Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cinderella in reverse

Cinderella in reverse

It was almost like the story of Cinderella.
A beautiful girl blessed with features that can leave one with jaw-dropped, born in a rather poor family in a tiny village of Golaghat- leading a mundane existence of any girl in any village- fetching water from the pond, cooking, and doing the other chores when Lady Luck waved her magical wand and the girl was “selected” for the title role of the film “Joymoti”. 

In today’s time this would have been one of the best things to happen to any girl. Would have made stars shine in their eyes with dreams of stardom! After all who can deny the magnetic pull of the films and the associated glamour and fame and of course the money? But this is 2002. And that was 1935 when the eminent personality of Assam Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla was making the first Assamese movie “Joymoti”- the story of the Ahom princess who was tortured to death by the enemies who wanted to know the whereabouts of her husband. And while Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla created cinematic history in Assam, the first lady of Assamese Silver Screen Aideo Handique received everything else for her path breaking achievement but the applause, the fame, the money or even the due recognition.

The “Chitramukh Cinema” was looking for a face, which would portray the character of “Joymoti” sensitively. Acting, especially for women, was a taboo in those days and hardly any girl came forward to do the role. Dimbeswar Gohain of Golaghat, a distant relative of Aideo and a close associate of Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla took some photographs of Aideo to show them to Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla. Aideo’s fair complexion, beautiful  and nubile looks were appreciated by everyone. The film crew knew that they have found their cast for the title role. But then came the problem of convincing her to act in the film.
“ I was not told anything about the film. He said he was taking me to show a metal house that floated on the river.” It was a ship, which she knew no better then. With her younger brother, she had followed “uncle Dimbo”, trustingly, to the Dhansiri River. And when they were engrossed in exploring the inside of the “amazing metal house” the ship had set sail and took them to Tezpur, a “foreign land” where the film was being shot.

When asked if her parents knew about it, she remains quiet. But her niece who takes care of her nowadays hurriedly puts in “ Yes, they knew. Dimeswar Gohain had told them about this.”

Frightened and lonely, Aideo had cried and thrown tantrums at Tezpur. She did not want to act. She was sacred of her family, the villagers. And as the pages of her life later reveal, her fears were not unfounded. Persuasion and cajoling did not make her change her mind. Later, as Aideo’s niece said, her father was called and he spoke to her. Calmed by her father’s words and support, then hardly fifteen, Aideo acted in her first and only film of any worth. “I knew nothing about acting. Jyoti da taught me how to act, walk, show different emotions. He taught me everything.”
The film was completed and Aideo returned to her village. The Cindrella story took a reverse. She was ostracized by the villagers. They jeered and passed biting remarks whenever she stepped out. Even her family was boycotted till they seeked "forgiveness" for their daughter’s “misdeeds”. 
“It was horrible time. People shunned me. They would not fetch water from the same pond from where I carried water. Their taunts hurt me. I used to lock myself in my room and cry. And for the initial three years I did not step out my house.” She remembers.
And the film people? They too had forgotten Aideo. She was not paid for her work and no adequate treatment was given for the wound she received during the shooting of “Joymoti”. She still suffers from that wound. “But greater were the other wounds. If someone had come, if Jyoti da had come and talked to the people, they would have understood and I would have received a better treatment from them. They now say I was on the threshold of making history but in reality I was pushed to the brink of obscurity and solitude”
Aideo Handique was lost into oblivion for a long time. It was only in 1985 when the golden jublee of Assamese Cinema was celebrated, did the state government and the people associated with Assamese film remembered her. They brought her the cassette of the remains of the film “Joymoti”. Aideo saw herself on screen 50 years after she had acted in it. She was also given a pension of rupees 1500/ month.
On inquiring why she never married she sighs and says, “ Who would have married me when I had already addressed my co actor as “Bongohordeo”/ “dear husband”.  
Born in 1920 to Nilambar and Malakhi Handique, old and ailing Aideo still lives in her same house in Gloghat with the memories of “those” days. Her wrinkled face still reveals the bewitching beauty she had been in her heydays.  She never acted again except for a miniscule role in the film “Ganga Siloni” and a guest appearance in a film made on her life. She feels satisfied that people have realized that she did not do anything wrong and have given her the respect and love she had desired through out her life. Any regrets? I enquire. “None now,” she says. “ Only if all this love had come a little earlier.”
People from all walks of life visit her. Artists of the likes of Bhupen Hazarika, Biju Phukhan have come to meet her. “Younger ones do not come. I am an old and forgotten person for them.” She feels grateful to the present Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who has visited her many times and has donated some money for a 
museum on her. 

( After a few weeks this Cindrella passed away....and while I had sat holding her hands listening to her when there were no people, I didn't go to for her funeral. Somehow I like some memories to stay just within me....but these words got published in a national newspaper....and I thought I did open the window to my secret memories.)