A DECADE AGO, Guwahati was something of a frontier town, a place you’d pass in transit, a gateway to the northeast of India. It was a convenient stop. It had an airport, a railway station and somewhere to spend the night. Its transformation from a sleepy, nondescript town to a bustling city has been rapid. The past few decades have seen an unprecedented expansion of territory and population—20,000 residents in 1971 have grown to over a million today. Militant activity—at its worst in the late 1980s and 90s—has for the most part been quelled in the state of Assam, ushering in a period of relative political and economic stability. On the commercial front, brand outlets, upmarket restaurants and shiny malls have sprung up all over the city.
After a sustained period of development, Guwahati is now ready for its own cultural scene. It is a non-negotiable need for Guwahati, the fifth fastest-growing Indian city, one that no longer wants to remain in the shadow of the culturally vibrant metropolis of Kolkata. As Dhruba Jyoti Dutta, a freelance photographer based in Guwahati, explained it, “People now have the time and motivation and opportunity to do something…start a theatre troupe, a TV channel, poetry readings. A decade ago, nothing much was happening.”
The state’s film industry has finally been acknowledged in the form of the annual Guwahati Film Festival of World Cinema. Organised by the Guwahati-based Cine Art Society, Asom (CineASA), the festival screens over 40 entries from around the globe, with a strong focus on regional films. The response from the public, whether local or national, has been strong—mainly because such events are rare in the Northeast. There are frequent theatre and music festivals hosted by institutions such as Srimanti Sankardev Kalakshetra, Rabindra Bhavan and the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati. In the past three years, six local television channels have been launched.