By Indranil Halder
After a gap of two years, I was delighted to attend the 2022 Sydney Film Festival and BUSINESS OF BAZ,(a conversation with the Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann & Australian Film Critic Marc Fennell, a red carpet premiere of the film Elvis ) at Sydney State Theatre. Equally delighted to learn from Abhijit Das about the first ever Rajbanshi language in India. Filmed in banks of the Mansai river in the Indian state of West Bengal. Tells the story of the Rajbanshi community.
Who is Abhijit Das?
Abhijit Das is a film director from West Bengal. He has made movies with veteran actress Sharmila Tagore ( wife of cricket captain Tiger Pataudi). In 2022, during Covid19 pandemic lockdown, he also filmed his debut Bengali film Bijoyar Pore staring Mamata Shankar, Deepankar De, Swastika Mukhaerjee, Mir, Ranajoy Bhattachary, Rwitobrtoto Mukhejee, Bidipta Chakraborty and Padmanabha Dasguota.
His company Jupiter Creations Films and Advertising joined hands with Prosenjit Sikder to release the film Mansai. As a creative director and editor of Mansai, he says,” We have used standardized Rajbanshi dialect in Mansai. We are proud of Rajbanshi language. The film was completed with lack of financial support and pandemic challenges.”
Rajbonshi is a rare language of Indian subcontinent spoken in many dialects. Known as Koch Rajbonshi, Rajbongshi or Kamtapuri. It highlights a relatively unknown section of the Indian society who have their own practice from literature to medicine, economy to culture and costume to festivals.
In North Bengal, Rajbanshi language is primarily used by the Koch-Rajbanshi section of people from the Indian subcontinent. Das said,”Like Bengali language(5th most spoken language globally), the Rajbanshi language has many dialects and varies from region to region.” It is still spoken in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and Nepal and other Indian states of Assam and northern part of West Bengal. Cooch Behar royal family, one of the most glamorous and adventurous royal families of India , spoke the language and royal family members such as Maharani and Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur (princely state, Rajasthan) and Princess of Cooch Behar , West Bengal knew the language too. The use of Rajbanshi language makes the film Mansai an unique film.
Mansai makes history:
Directed by Asutosh Das, Mansai (2022), was streamed on MovieSaints from 8 May,2022. The film explores the culture and lifestyle of the Rajbanshi community of North Bengal, with a story that revolves around Mansai staring Payel Mukherjee, Arjun Subrata, Krishna Dewan and Sushmita Barman.
Asutosh, a primary school teacher of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, shot some portions of the film with his own funds around 2020. Then he contacted Abhijit Das for assistance. Das said, “He sent me the footage of the film and I found the content quite interesting. I felt this could be the first Rajbanshi film for an international platform. We then used the entire lockdown period to complete the film.”
According to Das, MovieSaints CEO Priyadarshi Rishiraj, who hails from Siliguri in West Bengal, was quite excited about the film. “Rishiraj later told me the film has been selected for streaming for its original content and various other strong points. We are happy that after two or three years, the film is ready to be streamed before a global audience,” Das added.
The entire cast and crew is from northern past of West Bengal and many amateur artistes from the region have also acted in the film. Mansai is the story of the survival of a girl named Mano, who lives with her family by the Mansai river. In 2022, the film has been screened at the First-Time Filmmakers Session at Pinewood Studios and Lift-Off Global Network Session. Das also planned to release the film in theatres and arrange open-air screenings for Rajbanshi audiences as not all of them have access to online streaming platforms.
The film has Bhawaiya songs, a folk music genre of West Bengal and Bangladesh. “Rajat Biswas has composed the music and prominent All India Radio artistes have sung the songs,” said Das. The film definitely highlights northern part of West Bengal better than Hollywood comedy-drama The Darjeeling Limited ( a 2007 American film directed by Wes Anderson staring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody as brothers on a “spiritual journey” aboard a luxury train’.)
In Mansai, an entire village took part as behind the scene participants and actors. Rest of the cast and crew included both professional and amateur local talents from northern West Bengal. Funded privately on extremely low budget. The actors & the artists worked for free. Their only objective was to contribute their talents and showcase their own language on a global platform. Even though the language is spoken by people in Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, no one from these countries have been included in the film.
Otherwise, the film provides film lovers with an opportunity to enjoy and explore the Rajbonshi language, culture and people in the vast multicultural and multilingual Indian subcontinent. The film was already selected for several film festivals including Cinemaking International Film Festival( CIFF) 2022 at Dhaka, Bangladesh.
It is time to watch and celebrate Mansai as the one and only Rajbanshi language film globally. Hope to see Mansai in 2023, Sydney Film Festival, Australia.