There are some people who achieve success despite the most unlikely origins, against all odds. Merajur ‘Raj’ Rahman Baruah is one such person. He won the coveted Commonwealth Vision (CV) Award for the year 2006, and a Rajat Kamal in the recently declared National Film Awards for the year 2007 in short filmmaking, making an incredible journey from a small town of North Lakhimpur, Assam to Edinburgh, England and other parts of the world.
The CV Awards, a joint initiative of the Royal Commonwealth Society and Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA), were launched in 2001 by Sir Trevor McDonald and the former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and are designed to promote excellence in filmmaking across the Commonwealth. The competition is open to filmmakers and producers from all five regions of the Commonwealth, that is, Canada and the Caribbean; Europe and the Mediterranean; Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Every year, filmmakers across the regions are called to submit proposals under a specific theme.
Every year, since its inception, the CV Awards have had specific themes and the theme for the year 2006 was ‘The Commonwealth — respecting difference, promoting understanding.’
Merajur brought laurels to India and Assam for his film Beyond the Zero Line. The award was given away by Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, at a gala dinner at the Commonwealth Club in London, in the presence of Commonwealth dignitaries. Beyond the Zero Line essentially brings out the identities of two of the youngest independent nations – India and Pakistan. The narrative delves into the differences and legacy of the brotherhood engaging the official commemoration at the Wagah border. The film highlights the celebration of the ‘Beating the Retreat Ceremony’ as a metaphor, signifying the symbolic interpretation of the notion, respecting difference and promoting understanding, offering Wagah as a symbol of acceptance, reconciliation, healing and a place of healthy exchange for people from across the border.
Born on March 1, 1967 to late Hashibur Rahman Baruah and late Manowara Baruah of North Lakhimpur, Merajur started his schooling at the vernacular primary school near his KB Road home. He completed his school education from Aziz Baruah LP School and North Lakhimpur Academy High School. Before moving to Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. Merajur did his pre-university (now called higher secondary) from North Lakhimpur College. He did his masters in sociology and mass communication at Jamia Millia Islamia, besides a film appreciation course from Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).
For the last ten years, he has been involved in making documentaries and television programes in various capacities. He received the best director award for his film Shifting Prophecy at the Hyderabad International film Festival 2008. For this short film, Merajur received the Rajat Kamal for the year 2007. Exploring the emergence of a Muslim women’s movement in Tamil Nadu, the film delves into the leadership of Sharifa Khanam and thousands of other village women in the remote villages, who now believe in freedom, justice, humanity and democratic principles.
Merajur is presently doing a film on mobile theatre of Assam, exploring this illustrious and unique art form, delving deep into the artistic oeuvre and regalia of mobile theatre that travels across the State, staging plays in twin stages in makeshift tents for eight months uninterruptedly every passing year. In spite of the lack of State support or any other patronisation, this cultural form has continued to experiment and sustain itself as an alternative art form, which has coped with the changing times and adapted to the necessary requisites for contemporaneity. The film highlights how mobile theatre indeed is an unparalleled case illustrating the example of diversity, as well as engagement with diversity.
He made a film Breaking Silence (2008), a defining saga of women’s empowerment and change. This film explores the indomitable spirit of women from the villages in the Rewari district of Haryana and their innate belief in themselves and their solidarity. It’s a story about how against great odds, adverse social circumstances and personal sacrifices, these women have sought justice, made their voices heard, and above all, have made a beginning in a conventional society and limiting system of governance.
In 2007, Merajur directed the documentary film Song of the Sanctuary for the publicity division of Union Ministry of External Affairs, exploring the profile of the pathbreaking work of three women — Dr Vandana Shiva, Urvashi Butalia and Beena Sebastian, effectively expressing the works of these three women, revealing the changes they have brought about in the spectrum of women’s situation in the social structure, transforming the milieu that allow women to negotiate with livelihood, identity and self-respect – leading to women’s liberation.
Merajur earlier made critically acclaimed films like Setubandh (Gulfing the Bridge) in 2006, Signpost of the Times – The Golden Trail (2005) and Sculpting in Time (2005). While Setubandh explores the cultural resurgence with the emergence of Srimanta Sankardeva, the great Vaishnavite saint of Assam during the 15th century, Signpost of the Times is a film on the dialogue and dialectics on the evolution of modern Indian art practices reflecting the artistic regalia. Sculpting in Time showcase the aspect of the historicity, artistic progression and aesthetics of sculpting traditions in ancient India.
Merajur has also directed some short films and documentaries in his ascending filmmaking career. From Cowries to Credit Card, a film on the evolution of the mode of exchange in India; Majuli – A Cultural Heritage Site, a film on the cultural renaissance of Assam reflecting through the Satriya tradition of the river island; Concern – on the issue of corporate health responsibility for Apollo Health and Lifestyle Limited, New Delhi are some of his notable ventures.
“I am more an activist than a filmmaker – who has always stood for a cause,” says Merajur, who was in his home town of North Lakhimpur recently, where he was also given public felicitations in civic receptions. It’s his passion to make documentaries on strong and sensitive social issues. Merajur is also planning to make a film on human rights violations in Assam by the State and non-State actors, beginning with the infamous Nellie massacre.