Mur Xekh Gaan (The Last Song, 2022) is an Assamese film directed by Prabal Baruah that narrates the tale of a young Mumbai-born and bred man, who, to fulfil the final wish of his dying father, visits their village in Assam. There, he discovers the bitter truth about his identity as well a horrific secret that was kept from him by his late father. The film and the themes and issues it addresses had much potential to be a landmark film but the wide gulf between its conceptualization and execution results in a film that’s strictly serviceable and no more.
A voice-over by the film’s protagonist Pritom Phukan (Arghadeep Baruah), informs us that his father, Pragyan Phukan (Bibhuti Bhushan Hazarika), currently staying in Mumbai, has not visited his hometown in Assam in the last twenty-five years. Since he has been away from home, Pragyan goes out of his way to retain his Assamese identity by walking miles to acquire fruits such as elephant apples or eat flattened rice and curd as his regular Sunday breakfast. He also listens to Assamese songs on a tape recorder on a loop all the time. Unexpectedly one day, Pragyan expresses his desire to visit Assam with Pritom, who readily agrees to accompany him on the journey. But as they prepare themselves for the trip, Pragyan suffers a heart attack and soon passes away. Pritom is devastated but decides to visit his father’s hometown with his ashes. But the moment he reaches the village, he discovers that his uncle (Arun Nath) is hiding something from him and wants him to leave the village soon after he disperses the ashes. The film then focusses on Pritom’s pursuit to find out why his father wanted to visit Assam after all these years and why he is made to feel so unwelcome in their hometown.
The strength of Mur Xekh Gaan lies in its bold bid to tell a story that highlights an extremely dark chapter in Assam’s history when individuals were discriminated against and even killed just because their mother tongue was different from the locals. The filmmaker even uses the character of Bipul (Kamal Lochan Deka), Pritom’s cousin, as a medium to let us know that such differences persist even in current times. It is in the telling of the story that the film is a let down. The treatment of the film is far too verbose, often sidelining the visual as it follows the tell-don’t show dictum rather than the other way round. For instance, the tension that arises in Pritom’s uncle’s household through his arrival is told to us through dialogues rather than it being expressed through the behaviour of the family members towards him. And though the film redeems itself to some extent in its final act, it still suffers from the saccharine-coated melodramatic dialogues.
The script, too, meanders losing critical focus at times. The developing romance between the school teacher, Nandita (Srijani Bhaswa Mahanta), and Pritom takes away from his follow-ups on a very old black-and-white photograph. Later in the film, when Baruah returns to the photograph, Nandita’s identification of the woman in the photograph and the resolution of the various conflicts fall into place far too conveniently. The comic scenes that happen in the photo studio and Nandita’s office also feel forced and don’t work either.
Performance-wise, Arun Nath brings much empathy and seriousness to his character as a man, who has been living under the guilt of hiding a grave secret for a very long time. Kamal Lochan Deka in the role of his son, Bipul, gives a humorous vibe to his character of someone who does not want to do a 9-5 job and loves to instead act in amateur plays. Srijani Bhaswa Mahanta as the village school teacher, Nandita, brings sincerity to her character. The major disappointment comes from Arghadeep Baruah, who performs his scenes far too mechanically for us to root for Pritom’s plight.
In keeping with the director’s accent on the verbose, the film’s look and framings are centered more around the human element rather than layering the narrative by integrating the location – the landscape of Pragyan’s hometown in Assam – as a character in the film. The sound design relies far too much on the background score rather than using the local sounds within the village to create its aural space. Editor Sankalp Meshram does manage to address the meandering nature of the story as he harmoniously knits together the scenes while maintaining a fine tempo in the film’s visual flow. The background score by Ajay Singha helps the film to heighten the mood and emotional engagement in some of the scenes.
Mur Xekh Gaan has a story that deserves to be told because it deals with a serious issue in Assam that refuses to go away to date. If only Baruah had dealt with the subject of his film more cinematically, it could have stayed with one long after one left the theatre.
Assamese, Drama, Color