If there is one thing that 94-year-old Assamese national award-winning actress Jnanada Kakoti yearns it is to face the camera and arc lights once again.
Despite many challenges and upheavals in both her personal and professional life, it is the silver screen and the adulation she received that keeps her active and alert in the twilight years of her life, Kakoti said at the screening of a biographical documentary on her Jnanada: Reflections of Light and Shade’ here on Sunday.
Kakoti, who has acted in over 20 films in both Assamese and Bengali, was also the first actress from the state to be invited to the Berlin Film Festival for the film Puberun’, directed by ace filmmaker Prabhat Mukherjee, in 1960 where she met and interacted with Hollywood actor Cary Grant and other renowned film personalities of the time.
Her journey, however, was not easy as she came “from an era when acting by girls from good families was considered a paap’ (sin)” and her parents fought her ideas of entering filmdom tooth and nail.
“It was my husband late Lohit Kakoti who had encouraged me and suggested that I act in his friend’s film Parghat’ in 1949”, the actress said.
“I am in indeed fortunate to have witnessed the journey of women in films from those days to the present where they not only act but direct, produce and are involved in all stages of filmmaking”, she added.
Recollecting the moment when she received the invitation to Berlin, Kakoti said “I was so excited that I ran wearing my Hawai chappals (slippers) to my husband’s office to give him the news! I was breathless and my husband gave me a glass of water to calm me down.”
The then Finance Minister Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, who went on to become the country’s President said, ”I don’t know whether the film will go or not but our artiste must surely go”.
Kakoti who had many firsts to her credit was the first announcer on All India Radio’s Shillong and Huwahati stations in 1948. She was an accredited singer and had sung many popular songs.
The actress who recieved the national award from then President Dr S Radhakrishna for her role in the film Puberun’, went on to act in Piyoli Phukan, Sorapat, Lakhimi, Ronga Police, Saaknoiya, Puwoti Nishar hopun, Narkasur, Upor Mohala, Shesh Bichar, Priyojan among others.
The 40-minute documentary is a not only an attempt to document her life but the journey of Assamese cinema which will complete 90 years in an couple of years, said its Director Bobbeeta Sarma.
“The idea behind making the film was to document the life of a talented artiste as a repository for future generations. It is also a tribute to her contribution towards Assamese cinema and culture,” Sarma said.
The director had interviewed Kakoti for her book on history of Assamese cinema`The Moving Image and Assamese Culture- Joymoti’ in 2012 but it was on audio format.
“Being a student of history and film studies, I felt documentation of her life was important. The film was shot in both Shillong, where the actress lives, and in Guwahati. Her memory is remarkable even at this age and she remembers each film in which she acted, scene by scene and even narrated them exactly as they were” Sarma added.
The highlight of the documentary were the recollections and interactions the actress had with the child actors of the films in which she acted and who are now all grown up and live across the country.
Noted actor and Sangeet Natak Academy award recipient Pranjal Saikia, a co-actor in her last film Rag Birag’, said she is an actress par excellence and it was an honour to work with her.
The actress also highlighted the many challenges in her career, including attempts to defame her and sabotage the many roles that were offered though she did not name anyone, and also the loss of many family members, including her only son who passed away a few years ago.
‘I have faced my upheavals in life and though I live alone in Shillong, I have my daughter and the love of the people of Assam who have kept me in their hearts”, she asserted.