"A life in SHACKLES"- By Neelakash Baro ,The Assam Tribune,13/07/07
"A life in SHACKLES"-Neelakash Baro
Movie buffs of the state have a good reason to rejoice – Guwahati-based filmmaker Aneisha Sharma’s docu-feature Freedom at the Edge has won the Cladie Special Best Documentary Award recently. Back home too, at a screening at Rabindra Bhavan recently, the film has received rave reviews from both the masses and the critics. That is not all. The film is gearing up for its next trip to various film festivals around the world. This is indeed good news for Assamese cinema which is on the verge of extinction. Though it is unlikely that the film will have an impact on the moribund film industry, still the awards and accolades the film has won will encourage the filmmakers of the state to make more meaningful films in future. Now that may not be a big deal for all, considering the fact that a good number of Assamese films have earned accolades and won awards before. But what sets this film apart is that it is based on a tragic true story that every movie buff should be aware of. A film that everyone should watch for the sheer reason that it has different messages to convey. That apart, Freedom at the Edge is a well-made film. What is the story about? The film is based on the story of a tribal youth named Machang Lalung, a man who had to spend 54 long years in jail despite being innocent. Machang Lalung, a tribal youth hailing from middle Assam, was arrested by the police for a minor offence in 1951. At that time, he was 23 years old. He had no clue as to why he was arrested. He was taken to jail. After spending a few months in prison, he developed epilepsy disease. To his misfortune, the jail authorities mistook him to be a mental patient and that is how his journey to ‘hell’ began. After 54 long agonising years, Lalung was detected by the National Human Rights Commission, which ordered the government to release him at the earliest. The Human Rights Commission’s initiative eventually caused the release of Lalung. He was 77 when he finally tasted freedom. The tragedy of the man is that he had to spend the best part of his life in illegal detention, the years that he can never get back. The media reports on Lalung pulled the heartstrings of Aneisha Sharma, who has a nose for good storylines. She was hell-bent on making a movie on him. That was exactly what she did and thus an award-winning film came into being. Freedom at the Edge has managed to strike a chord with the audience simply because it deals with the message that at any part of the world, at any time, life is unguarded. Besides, Sharma has captured the emotion and tragedy of a man who must be struggling hard to come to terms with the fact that the maze of red tape and Indian law has taken a heavy toll on him. If the realisation is finally dawning on him, he must be a bitter man. He must be angry with his destiny for leading him to prison for no fault of his and making freedom an alien concept for him. The power of the film lies in its performance and the script. Coming to the latter, Aneisha says, “Whoever went through the script, they declared there and then – the film is going to win an award. Period.” Aneisha Sharma was determined to rope in Indra Bania to play Machang Lalung’s role as she felt that his facial similarities and acting prowess (Indra Bania has several national and international awards to his credit) made him the most likely candidate to play Lalung. And Bania did not let Aneisha down. He played his role to perfection. No wonder then, the film is very powerful in the acting front. The other actors too did justice to their respective roles. Aneisha Sharma is a familiar name in the film industry. She has already won a number of national and international awards. She basically makes documentaries on wildlife and other myriad issues. That is probably where she has grown as a seasoned filmmaker. In her bid to make the film a success, Aneisha did not want to compromise on any front. Be it budget, realism or performance, she wanted everything to be perfect. That explains why she imported a quite expensive camera exclusively for the film. And to give a real touch to the film, Aneisha chose to shoot in the same jail and mental hospital where Machang Lalung spent 54 years of captivity. Now that is a rare feat, because Aneisha Sharma was the first film maker to have got an opportunity to shoot in that mental hospital. To get the permission to shoot in the mental hospital was an uphill task. But she did not lose heart as she had her well wishers by her side to encourage her. “My mother, husband, friends and the government helped me a lot in making the film a success,” she said gratefully. Moreover, the native village of Lalung was also a major location of the shooting of the film. On the whole, the film has an universal appeal. In fact, it was this quality that moved the audience as well as the jury members at Boston. “It is a powerful film. It touched my heart,” expressed a jury member. A 70-year-old Chinese lady remarked, “You have made a wonderful movie.” Aneisha Sharma was naturally elated, and admits that the accolades will motivate her to make more films based on subjects close to her heart.