Films: Chasing a mirage

I was told to appraise the cinematic production of last 40 years--since the birth of Bangladesh, which almost coincides with my ownand my reading of my time vis-à-vis cinema, in no way, should be considered as an attempt to historicise Bangladeshi cinema, rather a submitting of experience of a film-activist.

I grew up in Tangail-town ; I vaguely recall watching, a Sino-Japanese propaganda film in the yard of my grandfather, which the locals had referred to as the “publicity`. One day, when I was all of 6/7, my brother and I had stumbled upon a procession, let by a band party, and people carrying placards and posters invoking the painted faces of hero-heroine of a Bengali film and, later while watching Khan Ataur Rahman`s Shujan Shakhee, at Raushan Talkies, with momma-aunts et al, I could recognise the protagonists of the film from the people of the poster!

In Tangail, back in the old days, we had horse-drawn carts. Avoiding pious Gramps` eyes, riding cart to movie theatre, with momma and aunts, had become a regular thing for me and the post-viewing chats of the womenfolk re. Kabori`s chic saree or jewelry, Razzak`s hairdo, Faruk`s manliness or Raushan Jamil`s amazing performance etc. or these women`s very personal/emotional association and connection with dhakaiya films or these simple women`s attempt to assimilate their life and dailiness with the core filmi themetics,synecdoche and metonymy: “cross-class love affairs”, “mother`s sacrifice”, “truth conquers all”, I have learned, by now, could inaugurate a brand-new hermeneutics of our cinema`s ups and downs; by now, I know, when these womenfolk set out to the theatre, bangla cinema thrives then; and when, they turn their face from the movie-theatre, film industry too, then, stumbles into immeasurable difficulty.

Lets, then, start from 1971. Jahir Raihan and his associates endeavored to portray narratives of Bangladeshi liberation war, before the world, with films like Stop Genocide (1971), Innocent Million(1971), A State is Born(1971). In the meanwhile, Bangladesh got independent. Chashi Nazrul Islam`s Ora 11 Jon(1972), Shubhash Datta`a Arunadoy-er Agnoshakhkhi(1972), Khan Ataur Rahman`s Abar Tora Manush Ha(1973), Harun Ur Rahsid`s Megher Onek Rong (1976) are filmic highlights of the newly independent country. But, in these post-independence cinemas, the filmic portrayal of Bengali women`s plight in the hands of the Pakistani army personnelare not only in bad taste, but, are overtly motivated by commerce ; the immature and lurid micro-propaganda tales of these films are more driven by sentimentalistnot emotional-- hangover of Muktijudhdho and demonstrate pathetic craft than any true cinematic expression. Tough, Megher Onek Rong, is an exception and demands special attention due to its sincere attempt to maintain the customary aesthetic standard.

By now, we have recognized, in Muktijudhdho, it was the subalterns and the under privileged populace who took the most active part. But alas, in the cinema of Muktijudhdho we haven`t found any true representation of these people rather the puerile celluloid propaganda pieces firmly locate their destiny outside the parameter of any cinematic or sociological consideration.

The first generation of Bengali film makers, of independent Bangladesh, couldn`t do justice to Muktijudhdho and by the time their cinematic output started to come out Jahir Raihan had long disappeared.

Eventually the resurgence of black money in Film repulsed all the artists out of the industry. The clutch of bad taste and black money, in cinema, engorged with time and the true cinéastes, who had intended to revolutionise desi film, distanced themselves, from the industry, in indignation or accepted the new reality after prolonged resistance.

In the tradition of resistance, some of our greatest cinematic achivement of the 70s are: Alamgir Kabir`s Dheere Bohe Meghna (1973), Shurjakonna (1976), Shimana Periye (1977), Narayan Gosh Mita`s Lathiyal (1975), Kabeer Anwar`s Shupravat (1976), Rajen Tarafdar`s Palonko (1976), Shubhash Datta`s Boshudhora (1977), Mohiuddin Shaker and Sheikh Niyamat Ali`s Shurja Deghol Bari (1979), Amzad Hossain`s Nayanmoni (1976), Golapi Akhon Train-e (1978) etc and, let us not forget Ritwik Kumar Ghatak`s Titash Akta Nodir Nam (1973).

The omnipresence of black moneyin Bangladehi film industry at some point, to seize easy profit directed the thrust of the industry to produce the vulgar and cheap reproductions of Indian films. This cultural colonization of Bangladeshi film and, since the 80`s, the military regime`s direct control of the industry had successfully managed to have the audience turn their back to the deshi film and they, by that time, already commenced to directly partake of the experience of hindi films at home.

