Jahnu Barua’s films often explore the inner world of his characters who navigate the choppy waters of ethics and choices. Barua has been awarded with several National Film Awards, Padma Shri and a Silver Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival for his 1988 Halodhiya Choraiye Baodhan Khai amongst other accolades.
Barua was born in Lakwa Tea Estate in Sivasagr, Assam on 18th October 1952 to Debaswar and Gunabati Barua. Due to his father’s transferable job, he began his primary schooling in Moran, when his father worked in Ofulia Tea estate. A young Barua enjoyed the weekly film screenings like CID (1956) organized by the management for the workers. When he was pursuing his graduation in B Barua College, he attended the film festival organized by Guwahati Cine Club. Classics like Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955), Vittoria de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves had left an indelible impression on his mind, and planted the idea of pursuing filmmaking. He joined Film and Television Institute of India where he scripted and directed his first film titled The F Cycle (1974) starring Tom Alter, Benjamin Gilani and Rama Vij. The film was based on a folktale. In the same year, he makes another short film called Diary of a Racehorse, in which he delves into the different world inhabited by the racehorse in relation to its trainers and coaches, despite sharing the same space.
Post his graduation, he shifted to the big city of Bombay where he was helped out by a senior from FTII, Rani Ray Burra in accommodation. Barua lived in the flat in Marine drive for eight years, sharing the space with fellow cohorts like Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and occasionally Girish Karnad. During the time, he assisted filmmakers like Aruna Vikas in projects such as Shaque (1976).
In 1979, Barua managed to get funds from NFDC to make his first feature film Aparoopa (1982). After reaching upper Assam and starting the shooting process, the shoot had to stop due to political unrest in the state. Despite having to leave the shoot midway, his determination saw that the project was completed after two years overcoming obstacles such as finding similar locations. The film was inspired by real life events that occurred in his village when he was young boy. Through the film, he tried to understand the plight and choices of the woman that was inconceivable as a child. Aparoopa was also made in Hindi as Apeksha. The film starred Suhasini Mulay, Girish Karnad, Biju Phukan, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Farooq Shaikh.
Barua was in search for the ideal actor to portray Rameshwar in his adaptation of Homen Borgohain’s novel Halodhiya Choraiye Baodhan Khai and found Indra Baniya for the role. After casting him in a minor role in Aparoopa and Apeksha to test the waters, he was chosen to bring the character to life on screen. He took Assamese films to a national and global audience, evoking stories of ordinary men and their struggles with morality and ethics.
Some of his noteworthy films are Papori (1986), Bonani (1990), Firingoti (1992), Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door (1995), Kukhal (1998), Konikar Ramdhenu (2003), Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara (2005), Bandhon (2012) and Ajeyo (2014). He creates memorable, real characters.
According to his actors such as Biju Phukan, Barua’s composed self on set is contrary to the lively person he is off set. He treats his films with a clarity that helps his actors to deliver the performance the narrative demands.
An Assamese cultural icon, he has vocally spoken against CAA and has lent his support to the recently formed political party Raijor Dal in 2021 elections.
Ajeyo, Baandhon, Konikar Ramdhenu, Halodhiya Choraiye Baodhan Khai, have all won the National Award. He was awarded with the National Award for Best Director for his film Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door in 1995. Besides this, the Indian government had bestowed him with Padma Shri in 2003 and Padma Bhushan in 2015.
On the personal front, he is married to Gayatri Barua and the couple has a son called Ozu Barua.