Jwlwi: The Seed: A fine example of the new-age cinema emerging from Northeast India

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Rajni Basumatary’s Jwlwi – The Seed is set in the backdrop of Assam’s insurgency-ridden decades beginning with the ‘90s when incidents of random killings, torture, enforced disappearances, kidnapping were wide spread. The Bodo language film tells the story of a village widow named Alaari (essayed by Rajni Basumatary) who tries to protect her young son Erak (essayed by Shimang Chainary) from joining the Bodo separatist movement inspired by the thoughts of leaders like Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. Having already lost her husband in cross firing between the Indian Army and rebel cadres, Alaari is committed to guard her son from all possible threats. Can her resolute perseverance overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds? Or will she also lose her son like she once lost her husband?

Over the decades, only a handful of filmmakers have managed to tell compelling human interest stories from Northeast India. One of the major reasons behind this is the region’s remoteness from mainland India—connected to the Northeast by just a narrow stretch of land of about 22 kilometers called the Siliguri Corridor. But a lot has changed in the recent years starting with the global success of Rima Das’ 2017 Assamese language coming-of-age drama Village Rockstars. The film went on to win 4 National Awards, including one for the Best Feature Film, and was also India’s official entry to the Oscars. Subsequently, Das made Bulbul Can Sing, which received a Special Mention at the Berlin International Film Festival 2019. The film also won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in Assamese. Another important film to have come out of the region in the recent times is Sanjib Dey’s 2018 multilingual film III Smoking Barrels.
Jwlwi – The Seed, which got the Special Jury Mention at the 2020 Guwahati International Film Festival as well as the 2020 Bengaluru International Film Festival, recently had its Indian release on MovieSaints. At the heart of the film is Basumatary’s tour de force performance. Best known for playing the character of Mary Kom’s mother in the 2014 biographical film by Omung Kumar, Basumatary proves her versatility yet again as Alaari. There are scenes of such high emotional intensity in the film that she could have easily erupted while playing to the gallery. Throughout her performance, she is at the edge of the emotional precipice but she holds herself every time from exploding except on one occasion when it is no longer possible for her character to hold back anymore. The scene wouldn’t have had the same power had Basumatary not held back in the earlier scenes.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Suruj Deka but with a minimalist approach to ensure that it realistically captures the quotidian rural life in Northeast India. The cinematography is well complemented by Hemanti Sakar’s editing which organically adds to Basumatry’s wholesome storytelling style.  Also, the film’s music composed by Avinash Baghel adds a calming influence to the film which deals with a very turbulent subject. Jwlwi – The Seed is a fine example of the new-age cinema emerging from Northeast India. And while it is not the typical arthouse cinema that we usually associate with the film festival audiences, it is certainly not meant for casual viewing.
Rating: 8/10

A version of this review first appeared in The Sunday Guardian.
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