Despite all these, still the cinéastes endeavoured--though we haven`t succeeded in building a film institute of our own, but, some young meneducated abroadtried to make their own films: Anwar Hossain, a cinematographer, and Saidul Anam Tutul, an editor, made Shurjo Dighol Bari (1979) and, I have already mentioned the great contribution made to our cinema by Alamgir Kabir, a graduate of BFI and a former colleague of Jahir Raihan; a Pune-Film-Institue-graduate, Saiyad Salauddin Zaki with his Ghuddi (1980), Badal Rahman with Amile-r Goyenda Bahini (1980) etc. also attempted to break into the mainstream but, lack of organisation, collaboration, concerted effort and team work and some of the film-makers aesthetic snobbery erected insurmountable barriers to engage different stake holders and, of course corrupt industry people took advantage of the circumstances.

In the mid 80`s, under the leadership of Alamgir Kabir, a group of young film-makers attempted to make 16mm, low budget films. Consequently, we found film makers like Morshedul Islam (Agami, Chaka, Dipu Number 2, Dukhai etc.) Tanveer Mokammel (Hulia, Noodir Nam Modhumoti, Achin Pakhi, Lalon etc.), Tarek Masud ( Adam Surat, Muktir Gaan, Matir Moina, Runway etc.) Manjare Hasin Murad (Rokeya etc.), Shameem Akhtar ( Etihash Konna, Shilalipi, Se etc.) Abu Saiyeed (Aborton, Shonkhanad, Nirantar etc.), Enayet Karim Babul (Chakki), Tarek Shariar (Kalighar), Golam Rabbani Biblop (Swapnodanay). Though, these films utilize certain film-language and they attracted the attention of the film-buffs but, these films had stayed out of the reach of the main-stream audience and had polarised the industry in two groups : main-stream-FDC-films and Alternative films which, in the end, as anyone would agree now, didn`t augured well for the future of our film. But, interestingly, its only the alternative filmmakers who could attract attention of the renowned international cine-critics or accomplished to enter in the festival circuit : Seikh Niyamot Ali and Moshiuddin Shaker`s Shurjo Deeghol Bari at Tashkent Film Festival; Morshedul Islam`s Chaka and Agami successively at Delhi International Film Festival and Dunkerque Film Festival in France; Trek Masud`s Matir Moina in the Cannes Film Festival; Abu Saied`s Nirantar in Goa Film Festival; Golam Rabbani Biplobs Swapnodanay in a Korean film festival. Sadly, the main stream film makers and the audience didn`t really care much for these films.

Young film maker, today, if you distance yourself from the old notions of cinema and grasp the message of the new reality, then, you might hear the heartbeat of a new possibility. the digital film. Film is, in the end, just film. The audience doesn`t want to heed the intellectual dispute or contest of superiority between long vs. short film or commercial vs. art film, feature vs. docu film or 35mm vs. Digital-film. All they want is good c-i-n-e-m-a!

We need to quit counter-productive contest between commercial-formula-movie and arty alternative or the new digital film and nurture the new potential unequivocally.

The Womenfolk don`t go to the movie-theatre anymore. Even when some of them still do, it`s due to special occasions: Humayun Ahmed`s new movie or to view media- celebrated movies like, Monpura or 3rd Person Singular Number.

To salvage the industry, we have to depend on the film-makers of the new-generation and the young audience.And, it shouldn`t need to be mentioned that these young film-makers are fervent and raring to go to change the whole scene here.

Digital format has inaugurated an unprecedented opportunity to make low-cost, high quality films that could run concurrently with the typical industry productions.

Along with the renovation of the old theaters, we need small purpose-build movie-theatres for the digital films; these theatres could have 150-200 seats, cafés, wi-fi and selling points for DVD and music; here, the tickets should be less expensive than the regular theatre.

Most cities and towns could use few cultural hubs like these and if the young film-makers generate contents, like they should, then these mini-theaters shouldn`t have any lack of desi material and, as expected, this could become the new-wave of desi cinema that could sustain and nurture its own.

40 years wasn`t too inadequate a time to have developed a national film policy for the improvement of our cinema. We haven`t managed to accomplish that. There have occurred, perhaps, a new prospect to adapt our cinematic vision to a new realitywill we be able to impact, on the policy level, this time around?

Anyways, enough drivel about the problems of our film industry... but, I am scared; if the officials and the concerned don`t do anything to pull the industry by its bootstrap, then, there aren`t going to be much left of our cinema to even talk about and I will be reduced to reminiscing my Shujan Shakhee anecdote, to the young kids, for the rest of my daysthe new narratives of our time will never become cinema in the astute hands of gifted makers.

Dear reader, please support us to capture the will-o-the-wisp of our time on the silver screen.

The writer is film activist.
Translated From Bangla by Ebadur Rahman.

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