In recent times, film movement has gained momentum in Bangladesh. Young filmmakers are experimenting with new technologies and genres of film making. They are making news globally and nationally. However, often, young women film makers’ contribution in this movement goes unnoticed. Talking to aspiring women filmmakers, Akramul Momen writes about their struggles and dreams.
‘I have come out through the fire, whatever it has to burn, burnt to ashes, and which is rest, has no more death’ — are words from Satyajit Roy’s iconic film, Ghare Baire (1984) based on Rabindranath Tagors’s novel of the same title. Such is the amber spark in the eyes of young film makers of our time; burning in the fire of patriarchy, social biases and religious bigotry whatever is left leaves us with hope to tell stories untold.
Tasmia Afrin Mou, Dipa Mahbuba Yasmin, Sayeeda Nigar Banu and Humaira Bilkis — they are drawn to tell stories. They tell stories of the death of love in marriage, of the breaking of societal silence on sexuality. While mainstream filmmaking sees directing as an individualised project, Sayeeda Nigar Banu pursues the world of community based filmmaking — gano cinema. Likewise, Humaira Bilkis, too, stresses on building a relationship with the characters and community of her film and considers herself as one of the subjects of her creative documentary. Their journey as filmmakers promises a lot for Bangladesh.
Tasmia Afrin Mou: Feminism from the eyes of a Non-Feminist woman
Tasmiah Afrin Mou is a young filmmaker of Bangladesh. Her debut short film is Statement after My Poet Husband’s Death (Kobi Swamir Mrityur Por Amar Jobanbondi, 2016). The film circles around the sentiments of a widow who has been having a feeling of deliverance after the death of her poet husband.
The story depicts of a widow turned an independent woman, she doesn't voice feminist ideals, but her life expresses it. In the view of Mou, every woman who is in this fight for freedom, fighting against patriarchal hegemony, shares feminist ideals.
The film is a psychological journey of Rubi. She once loved her husband devotedly but the feeling fades gradually. Sitting beside her husband’s body, she transitions into a neutral soul and doesn’t feel any love or emotion for him thereof. She ponders upon her life and realises that the poet died to her long before his actual demise. Director says, Rubi is not a declared feminist but her surroundings and struggle had made her strong. Now, the question is, why the paradox?
Feminism is a range of political, ideological and social movements that share a common goal to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality. In retrospective, Rubi is also found struggling for her own rights. In her married life, she is seen fighting against the patriarchal structure and the domination of her husband. Emerging from the traditional structure, Rubi married a poet, but still could not find fulfilment. Her subconscious mind opposed him and disagreed to accept the abasement.
According to Mou, Rubi is an ordinary woman living in solidarity with all self motivated women, but she did not live a feminist life in conventional sense. However, we cannot deny that the statement Rubi wanted to make isn’t very far from that of a voice of a feminist woman and perhaps even stronger than one coming from an ordinary feminist.
The film was screened in nine different film festivals nationally and internationally including France, Poland, India and Pakistan. The director has received four national and international awards for this film.
Mou said, being a filmmaker for a woman, especially for a married woman, is more difficult than a male director. The family members can accept an actress, but they are not ready to accept women as directors. She says, ‘A director, both male and female, has to complete the shoot within a specific time. It is not always possible to stay conscious about the time. But the family wants to see her at home in time.’
Faced with challenges and limitations, she is determined to be a professional film maker. She dreams, someday, of being able to make full featured films.
Dipa Mahbuba Yasmin: Dreamer of the world we forgot to live
Sexuality and relationship, both are prominent features of a film. In our film industry, a popular way to entertain the people is through negative erotica and violence. Strangely, the same industry strongly opposes the kind of narratives that raise questions about culture, religion and hetero-normative practices. Dipa an independent filmmaker and a multidisciplinary artist, started a film production studio named ‘Epiphania Visual Production’ to challenge dominant narratives not only on hetero normative and domestic relationships, but also on intersexuality, homosexuality, extra-marital relationship, masturbation, cyber-sex and male sex workers. The term epiphania is a play with the word ‘epiphany’. It means ‘the moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation’. It works with a view to focus on the yet unexplored world of unbelievable diversity.
Although the life of the intersexual and homosexual people is considered as obsolete in films in Bangladesh, is it possible to demand them as a part of the society? Can we deny the reality of extra-marital relationship? The representation of these issues in art and film is considered as taboo and unexpected.
According to Dipa, the main problem is, the differences and complications in human relationship are never discussed in open mind. Instead, everyone, continue to meddle over those issues. Public discourses are infested with cheap gossips, mostly inappropriate, offensive and hurtful. In this situation, open and elegant discussion is desperately needed. That is why, Epiphania visions to represent these alternative narratives. Dipa says, ‘We know, this sort of concepts is still obsolete in our industry, but these are not obsolete in our lived reality.’ But working on acknowledged reality is challenging, as she continues, ‘Epiphania is incapable to meet the market’s need, but we dream to deconstruct the market.’
