• Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

Lachit Borphukan at 400: How to Make the Ahom General Relevant for the Current Generation

A state-sponsored 3-day mega event to commemorate the 400th birthday of Ahom general Lachit Barphukan’s was celebrated in the national capital Delhi this year. Graced by political figures which includes Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Kiren Rijiju and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sharma, the aim of the celebration was to highlight the glorious reign of the Ahoms in Assam and the courage, determination and sacrifices of the great general, Lachit Barphukan who had achieved a decisive victory against the Mughal invaders in the late 17th century.

Lachit Barphukan’s tale is that of an unparalleled love for his nation and the strength and agility of his leadership as well as his military tactics utilized against the Mughals which prevented their spell from spreading to Assam and India’s northeast. In the words of Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sharma, the purpose of this celebration is to make the country aware that “India had better kings and monarchs than Aurangzeb”.

With the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, gracing the valedictory session of the celebrations as the chief guest on Friday, Assam has left no stone unturned to register a historic impression in the minds of the Indian public about this mighty Ahom general and his heroics at the 1671 Battle of Saraighat through these celebrations.

There are ideological satisfactions in highlighting the great general’s valor against Islamic rulers of the 16th and 17th century India that is very much apparent and perfectly in suit of the post 2014 political narrative of India, even if doing so results in Lachit being perceived as a Hindu nationalist, but if Barphukan’s contributions are to find a deserving space in the glorious chapters of Indian history that is allegedly clogged with a North Indian ruler bias, his image must be magnified and implanted into the sub-consciousness of the public.

Lachit Barphukan’s embodies a monumental personality and the truest reflection of it will be on a scale that is larger than life. And it is only the cinematic canvas which has the potential of turning it into a reality with its boundless scope that also extends beyond the imaginative capabilities of our dreams. The audio-visual medium with powerful storytelling has infinite potential to establish for Lachit Borphukan – a pan Indian identity. You can agree to disagree, but the most effective of all mass media is – cinema. Simultaneously, his worth should also be integrated in the national academic curriculum. There were previous efforts by Amar Chitra Katha to familiarize Lachit among the comic reading young audience of the country but the medium has lost its significance today.

So, if we are seeking to resuscitate Lachit Barphukan, the focus should be on the younger generation since they will be the ones to carry on this victor’s legacy in the future. For this the right steps are to be taken. The amount of published titles so far has failed to reach beyond the scholarly, and an imposed essay competition serves only a vague purpose. The outcome of this is evident in a copy of a mischievous essay that has become a viral meme on social media, in which an unidentified individual’s writings about the general have been subjected to laughter, reactions and shares.

As the digital revolution has earmarked a transformation of our lives where culture no longer follows the dictates of elitism or popular favorites, the current generation univocally subscribes to the trends of lifestyle which are implicit manifestations of popular culture. In the present age of screen dominance, everything needs to be re-configured for the digital screen. And if the cultural memory of Lachit Barphukan is to be preserved in all its luminosity, it is an urgent need to transform him into a cinematic figure as well.

His tale is ought to be presented with unbridled emotion, unhurried sense of commitment and an enthusiasm that should extend beyond the confines of the medium to encompass a greater intent which is deeply founded in regional sensibilities and patriotism of his honor. There are conscious decisions to be made for the faithful depiction of facts, cinematic liberties to be taken, and the also the maintenance of the era authenticity of the period, which will collectively contribute to the proper representation of the valor and might of Lachit on screen. This will require the skilled expertise of a craftsman who is well equipped with cinematic consciousness and has an influential hold over the dynamics of the medium.

There are attempts to make a film on Lachit Borphukan and interest from various quarters has been noted. However, the proud creators of a hagiographic movie would strip off the subject of its original meaning and turn it into a tool for gratifying irrational nationalist fervor or simply serve it as a purpose of political appeasement. There are challenges in the other sections as well. If national and international award winning filmmakers from the region take the hold, the project might be too extravagant for the financially restrained approach to filmmaking in the region. It was already an awful experience to watch a regional movie produced here on the Indian freedom struggle leader, Kanaklata Barua, which was severely hampered by its poor production design.

This is a humongous defeat in front of the victory that we are trying to celebrate today – a film industry that is soon to be 90 years of age is yet to produce a sensible and commercially feasible historical biopic on Lachit. For historical content, we are left with no other choice but to watch Hindi and South Indian films. So, if we are still fulfilling our historical biopic demands in the name of Marathi warriors, Hindu rulers and Muslim emperors, where does Lachit Borphukan’s battle against foreign invaders stand?

Because of our carelessness and unwillingness to recognise the significance of the medium of cinema, not only history but also contemporary cinema appears to favor the northern and southern rulers of India the most. The fact that one cannot confirm or deny the existence of a print of the 1961 film made on Lachit Barphukan by Prabin Phukan and Lakhyadhar Choudury speaks volume about how we respect and value our history. It symbolizes the Assamese people’s loss of determination, intelligence, and courage which was personified by Lachit Barphukan.        

Will Assam ever be able to make a successful feature film and honor the outstanding military commander who understood the hills and valleys of the river Brahmaputra like the back of his hand? Because erecting statues for face value would have little significance if the young and upcoming generations fail to recognize his true worth. Therefore, steps must be taken to instill the true values of Lachit Barphukan in the minds of the young.

Can a state that frequently falters in the fulfillment of its own commitments (read: Assam State Film Policy) and a Department that loses consistency in holding its own International Film Festival carry the weight of this tall subject? Can it offer other related subjects the importance they deserve? Only time can answer. In addition to Lachit Barphukan, live-action feature films about the 15th century Neo-Vaishnavite saint, Sankardeva and Bharat Ratna Bhupen Hazarika are also important and long awaited. Also, if Lachit Borphukan is to be truly honored, conclusions must be arrived at to address the state’s feeble border problems and the continuing influx of illegal immigrants.

The fact that Lachit Borphukan is being celebrated today at the national level is commendable, but what we celebrate today will be forgotten tomorrow because social media shares and tweets from influential politicians can influence the public but then public memory is itself short lived. On the other hand, the impact of cinema, which comes from the combination of multiple arts, can keep the subject alive for posterity. In India, cinema is also a social medium which can very ably transfer the culture, rites, and the civilizational phases from one generation to the next. Therefore, this significant tool must be utilized for preserving and promoting our culture and heritage.



By Kalpajyoti Bhuyan

The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at 666kalpa@gmail.com

One thought on “Lachit Borphukan at 400: How to Make the Ahom General Relevant for the Current Generation”
  1. Your article was an insightful and well-crafted piece of writing. I particularly liked how you analyzed the different components of the topic and brought everything together in a logical way. Your writing style is clear and concise, and you made the article interesting to read.

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