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Assamese film 'Ishu' explores horrors of witch-hunting
(Bengaluru, Feb 28, 2018): The story of director Utpal Borpujari's debut film "Ishu" may have been told from a child's perspective but it is not a fairytale.

The Assamese film, which will be showcased at the ongoing Bengaluru International Film Festival, deals with the demonic custom of witch-hunting prevalent in tribal areas of the country.

"You sometimes get a fresh perspective when you try viewing a story through a kid's perspective... How a child can bring about a change through his innocence.

"Seeing a child do something you look at yourself imagining how you could have done things differently. Maybe you can still bring out the child in you. Sometimes we become cynical as adults," Borpujari told PTI in an interview on the sidelines of the ongoing Bengaluru International Film Festival.

The film-maker, who is also a film critic and former journalist, added that children's films such as "Harry Potter" series and the most recent "Black Panther" deliver strong, layered messages through their fantasy and children-friendly narratives.

"When subtle messages come through children and youth, the stories leave a deep impact on you," he said.

Produced by Children's Film Society, India (CFSI), the film has dealt with violence inherent to the issue in a subtle manner through indicative sound techniques.

"Ishu" is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya's popular novel of the same name. Its cast include Kapil Garo, Bishnu Khargoria, Leishangthem Devi, Chetana Das among others.

The medieval practice continues to fester like a wound in lots of tribal societies in India such as West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, MP, Chhattisgarh and in some cases even in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

"Usually a lonely woman, maybe a young or an old widow or a woman who has some property are declared as witches. Mostly it's either the property angle or the sexual angle. Once she's branded a witch either she's beaten and thrown out of the village or she's killed, which happens a lot.

"In some cases, the entire family is declared to be practising witchcraft. Now, because of the illiteracy the village people are superstitious. That makes it easy for them to be convinced that all the diseases have occasional due to someone's spell, not because there is dirty water they drink... That there are no health facilities in the interiors of the country," he rued.

The cases of witch-hunting have grown in the last two decades in Assam, he said.

"A bill has been passed by the state Assembly against witch-hunting but it is awaiting the President's assent," the director emphasised.

When asked about the witch-hunting that trolls indulge in on social media, Borpujari said it is unfortunate how it has reared its ugly head even on the Internet.

The film-maker likened the social media trolls to those elements who incite illiterate and uneducated masses to kill women labelling them as "witches".

"The trolls on social media do another kind of witch-hunting. They are also illiterate in a way. They are also feeding off the lack of educated people who are on the Internet. Just because you have a smartphone and can use different apps doesn't make you literate or educated. Most of the trolling happens against women. It is vicious.(PTI)

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