Buddhism beliefs

I found Semsa’s beliefs both interesting and unacceptable: Aimee Baruah

The Assamese actress and director was in Dhaka recently to attend the 20th Dhaka International Film Festival. She spoke to The Business Standard, sharing her experience of making the film “Semkhor”

February 02, 2022, 1:05 p.m.

Last modification: February 02, 2022, 1:28 p.m.

Aimee Baruah. Photo: Mukti-Ul-Islam

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Aimee Baruah. Photo: Mukti-Ul-Islam

Aimee Baruah is an Assamese actress and director. She directed her first feature film ‘Semkhor’ in 2021, which received the Special Audience Award at the 20th Dhaka International Film Festival 2022.

The film explores the customs and traditions of Semsa society in Semkhor, a village in Assam, where women have little or no right to make their own decisions in life or voice their opinions.

As a child, Aimee wanted to be like her father, Purna Baruah, who worked as a police commissioner. However, in sixth grade, Aimee made her first screen appearance, in the documentary “Axomor Sadhu Kotha”. Later, at the age of fourteen, she played the role of the lead actress in ‘Prem Aru Prem’ (2002). Since then, she has starred in 29 feature films to date.

Aimee recently spoke with The Business Standard, sharing her experience creating “Semkhor.”

The Commercial Standard (TBS): What does “Semkhor” mean to you?

Aimee Baruah (AB): ‘Semkhor’ is more than a film for me; it’s my everything. The film was a way of using my privilege and position to spread the right message. I wanted my first directing job to have meaning, and this film was a step in that direction.

I believe there are so many social issues that go unnoticed. I created “Semkhor” with the aim of enlightening and raising awareness about social taboos, superstitions and normalized oppression of women in Semsa society.

I was impressed by their strong beliefs; I found it both interesting and unacceptable.

As a woman, learning the law of this society overwhelmed me. Many Semsa women even preferred to remain in these conditions – oppressed and voiceless.

But the protagonist of my film portrays a strong woman with a sense of right and wrong. I firmly believe that there are many Semsa women who feel this.

I want to help people there. But unfortunately, my previous attempts were met with resistance. The Semsas do not like outside interventions.

TBS: Why did you choose to play the role of the film’s protagonist? What methods did you use to portray a Semsa woman correctly?

A B: I worked as an actor from an early age, so I thought it would be easier for me to project exactly what I wanted to portray through my film.

When I planned to make the film, I studied the Semsas. I visited a Semsa woman constantly for two months, observing her. I did it because I had to be part of this life to properly describe the experience. I learned their language for three years. I stopped going to the salon for a year, walked barefoot for three months – which cracked my heels, and stopped washing my hair for a long time. In addition, I also set up a temporary camp under a hill; there was a small hiking trail filled with various insects and small creatures.

TBS: How did you feel when ‘Semkhor’ premiered at the Toronto International Women’s Film Festival and after receiving the Best Actress award?

A B: When I received an email from the Festival organizers announcing the Best Actress Award, it was incredible!

My film then made its way as part of Indian Panorama at the 52nd International Film Festival of India, and it was the first time that a Dimasa language film was shown at the event. It was a big problem for me, my team and my family.

The response that ‘Semkhor’ has generated has been immense. Many Assamese were unaware of the existence of Semkhor prior to my work.

TBS: Does the success of ‘Semkhor’ set the bar high for your career as a director? Will you continue to play?

A B: Acting is my passion; It’s in my genes. I will continue like this for as long as I can. But I will also pursue a career as a director. It is my dream to achieve because it will help me tell and show my story to the world.

The success of my film raises the bar – it certainly created more pressure. But I’d like to believe that I’m coming out of it gracefully. I’m currently working on a documentary right now. I also hope for the best result with this project.