On March 10 in 1935, playwright and poet Jyotiprasad Agarwala laid the foundation for Assamese by writing, directing, producing and composing the music for Joymoti. An adaptation of Lakshmikanth Bezbruah’s play Joymati Kunwari, Agarwala’s movie explores the travails of a seventeenth-century princess who is harassed and killed when she refuses to betray her husband. The surviving bits of Joymoti can be seen in Assamese cultural icon Bhupen Hazarika’s commemorative documentary Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad Aru Joymoti.

Agarwala’s film was shot on a temporary studio created on his family’s tea estate in Bholaguri. “Jyotiprasad designed the set using bamboo hats and mats, deer and buffalo horns, Naga spears, and other traditional materials,” writes Assamese filmmaker Altaf Mazid, who has partly restored one print version of the movie. “For developing [the] film, ice was brought from Calcutta by steamer, train and automobile.”

Agarwala paid the pioneer’s price for his efforts: Joymoti’s commercial failure drove him into debt, while his lead actress, Adieu Handique, endured social censure and ostracism for years for portraying a married woman on the screen. Agarwala’s far-thinking vision, however, has ensured that Joymoti endures as a visionary piece of cinema, one that heralded the beginning of a film industry.