Kenny Basumatary’s latest offering in the form of Tomar Opekhyat brings a long-desired freshness to Assam’s multimedia scene. Released as an original ReelDrama series on the new OTT platform by the same name dedicated to content from Assam, Tomar Opekhyat is a sweet story of 4 ‘relationships’ told across a span of 7 short episodes.
Much like Basumatary’s previous outings as director-writer-actor in the Local Kung Fu films, the web series is filled with urban lingo and colloquialisms. The Kenny Basumatary brand of the ‘comedy of the self-aware stereotypes’ is hilarious and provides instant relatability with the young Assamese audience towards whom the OTT platform is targetted.
The use of these self-aware stereotypes lends this web series a double-edged sharpness. On the one hand, it can pander to the tropes of mainstream romantic comedies produced in the other parts of the globe and adapt them to a very Assam-centric sensibility. On the other, it allows the web series to make a running hit-and-miss political and social commentary without it seeming out of place or forced.
This casual way of story-telling and dialogue delivery that Kenny Basumatary is known for bringing to Assamese cinema is brilliantly executed with the performances of the main cast. Apart from Basumatary (Joseph) himself, the main cast includes Lima Das (Moitreyee), Anupam Kaushik Borah (Arif), Gunjan Bharadwaj (Bhaskar), Munmi Phukan (Sunita), Poonam Gurung (Hana), Bonny Deori (Gautam) and Alishmita Goswami (Pinky).
It is very difficult to say which pairing was at the centre of this web series because all of them were both at the centre and not at the same time. The division of screen-time between the respective stories of Joseph-Moitreyee, Arif-Pinky, Gautam-Hana and Bhaskar-Sunita was very well balanced and connected in the close-knit universe of the web series.
The four stories in themselves are varied and follow diverse trajectories. In one arc we see the amateur poet Arif looking for Pinky after a chance meeting. Joseph-Moitreyee is a classic Chekov’s Gun boy-meets-girl story which starts off on the wrong foot, whereas Bhaskar-Sunita is the tried and tested will-they-won’t-they scenario playing out in a comic fashion.
Lima Das and Kenny Basumatary’s interactions as Joseph-Moitreyee are some of the best of the series while Anupam Borah as Arif is brilliant as always. Gunjan Bharadwaj’s fourth-wall-breaking Bhaskar is a charming complement to the Munmi Phukan’s Sunita who is a forceful presence on the screen.
My personal favourite, however, was that of Gautam-Hana which centred around their friendship instead of forcing a romance and the acceptance of the sexuality of Hana. A (presumably) Nepali character, played by a Nepali woman, Hana in her own words is “a typical stereotype” as she calls out the tropes of stereotypical representation while coming out to Gautam.
Poornima Gurung (who is also the Assistant Director) as Hana has an endearing screen presence which is equally matched by Bonny Deori’s Gautam who has grown immensely as an actor since his Bonzo days from Local Kung Fu. There is even a scene where Hana says the often-memed “Hoboo De!!” in a very Bonzo-esque way to Gautam which was fascinatingly cute.
Speaking of representation and the politics of its optics per se, the web series does so much better than many of the films that have come in recent years from or about the region. The web series is spearheaded by the writer-director-actor Kenny Basumatary who belongs to the Bodo-Kachari community whereas Bonny Deori and Purnima Gurung belong to the Deori and Nepali communities respectively.
Of the other 5 remaining members of the main cast who seemingly belong to the “mainstream Assamese community”, Munmi Phukan bears a Tai-Ahom name. Further, the general cast along with the credited crew of the web series is overwhelmingly from Mongoloid and Tibeto-Burman communities which sets a very warm precedent for effective on-screen and off-screen representation. A precedent I really hope is followed up as ReelDrama adds more series to its oeuvre in the coming days.
Another facet of representation that this web series nails quite hilariously is that of caricature. Apart from the obvious caricatures that it makes of its main cast, characters such as that of Dhinchak Dimple and the Jahnu Baruah/Hayao Miyazaki lookalike old man (about which I don’t want to reveal more) shine through in their very limited screentime.
All of their subtle shenanigans are captured reasonably well in Suruj Deka and Prayash Tamuly’s cinematography. The Nepali song ‘Chiso Chiso’ by Poonam Gurung in the emotionally-charged 5th episode of the series is a stirring treat. Similarly, the rest of the songs in Assamese in the voices of Anisha Saikia, Utkal Hazowary and Arghadeep Barua to the music of predominantly Utkarsh Dhotekar and Akashdeep Gogoi render a touch of sweetness to the series.
The most remarkable aspect of the web series for me, however, is the opportunity to be able to sit and binge a heartwarming good content on a polished OTT platform in my native tongue. For me, this possibility had never existed before. The amount of happiness that it causes me to be able to watch these characters for an extended amount of time doing “normal” things, living the “normal life” in their universe which is very similar to mine is surreal.
The potential that ReelDrama’s Tomar Opekhyat opens up and the precedent that it sets for many like me who bemoan for representation and relatability on-screen is incomparable and we can only hope that the future holds more like it and beyond. An OTT platform for Assam could not have opened any better!
(Arunabh Konwar is a student of literature at Ambedkar University Delhi. He likes to read books, watch films and then write about them instead of writing assignments for his grade.)