Aimee Baruah is an Assamese actress and director. She directed her debut feature film 'Semkhor' in 2021, which was awarded the Special Audience Award at the 20th Dhaka International Film Festival 2022.
The film explores the customs and traditions of the Semsa society in Semkhor, a village in Assam, where women have little to no rights to make their own decisions in life or to voice their opinions.
As a child, Aimee wanted to be like her father, Purna Baruah, who worked as a Police Superintendent. However, in sixth grade, Aimee made her debut appearance on screen, in the documentary 'Axomor Sadhu Kotha'. Later, at the age of fourteen, she starred as the lead actress in 'Prem Aru Prem' (2002). Since then, she has been in 29 feature films to date.
Aimee recently spoke to The Business Standard, sharing her experience of making 'Semkhor'.
The Business Standard (TBS): What does 'Semkhor' mean to you?
Aimee Baruah (AB): 'Semkhor' is more than a film to me; it is my everything. The film was a way of utilising my privilege and position to spread the right message. I wanted my first work as a director to be meaningful, and this film was a step in that direction.
I believe there are so many social issues that go unnoticed. I made 'Semkhor' with the intention of enlightening and creating awareness among people about social taboos, superstitions, and the normalised oppression of women in the Semsa society.
I was impressed by their strong beliefs; I found it both interesting and unacceptable at the same time.
As a woman, learning about the law of that society overwhelmed me. Many Semsa women even preferred to remain under these conditions – oppressed and without a voice.
But the protagonist of my film portrayed a strong woman with a sense of right and wrong. I strongly believe there are plenty of Semsa women who feel this way.
I want to help the people there. But unfortunately my earlier attempts were met with resistance. The Semsas do not like outside intervention.
TBS: Why did you choose to play the role of the film's protagonist? What methods have you used to correctly portray a Semsa woman?
AB: I have been working as an actor from an early age, and thus I figured it will be easier for me to project exactly what I was aiming to portray through my film.
When I planned on making the film, I studied the Semsas. I visited a Semsa woman constantly for two months, observing her. I did it because I had to be a part of that life to correctly portray the experience. I learned their language for three years. I stopped going to the parlour for a year, I walked barefooted for three months - which cracked my heels, and I stopped washing my hair for a long time. Furthermore, I also set up a temporary camp under a hill; it had a small trekking pathway filled with various insects and small creatures.
TBS: How did it make you feel when 'Semkhor' premiered at Toronto International Women Film Festival and after receiving the Best Actress Award?
AB: When I received an email from the organisers of the Festival that I had been awarded with the Best Actress Award, it was unbelievable!
My film later made its way as a part of Indian Panorama at the 52nd International Film Festival of India, and it was the first time a Dimasa language film was featured at the event. This was a big deal for me, my team, and my family.
The response 'Semkhor' has generated was immense. Many Assamese people did not know about the existence of Semkhor prior to my work.
TBS: Does the success of 'Semkhor' raise the bar for your career as a director? Will you still continue acting?
AB: Acting is my passion; it is in my blood. I will continue this for as long as I can. But I will also pursue a career as a director. It is my dream to direct because it will help me tell and show my story to the world.
My film's success does raise the bar – it definitely has created more pressure. But I would like to believe that I am dealing with it gracefully. I am presently working on a documentary right now. I am hoping for the best outcome with that project as well.