, slow, steady and extremely subdued that happens between the two elderly people, both lonely, both eager for companionship, and both in complete control of their performance and their lives too.

Tarali Sharma’s musical score on the soundtrack, who works in Baruah’s films, is mood-centric and touching and never intrudes into the cinematic narrative of the film. Tarali is a National Award-winning music director.

The film was shot in and around Guwahati, between the two lockdowns. Baruah overcame all odds to complete the film. The editing is as soft, smooth and as seamless as butter which never jars and the two cameos also offer wonderful support to the main characters and to the story.

According to Manjul Baruah, “In most cases, we only consider our closest relatives and friends to be true friends. However, there are times when people we don't know come into our lives and support us, and these "strangers" become our "close" despite the limitations that other circumstances may impose. The film explores how strangers from all walks of life (caste, creed, and faith) may overcome their isolation and grow close to one another. Above all, humanity is the foundation that adds meaning to our life.”