Manas and Movies (Part 1)

If you were born in the early 80’s or maybe late 70’s would you remember a children’s film, produced by Children’s Film Society India, by the name ‘Rhino’? I think it was released in 1989. Maybe you have not even heard about it. But that was the second time I had come close to a movie filmed in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, my home for nine years.

The first time? That was an Assamese movie Manas Kanya (daughter of Manas), based on the novel ‘Neela Parir Saree’ (The Blue-bordered Saree). I was around 5 years old then and do not remember much. The author Ganesh Das, a prominent journalist in that part of the world and our family friend, was behind the film’s story, too. I remember watching the film on TV (Doordarshan) much later after its release, on the regional slot. Ma had sat beside me, telling me little anecdotes behind the movie’s making. She remembered her open kitchen where the movie crew dropped in at any time of the day with a “Baidew (or sometimes Khuri), I am hungry. Can I have something to eat?”

There’s a scene where a few kids run behind an elephant, teasing the mahout with something that start with “Hathi o hathi…” and end with “….mahoutor gaalot” (on the mahout’s cheek). The mahout gets annoyed and provokes the elephant to mock-charge at the children who scuttle off scared.

“See those girls at the back?” Ma pointed out excitedly. “That’s you and the little one carried by the older girl is your sister.”

I was in a movie! Wow! That became good fodder for me to share with my school mates. Never mind that it was perhaps all of a few seconds.

“And that’s my saree,” Ma said sadly, at a scene where a lady wearing a saree dips into the river to fill her vessel. “It got totally spoilt.”

I thought it was a lovely movie. It was the story of a rich young girl with quarrelling parents who loses her voice due to an ‘accident’. She then accompanies her parents to Manas where one night she wakes up and leaves the forest bungalow to enter the jungle. There she comes across an injured elephant and helps it to get rid of the thorn in its feet. (I think.) She is then welcomed into the herd of elephants and she becomes a part of the elephant family. Now, I have always enjoyed watching adventurous women-centric movies and I guess this was my first movie of that kind. The sight of the girl riding bare-back on the elephants seemed brilliant to my young mind! 

Anyways, she grows up and out-grows her clothes also. So, her elephant friend goes to a picnic site by the Manas river and steals a saree from a group of picnickers. After that, she appears in a ‘lady wrapped in saree and riding an elephant’ avatar. And then the hero makes his entry and they fall in love. Eventually, the girl leaves the elephants in favour of her new life with the guy after lots of twists and turns. I cried bucket-loads at the last scene when she says good bye to the elephants. I was sure I would have never done that! Who cared for a stupid guy when you had the elephants around?

It seems the movie had got stuck for a long time. The young girl actually grew up quite a bit in the interim. No wonder some scenes looked so jarring. I mean there she was a sweet 13-14 year old in one scene and in the next instant she is a 17 year old damsel! 

We never saw the movie when it got released in the theatres. Around that time, my uncle arrived in Manas for a picnic along with his bus-load of students from Gauhati University. The boys were super excited to see Manas of the movies in reality. A few of them named me and my sis Manas Kanya and that’s how they continued to call us even years later when we met again at my uncle’s house. 

I wonder if the movie remains in anyone’s memory now. Or if there is a copy of it somewhere in the world. Or the book even. But it will always remain special for me. It was my first brush with movies after all. And it was based upon my favourite place – Manas.  I am no more Manas Kanya today but the strain of a song from the movie still plays in my mind… 

Hastire kanya, Hastire kanya ….” (O daughter of the elephant…)

PS: I googled for Manas Kanya and came across a brief piece which said that the movie got made but was never released. It seems it had only a TV release, then. Sad.

PPS: ‘Rhino’ coming up in the next part!


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