Assamese actor and director Kenny Basumatary has stepped into hardcore action film territory after making two back-to-back action comedies. In the December 7 release Suspended Inspector Boro, the titular hero (Utkal Hazowari) is an earnest, no-nonsense policeman. When Boro is suspended after beating up members of a gang of traffickers, he is unofficially tasked by the Superintendent of Police to find a woman named Sabrina Rai. Among a sea of villains is the bad cop, Inspector Lokkhi Modon Jwala (Basumatary).
Basumatary always reserved key roles for himself and Hazowari in all his films. In his debut Local Kung Fu (2013), Basumatary was the hero while Hazowari was the villain. In the sequel, Local Kung Fu 2 (2017), Basumatary and Hazowari played twin sets of brothers. “I can be the hero or the villain since I am the maker,” the 37-year-old filmmaker said.
Local Kung Fu put Basumatary on the map. The Assamese film, shot on the streets of Guwahati, featured Basumatary’s friends or relatives in the cast. Made on a budget of approximately Rs 95,000, Local Kung Fu acquired cult status for its humour and action sequences. Four years later, Local Lung Fu 2 was released. In between, Basumatary played supporting roles in the films Shanghai (2012), Mary Kom (2014) and Raag Desh (2017). Excerpts from an interview.
How did ‘Suspended Inspector Boro’ begin?
It is a serious action film, unlike the Local Kung Fu movies. I wrote it as a Hindi film four or five years ago, expecting to make it on a Bollywood scale. It was set in Delhi. My hero, Utkal, was suddenly free during July for the summer vacations. He is a school teacher by profession. I thought, we might as well make a film instead of wasting time. We updated the script and set it in Guwahati.
Compared to the Local Kung Fu films, the action here is one level higher. We didn’t break anything in Local Kung Fu one and two. We are breaking a lot of stuff this time. It’s raw action. All the kicks and jumps are without wires and cables.
Is everybody in your films trained in martial arts?
Everyone performing action is. They are all students of my uncle, Amar Singh Deori. He had a small role in Local Kung Fu. He played my character’s uncle, the kung fu teacher. I am also lucky that my family members are good actors. Like Bonzo [a character in Local Kung Fu played by Bonny Deori] and my other cousins.
Your chemistry with Utkal Hazowari is interesting.
We have known each other since I was 16 years old. He was one of my uncle’s best students. We reconnected after I returned from IIT Delhi to Guwahati. He’s a singer too. We made some songs, cut an album.
In 2009-’10, when the DSLR revolution had begun, we thought of making a martial arts action film. There aren’t any good ones in India, with one or two exceptions. We thought we have the expertise. And we had been making short fight videos for some time. So why not make a full film?
Was the comedy in the ‘Local Kung Fu’ movies scripted or improvised?
Both. All the actors were luckily good comics. I had done comedy shows in Bombay, such as Channel V’s Nonsensex, for which Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi and Varun Thakur wrote the episodes. I used all the skills I learned there.
What was the origin of some of the quirky characters in your films? There’s Bonzo, who wants to be the number one under-18 don. Then, there’s Tansen, who knows kung fu but can also sing.
We made the characters based on what the individual actors could pull off. The Tansen actor [Bibhash Singha] is actually trained in classical singing, so we incorporated that. Bonzo, like many others, came from the need to give every character an aim or an objective. Giving Bonzo the desire to be the number one under-18 don gives him a daily excuse to go out and get into fights.
Your films tend to have a make-it-up-as-you-go-along quality.
I believe in a very solid outline. If the stories of the Local Kung Fu movies are deconstructed, especially part two, you will see that they are complex plot-wise. In part two, there are two pairs of twins. Gangs are pestering them. The misunderstandings have to be constructed so carefully that a complicated story looks simple.
We succeeded in both the films. And during individual scenes, while we rehearse, we improvise, find new stuff, and add them, thinking why not? In the end, the intent of the scene should be on point.
Were the ‘Local Kung Fu’ movies financially successful for you? ‘Local Kung Fu 2’ was removed after a week-long run from theatres to accommodate ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’.
No. The budget of the first film was Rs 95,000, but the final cost on reaching the theatre had become Rs seven lakhs. It was a flop. The second film’s landing cost was Rs 28 lakhs. We barely broke even here. We raised money for the sequel by a bit of crowd-funding and with some money from sponsors.
In what ways do you expect the Assamese government and local distributors and exhibitors to support Assamese films?
I have been hearing for the past two-three years that a new government policy will be put in place, which will disallow Assamese films from being removed in the second week if they are doing really well. The second thing that should happen is that the entertainment tax on Assamese films should be removed. In Maharashtra, because of no entertainment tax on a Marathi film, its ticket costs Rs 118 while a Hindi film’s ticket may cost Rs 150. That will give people the incentive to watch local films.
But one good thing that has happened recently is that new theatres have been opened, and the government has been supportive there.