Sonar Baran Pakhi (The Golden Wing) is a tight-knit, well-scripted feature film based on the life and times of the late Pratima Barua Pandey, a noted singer born in Gauripur in Dhubri District of Assam. Pandey was famous not only for her talents in music but more importantly, for her trying to rescue the fading music of the grassroots workers of her state and integrate all this in her own music and songs.
It is challenging for a comparative newcomer in film direction to make a feature film on the life of a person who has passed on without falling back on the documentary format of filmmaking. A film that is not only watch-worthy but also has considerable repeat value for the normal cine buff and for those who feel, like yours truly, that they know hardly anything about the cultural side of Assam because all the media feeds us with is ethnic conflict and political corruption at high places. Just for that, director Bobby Sarma Baruah deserves due credit.
Born into into the royal family of Gauripur (which also created that great master Pramathesh Chandra Barua, her uncle) in 1934, Pratima Barua broke every rule in the book of royalty and the women within it through her non-conformist lifestyle and yet remained rooted to the ethnic musical and performance practices of her motherland. Though her royal family disapproved strongly of her wandering across to mingle with the workers and peasants and so on, she lived life on her own terms and this is brought across very subtly, in feather light, soft touches, by the director.
The film is filled with long takes that hold the time and the space defined in the film and are specially effective in enriching the mise en scene of the film. The camera is kept mainly as an close observer never trying to make value judgements on the subject but preferring to present facts as they were during her lifetime enhanced by the extensive and intensive research the director undertook before she set down to script the film. The effect comes across in beautiful visuals as we see Pratima wander across the landscape of different parts of Goalpara, or, repairing to an empty room in an old house to practice her music, or simply smoking all alone by the window of her beautiful home.
Sonar Baran Pakhi has a high information quotient about the folk music forms practiced in Goalpara such as the songs of elephant-taming, the songs sung during Kartik Pooja, wedding songs belted out by the bride’s friends during a wedding, songs specially sung at the Bihu Festival. The director has composed a very telling scene of Pratima Baruah singing at the Rongpur Bihu Sammelani. The folk music in the film is backed by local musical instruments like Dotara, Sarinda and Dhol apart from the flute, a common site among shepherd boys and cowherds in Goalpara and Assam.
The film informs us that Pratima Baruah Pandey sang many songs for many productions in Assam and out of Assam. She specially sang for HMV and for all India Radio. But due to lack of proper preservation and a good archive, her songs are not available every where. Only HMV and All India Radio have her recorded songs. Besides, technology was not as modern as it is today. Still, keeping with the true spirit of the film, the director has used only the singer’s original tracks in the film. All the songs are sung by Pratima Baruah Pandey, which Baruah sourced from the archives of All India Radio.
The film keeps carefully away from getting deep into Pratima Baruah’s personal life when she becomes an adult. Her childhood is briefly captures through edited shots of accompanying her father on hunts, her horse-rides and one particularly good silhouetted shot of the singer captured from behind by the camera with the smoke of her cigarette slowly billowing out in the air. She smoked a lot but strangely, it did not affect her voice. She also drank and there is a clear mention that filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak had once proposed marriage to her through her father but the director of the film could not validate this as based on fact.
The actors, specially Pranami Bora who plays the role of the elderly Pratima Baruah Pandey, have done full justice to their roles. Like the tone and temper of the film, the acting is very restrained, low-key and subtle, a strain that runs right through the film, giving it a perspective completely at variance from the kind of films the Indian audience is familiar with.
Sonar Baran Pakhi never intrudes into or distracts the viewer. The short running time of 86 minutes helps sustain the mystique and the intensity of the drama of Barua Pandey’s life that unfolds in layers, every so delicately, through the film.
Rajbangshi, Drama, Color