Young director, Mahde Hassan has become one of the promising filmmakers in the national and international short film scene. His debut feature film, ‘Sand City’ has been selected for ‘La Fabrique Cinéma 2019’ at ‘Cannes Film Festival’. Mahde, in a conversation with Nahid Riyasad, shares how urban lives with its glory and gloom fascinate him as a filmmaker.
WHEN I was five years old, my mother gave me a collection of children stories, published from the then Pragati Publications. I can still remember several short stories from that book and the vibrant pictures were more than enough to grip my attention.
As I grow older, I get to read a lot of other fictions that were quite common for people of my age, some of them are: Feluda, Tin Goyenda, Kirity Roy, Masud Rana, Sheba Prakashani books, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and many more. This is how I got acquainted to the literary world. As of my current likings, I really cherish reading Orhan Pamuk.
I have always found literature as a strong medium of expressing oneself and surroundings. Interestingly, I never thought that films are as apt medium as art, literature or music. This was because I always watched movies for entertainment.
I wanted to study fine arts for my graduation but that never happened. I was admitted at Jahangirnagar University, in the anthropology department, during the 2005-06 sessions. One day, a friend of mine suggested me a movie. I am not going to disclose the name of that movie, however, that changed my life entirely. That film made me thought that there are more things in movies rather than menial singing, dancing and fighting.
I watched that movie time and again and found out that it is unlike anything I have ever seen. The composition, music, story, the narration and the acting — everything was different than my previous experience. From then on, I started taking movies seriously and took on the movie-watching journey director by director.
As I started growing a knack for films and I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to start in a film school, I took a two-month long film appreciation short course conducted by Tanvir Mokammel. Then I took admission at National Institute of Mass Communication for a three month long extensive course on filmmaking.
We had to work for the course like full-timers, from morning to evening. The requirements included a complete project with post-production and sound recording at FDC which gave me the initial understanding of the filmmaking process. Moreover, I got to understand the teamwork behind any production.
My first professional work, I would say, was a set of positive short visuals, on sportspersons, broadcasted during the Bangladesh Premier League in the 2012 session. Then I got to work on two other projects, however, these types of work could not just quench the thirst of someone who was dying to make films.
This was the moment when I made my first short film, on my mother — Photographs of a School Teacher. The seven-minute film was first shown in a local film festival. Later, the film was shown in Ireland’s IndieCork Film festival 2013 and in Shiliguri, India. In this film, I wanted to portray the everyday life of a mother — under the shroud of documenting, I was also creating fiction. This film was put under fiction category in one festival and in another it was under documentary category — indicating the simple yet complexities of genre.
Here, I would like to add that a major aspect of my work is personal experiences. This is not only showing my personal experiences with or of my mother, rather, I am comfortable with topics that I can connect to.
My next project was titled ‘I am Time’. This tells the story of a young man who is fascinated with the idea of time and tries to capture his image by a large clock, to capture the time. Through this journey, he unfolds the mystery of time and tries to touch the enigmatic moments of life. This film was shown at 69th Festival del Film Locarno in 2016.
Before starting my film-making career, I used to be a journalist. From 2006-08, I worked in Daily Samakal. I also worked in BD News after that. As of teaching, I have taken classes on film making and visual arts in South Asian Media Institute and Goethe Institute Dhaka. I was associated with Drik photo gallery as well.
‘Death of a Reader’ was another film which has a strong personal connection. During that time, I could not concentrate on any reading materials. As a result, I ended up making a movie on that. I also acted in a sequence of this movie.
After that movie, my reading habits went to normal. So, I can say that making films works as release button for me, to flush out negativity from my life. In other words, making films are like confessing to me.
Awards and recognitions
Among my works, ‘Sand City’ brought highest accolades and recognition for me as a filmmaker thus far. This is a story of pure survival — a young monk, a young ethnic minority woman and a factory worker. Every day, we are faced with challenges to overcome only to survive. I found Dhaka as an incomprehensible city because you cannot grab the reality of it. The fragility is represented through sand in my work.
Keeping that on my mind, all the characters have one single connecting point to the story — sand.
The young lady who is looking for sand to use as cat-litter, a monk working on a sand mandala who teaches meditation but can’t concentrate himself and a young ambitious sand factory worker — all are connected through a single element in this city. The fragility of sand’s nature is portraying people’s lack of belongingness in Dhaka.
My sand imagery has another connotation for the extensions of Dhaka city, or any new settlement in that case — it signifies that people here are commuters. They are only here for a certain period of time to accomplish different goals — not to belong or settle permanently. This also depicts the fragility and anxiety of the time urban people are living in.
All my works are in urban setting. As I have told earlier, I only work with ideas and stories that I personally can associate myself as a director. I grew up in Dhaka city and never lived anywhere else. As a result, my childhood memories and living experience all are urban based. In this regard, working on subjects that I can’t grasp myself is out of the question.
All the major metropolitans in the world — London, New York or Tokyo — are well documented through different visual art mediums. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Dhaka, except the old town. Even in literature, apart from Akhtaruzzaman Ilias or Shahidul Jahir, not many have captured the true face of extended Dhaka. The ever expanding city can be magical, dangerous, full of challenges and often intimidating.
As I am primarily focusing on urban stories, I hope to document the city with all its glory and gloom at the same time. The stories, the characters are taken from everyday life and in case of their experiences, the director has the freedom. And this is how, I want to document the urban life around me.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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