The villagers ostracised her because she addressed her hero as Bongohordeo or ‘dear husband’. They boycotted her family for several months until her family apologised to the panchayat for her ‘misdeeds’. No man had the courage to come forward and ask for her hand, so she remained a spinster all her life. All because in those days acting was taboo.
That was in 1935. Aideu Handique, now 82,* lives with memories. It all started when a village youth promised to show her a house that sails on water. It was a ship, she did not know any better then. "When I boarded the ship, it sailed down and after a day it anchored in a ‘foreign’ place," said Aideu. "There I was almost compelled to act in a talkie."
Was she entrapped by the youth? Did her father know about it? She evaded these questions,but continued. She was ‘selected’ for the lead role in Joymoti, the first Assamese film. The story was that of a brave woman who saves her husband from a tyrant king who is out to eliminate all eligible princes in various Ahom (ethnic tribe) clans.
She remembers the golden days, she remembers being dressed in typical Ahom princess’s attire. She was hardly 16. Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, the pioneer of Assamese cinema, taught her what to do: how to walk, how to speak, how to look sad or happy.
She came back to her village, Panidihing, ‘with tears and having known the unknown’. That is when she faced the villagers’ ire. "Who would marry a girl who had stayed with men in a camp for a month?" said Aideu with a sigh. The world forgot about her after that. Joymoti was her only film, she did not get any other offers. She did not even get to see the film. Only in 1985, when the golden jubilee of Assamese cinema was celebrated, did the state government bring her a cassette of the remains of the film. She was also given a pension of Rs 1,000 a month.
Assamese cinema, of course, has won many laurels since then. Times have changed indeed. The village primary school has been named after Aideu, who is still illiterate. Once in a while she is taken there, perhaps to make her feel respected. The Eastern Indian Motion Pictures’ Association has announced that they will present her with a wheelchair since she is an invalid.
For the present Aideu has to be lifted out of her bed, placed on a cane chair and carried about. That is not a problem though. Aideu rarely wants to leave her bamboo, mud and thatch cottage except for an occasional stroll down memory lane.