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Debashis Doob: In praise of everyday life

  • Published at 11:17 pm January 15th, 2021
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Notable for his unique brand of personal cinema, Debashis Doob has made, at the outset of his career, one of the most remarkable slice-of-life short films in recent memory, 'Known', which earned him the Zahir Raihan Best Short Award at the 5th International Inter University Film Festival and solidified his position as a rising talent. 

Doob's projects are well-known for exuding a sense of possibility while celebrating the monotonous pace of everyday life, thereby enriching the landscape of our contemporary local cinema. In this interview, the young filmmaker reflects on his devotion to short films, describing it as an intense ‘love affair’ ­-

Your short films have little to no plot.

They are mostly driven by impulse. I try to capture our mundane lives that have a story and flow of their own. It might not be conventional to want to address our most usual, mediocre surroundings; some might even consider it a futile and, frankly, unappealing practice. But I have always found simplicity of things to be the most striking of all sights.

Besides, making a strictly narrative film requires technical support, contacts with influential people, and a big budget that filmmakers like me don’t really have access to.

In Known, you have depicted the idyllic life of our countryside. And to your credit, the directorial gaze did not seem invasive at all. It did not feel like you were an outsider, born and bred in a city, trying to get a peek into a life you would never understand, much less capture. Rather, one gets the sense that you are an inextricable part of that life, connected to its bloodstream, to its air and people. What motivated you to make this film?

I was indeed raised in a city. But the idea of Known came to me when I was spending some time near the Brahmaputra. Every day I would wake up and watch fishermen go about their day, children play on their own, and mothers tend to their households. The rustic beauty of our countryside really got to me; so a few of my hall-mates and I rented some camera equipment from Dhaka, and tried to capture what we were seeing. In the beginning, we did have a plot in mind, but the story grew, and at the end the result was very different from we had initially planned.

Baul music is prominently featured in your short films.

More than the music itself, I am drawn towards Baul musicians whose eager surrender to greater truths of life have always made me feel like a child staring in awe at a magician. You see, if someone decides to tell your or my story, our characters will have severe limitations; we are after all bound by class, dogma, ethnicity and so on. But the Baul characters have the ability to go beyond those boundaries and speak of the human condition with an effortless grace that seems liberating to me.

What is your opinion on formal film education since you have received one yourself?

A filmmaker can do without one, no doubt. But in my opinion, film academies submerge students in the world of cinema in such an efficient way that it is harder for normal people to do on their own while maintaining their day to day tasks. The network that you build, the language that you are taught, the time that a film academy spends to make you watch countless films at that crucial stage of your life are really important and can help you in the long run.

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In your opinion what kind of impact will Covid-19 leave on filmmaking?

Not only cinema’s language would change in the post-pandemic world, but also the creative process behind making a film would go through significant shifts. The latter can actually be a positive thing. As filmmaking stops being deemed as large-scale projects, more and more people would be interested to tell their stories. When your vision is big, but your requirement is kept to a minimum, it is harder to stop you from doing what you want to do. Things that filmmakers like me have done for years, would begin to seem convenient to others as well. A wave of promising filmmakers can thus usher in this new era.

You won the Zahir Raihan Best Short Award at the 5th International Inter University Film Festival for Known, and the Best Screenplay and Sound Design awards this year for The Ballad of a Geek.

The recognition for Known came when I really needed it. Receiving the award from Tareque Masud was easily one of the proudest moments of my life. But that was not all. In truth, IIUSFF helped me as a filmmaker at another period of my life.

It must have been three-four years after Masud’s death; I was informed that he handpicked my film for that award and was deeply appreciative of Known. It was something I did not know before and it made me feel validated as an artist.

What festivals like these have done in general is really important in the sense that it is helping student filmmakers understand that they don’t necessarily have to be intimidated by the ostensible enormity of film projects, that art does not need to be big in any shape or form to provoke us. Our history is marked by upheavals; our land bears witness to countless acts of conflict and harmony. If we can convince our youths that they don’t have to stay intimidated and cinema can be as personal as they want, we can see incredible stories reach our theatres.

Doob's National Film Grant-winning short film 'Mukuler Jadur Ghora' is currently in development| Courtesy

What are you working on right now?

I am making a new short film for children, titled Mukuler Jadur Ghora, which received the national film grant in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. I have written the script myself. The film would try to encourage children to think more progressively, to see things with an open mind.

And my latest short film, Niruddesh Zatra, inspired by Akhteruzzaman Elias’ short story of the same name, will premiere at the spiritual section of the 19th Dhaka International Film Festival, on January 19 at 7pm.