(Rate it if you have seen the film. This shows average rating of the readers rather than my own rating.)
***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***
I don’t think the rest of the world will get it but for those on the east of Korotoa River, 8th September was an important day. Zubeen Garg’s Mission China, the most expensive film ever made in Assam, has released. Although the budget is still minuscule compared to bigger industries, it is still an interesting effort. So, I’d booked a ticket Thursday morning and even then barely a few seats were left.
Coming back to the film, I think everyone knows about the kidnap and rescue plot by now. Initially, it looked alarmingly similar to Rajiv Rai’s swan song Asambhav (2004). However, some more interesting twists are introduced, revealing that Garg is more interested in Valmiki (or should we say Madhab Kandali?).
However, that hardly matters. It was never about the plot. It was about whether Zubeen Garg can deliver a star vehicle like Thala or Bhai and can that change a dormant movie industry of Assam. I found a fully packed theater on a Friday morning which was a working day. This is a sight that would have made Bollywood trade analysts reach an orgasm but sadly they will remain oblivious of this achievement. So, the experiment seems to have paid off. But I’ll get to that part later. Let us first discuss the film.
Colonel Goswami (Garg), is a Rambo-ish veteran trying to exorcize demons of his past. He takes up the mission to rescue a child kidnapped by terrorists who are camping deep in the jungles somewhere near the border of China. But he also has another motive that is revealed slowly. At this point, the Colonel opts for the classic Seven Samurai formula and assembles a team of three more people, a retired army sniper, an explosives expert, and a young guy with no discernible qualities other than youthful angst. The last guy also gets his own backstory and a romantic sidetrack, but the other two don’t get much screen time. On hindsight, I think I would have liked to see more of them.
The journey starts soon and so does the best passage of the film. It has been shot across various parts of the North East and the sheer landscapes provide the audience with a sense of adventure. At least, these footages are much better than anything that has ever been filmed by Assam Tourism. As they try to make it to the terrorist camp, the proceedings get bloodier and much CGI blood gets spilled. In fact, this is one of the pleasant surprises. Typical cheesy Assamese filmmakers generally shy away from onscreen violence. But Garg does not compromise on that aspect and stages some of the better chase sequences and combat scenes that were ever seen in a Jollywood film.
The proceedings towards the end are a bit uneven. I actually expected the heroes to cross the border and take on the People’s Liberation Army, as the title suggested. But what we get here is some terrorists of unspecified ethnicity. The primary villain (Pabitra Rabha) is shown to have different shades to his personality but they were not explored fully. Also, making him speak in awkward Hindi was a questionable decision. A bit of better writing could have elevated this character to a different level. Also, the final showdown needed better choreography but the resource constraints are understandable. Nevertheless, Garg makes it up by staging a couple of decapitation scenes that I found enjoyable in a campy, J Horror way.
What about the actresses? Well, their best parts are the songs that are already on YouTube. As expected in a film like this, they don’t get much to do apart from playing victims. But even they managed to get the audience whistle and jump off their seats whenever they appeared. So, I guess they did their job well and will make it to wallpaper collections of the youngsters soon.
Certain small touches in the screenplay are interesting. For example, the Colonel’s past is shown in flashbacks but not at once. Flashbacks come in patches, peeling off layers of his characters as we go. This is what keeps the film engaging till intermission. The climax suffers from limitations in production values but I liked the fact that the film wrapped up in two hours. Generally, passion projects tend to become self-indulgent and overlong.
The Road Ahead for Assamese Films
But this brings me to the larger question. Will this change the film industry in Assam?
This film will surely do well and earn back the investments. Apart from being a star-vehicle, this is also the first instance in Assam where the makers have pulled off a marketing/PR blitz, emulating bigger industries. But is that a sustainable model?
At present, Garg is the only pop culture icon in Assam who could have ensured a 100% opening of a film, even though he is more of a musician rather than a filmmaker or an actor. As per some news items, people from Majuli are crossing the river on their boats to rich Jorhat, just to watch the film. I don’t think anyone else in Assam can command this kind of following.
A full fledged industry needs to have many such films in a year. This may have worked but only one person can’t keep doing that all the time. Garg served as producer, director, writer, music director, singer and actor in this film. I think if he intends to keep making films in the future and also wishes the industry to grow, he should start promoting new writers and filmmakers. After all, he is the only person in the state who has the resources and the willingness to do something like that.
Also, considering the fact that it is still a very small market, that too with a very limited number of theaters, there is a need to think about alternative business models. Not that I have a solution, but everybody needs to think about it before it is too late.