SEMKHOR (2022)

Aimee Baruah in a still from the film
  • Release Date: 23/09/2022
  • Cast: Aimee Baruah
  • Director: Aimee Baruah

Poignant! Heart-wrenching! Mesmerizing! – Aimee Baruah’s Semkhor is bound to stir up a storm

— Ambar Chatterjee

Assamese cinema is going through a great phase and Semkhor is yet another burning example of that very fact. Even though the film is in the Grao-Dima language, the language, and the Dimasa people are an integral part of Assam. It must also be noted that the producers, director, lead actors, and a large chunk of the technical team are primarily from Assam. Hence Semkhor is as much an Assamese film as it can be.

The story of the film chronicles the life and tragedies of a lady played by Aimee Baruah who is categorically referred to as “the mother of her son” and the “wife of her husband”. The story takes us through the many tragedies that pile upon her within a very short period. Aimee Baruah skillfully drives the film touching upon numerous social and cultural issues and evils using the protagonist and her different tragedies as the means of expression and propagation. While she is at it, she also uses the protagonist’s life and struggles to document the different aspects of life and practices in a typical Dimasa village. The social and familial status of the women living in a world that borders on being stuck in ancient times and culture are organically brought out through discussions and dialogues between different characters.

Before I start with all that I loved about the film, I would like to inform my readers that I am not an expert on Dimasa culture and society. I have no idea how a traditional Dimasa village operates and I can never be sure if the depiction of the social evils and practices in the film were accurate. My review of the film involves only the cinematic aspects of it like the storytelling, screenplay, performances, cinematography, editing, etc. It concentrates on how all these elements gelled together to provide a compounded impact that affected me at a much deeper level. I looked at it as a film that documented a particular village and a set of people and never generalized whatever was shown as the way of life of the Dimasa people.

Aimee Baruah’s sensational rendering of the protagonist: –

Aimee Baruah in a still from the film

Aimee Baruah is terrific as the protagonist of the film. It is through her character that we experience every emotion of the film and her performance had to be captivating if the film had to leave any impact whatsoever. Thankfully, she is brilliant from the get-go. Be it the frustration of a wife who is always at the receiving end, the helplessness of a mother who is unable to save her own children, the gradual surrender of the fighting spirit after she has done all that she could for her loved one, or the final surge of strength to rectify an evil deed that she was unable to stop in the past. Aimee Baruah literally carries the film on her shoulders. The nuances that she is able to bring to the character and the realism that she is able to infuse in every mannerism and action of the character were awe-inspiring and took the film to a whole new level.

I noticed very early that Baruah was noticeably different from all the other apparently Dimasa actors but she is so good at her rendering of the character that it took me only a couple of minutes to completely forget that she looked nothing like the others. The same can also be said about the actor who plays her husband and whose name I couldn’t find anywhere online. While her character is bombarded with one tragic predicament after another, her depiction of grief is extremely bottled up. That in many ways was even more unnerving. The blank looks that she gives and the few drops of tears that we see roll down her cheek in intimate moments meant a lot more and elevated these sequences and added a lot of emotional weight and punch to them. While most people will notice her performance and appreciate it, I felt that her work as the director of the film deserves even more appreciation and praise. This is a fantastically directed film from star to finish.

Beautiful and impactful cinematography: –  

The cinematography by Pradip Daimary is awe-inspiring. The visual representation of the village in which the film unfolds is so alluring that you feel like leaving behind everything and shifting to this village to be at peace for a while, far away from the jostle of city life. The cinematography is not only able to establish the various aspect of the village and the overall spread of it but also adds a layer of humanity and character to these elements of the village. I loved how close-ups were used to capture the beauty and essence of certain rituals and practices. The camera follows the characters as they go about doing their daily chores, sometimes from a distance. It might sound terribly boring but when you see the same unfolding on the big screen complimented by the astute editing of Rantu Chetia, the mundane proceedings assume meaning and beauty.

Production design and costume: –

I never single out production design and costume departments in my reviews but the quality of both these elements in Semkhor is so on-your-face that it will be blasphemous to not appreciate their fantastic achievement. The village feels lived in, dilapidating, alive, and full of stories and tragedies owing to how it is envisioned and built. The various other elements like the equipment and the add-ons that the people of the village use and make up the visual world of Semkhor are created with equal proficiency and an eye for details. The fact that the only criticism of the film is circling around its material and not so much on the authenticity of the world and characters that populate it is proof enough that the production design team has excelled in its work.  

The costume design by Poli Baruah shows her penchant for details and realism. It must have been tempting to introduce and use costumes that could document and advertise her artistry in costume design through the characters but she chooses to stick to the story and the realistic approach of the film to its storytelling. She is not afraid to wrap her protagonist with a piece of cloth that is practically torn from wear and tear. In the few sequences where she does get a chance to document her flair, she still remains rooted in what is the norm and requirement of the culture in terms of dressing up during a festival.      

Sync Sound, Sound Design, and Mixing: –

The sync sound by Debojit Gayan and sound design and mixing by Amrit Pritam is one of the highlights of the film. Semkhor, perched on a hill surrounded by dense forest could not have felt real and organic if it was not characterized by the atmospheric sounds and its perfect mixing with the various sounds emanating from the village life and its different aspects. Gayan and Pritam hit a sweet spot between the two resulting in a track that is a character in itself. The sound is so immersive that you practically feel like being a part of the village enveloped by its atmosphere throughout the runtime of the film. The sound design team has also kept a track of the spatial distance between the listener and the sounds and this has compounded the impact of the sound. I could just close my eyes and enjoy the organic sounds of the film for hours. It is that good!

Editing: –

The editing by Rantu Chetia is on point throughout. I loved his imaginative transitions wherein he used elements from one visual and matched it with another where something totally different was happening. He gives the audiences enough time to soak in the emotional depth and weight of the drama propagated through the performances and also allows the audiences enough time to absorb the various rituals that are shown and are an integral part of the story. The editing is also used to infuse tension at times when various characters are in mortal danger. The nature of the cuts changes dramatically in these sequences documenting the versatility of the editor.

Final words: –

Semkhor is a great achievement in terms of cinematic quality. It is being criticized for demonizing the Dimasa people through its depiction of child marriage, female infanticide, and its protagonist questioning the sanity and humanity of her own people. That is, however, an aspect of the film that needs a completely different discussion and review. In terms of its cinematic quality and execution, Semkhor will stand tall even among the greats. It is a heart-wrenching story that is told with conviction, poignance, and a lot of character. Aimee Baruah is able to pull off a film that will make most viewers uncomfortable with what it has to say and show. Making people uncomfortable these days is no mean feat and for that, the film deserves all the brownie points.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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