The speciality of Dipa’s filmmaking is its artistic directions. Her debut and self-produced film is
Longest Night of the Year (2016) and her second film is Planchette on 25 April (2018). She also made an experimental music video, based on a song by Kazi Nazrul Islam, Amar Nayone Noyan Rakhi in 2017 taking an alternative narration where oppression of an ordinary Bengali housewife has been depicted. She also directed some TV commercials and a stage production named Iravanatyam in which she focuses on public awareness about the rights of intersexual people.
Syeda Neegar Banu: A legend of Community Film Movement
To create an aspired, artistically aware and visionary community, Syeda Neegar Banu, along with 12 members from different background such as painters, singers, photographers, writers, actors and teachers, launched a platform named ‘Parallel Cine Movement’ or PCM in April 2014. It is an initiative to promote and popularise the term Gano Cinema (Community Film Movement) in Khulna.
The term Gano is a Bangla word meaning common people. PCM deliberately uses this term to give emphasis on the approach that ‘people should tell their own story, no one else will tell or will be able to tell their stories in the ways they can.’
Neegar says she is dedicated to depicting the strength, beauty and hidden chemistry of traditional, indigenous popular cultural tools in their film. They already made some films under this Gano-cinema project. One of the movies is based on the place ‘Bhorot Vaina’, an archaeological site in southern Bangladesh. Here, they focused on the oppressions and sufferings of Dalit people who lived in Kashimpur, a village near the site. In 2015, Neegar’s team also celebrated Nabanna Utshab (the celebration of new crops) with this Dalit community.
Neegar completed her MA on video production and film studies from the University of West London in UK. One of her scripts recently won first position at the Bengal Foundation Young Filmmaker Award. She has made her debut feature length fiction film under the project which is yet to be released. In the past, she worked with different veteran directors of Bangladesh, Kenya, Qatar and Germany. She has already made 15 short length films covering different genres as documentary, fiction and experimental. Some of her films were screened in different film festivals in home and abroad. One of her co-directed film, The Trap, won the Singer Best Independent Shorts Award by Festival Jury of 8th International Short and Independent Film Festival in Dhaka, 2003. She also participated in Talent campus at Delhi and Berlin film festival.
The philosophy of her work is making low and no budget films. She does not believe in filmy propaganda and screening politics. She says, ‘We believe, Gano Cinema is not an average project which is full of superficial objectives and catchy word bubbles. Each film is the result of our emotion, commitment, and dedication. It is not just a film, but vehicle to serve better to our world through film.’
Humaira Bilkis: Travels through the lens
Humaira Bilkis is an independent documentary filmmaker. She loves to transform the documents into a creative story exploring the reality. Over the past few years, Humaira has started to work with a genre defined as creative documentary. It is an alternative take on traditional documentary. Humaira emphasises on building relationship with her characters and people to present subjective views. She herself appeared as an important character in her works. She tried to portray the hidden information through cinematic approach.
A great achievement of Humaira is being selected for prestigious Film Bazaar Recommends at India for her film Bagania (Garden of Memories). As a Bangladeshi national, she is proud to have been able to represent Bangladesh in such an international platform.
One of the most important views of Humaira’s film is travelling through the lens. From the beginning of filmmaking, she seems to travel with a camera to tell her stories. In her films Lalbager Kana Masud to I am yet to see Delhi, we found her travelling through Dhaka to abroad. Her first featured documentary film Bagania is a result of her frequent travel to Moulvibazar. She began her work for this film after establishing a reliable relationship with the locals. The film was selected for Bengal Creation fund in 2015. The story of this film is based on the indigenous people working in this remote tea garden. During British colonial era, they were forced to migrate here. Now they forgot their culture and ancestral memories. They have no knowledge of their real identities. Lalbager Kana Masud is based on a touching story of a one-eyed tourist guide falling in love with a deaf female tourist.
Her films have been screened in several film festivals around India. In addition, Humaira has also worked as an associate producer on several international documentaries. Now she is planning to make a short-length non-fiction work on intersex people in Bangladesh. She would like to work on films which speaks about the oppression against women and others.
Humaira says that she is dedicated to film but she fears her family won’t approve. In her view, the industry lacks sensitivity towards women, predominantly it is still considered as male domain.
‘Most people think that there are many platforms to work in the film industry — one should not only stick to becoming a director. But we need more women to come forward and join the industry’, says Humaira Bilkis.
To make a change, the first step is to dream and be the world you want to be — these young women on film directors’ seats have done so.
Akramul Momen is a young writer, theatre and dance activist.
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