At the 19th Dhaka International Film Festival, nine Bangladeshi films are being screened as a part of the Bangladesh Panorama section. One of these films will be awarded the prestigious Fipresci award on the closing ceremony on January 24. Although most of the films in this section were utterly disappointing, a few good films made the experience of judging this category worthwhile
A Mandolin in Exile (2020)
Director: Rafiqul Anowar Russell
Runtime: 57 mins
The documentary follows a Rohingya refugee, Mohammad Hossain, who plays his mandolin at the Modhurchora refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in the world. Even though making music is not acceptable in his conservative community, he composes songs of hope, love and a yearning to return to his homeland.
The film may not be a technical feat, but the emotion is captured well through tailing this musical man in his everyday activities. It is an example of capturing a personal story, as it happens, even though it doesn’t yield a satisfying storyline.
Unoponchash Batash (2020)
Director: Masud Hasan Ujjal
Runtime: 147 mins
Neera, a microbiologist, falls head over heels for Ayon, a medical sales agent. She stalks him until eventually he falls for her too. Unfortunately, Ayon is terminally ill and their romance turns a dark corner, as Neera becomes engrossed with the idea of bringing back the dead.
This is the only film in the lot that is technically sound, but the story drags on for an hour and a half too long. The genre starts as romance, moves into melodrama in the second act, ultimately landing into some horror/sci-fi trope towards the end. The songs transport you to the simpler times of the 90s. But overall, the surreal opening scene is this movie’s unrivalled highlight.
Director: Fakhrul Arefeen Khan
Runtime: 112 mins
Based on a story by Suvojit Roy, the film revolves around Asgar (Sabyasachi), a retired old man who lives alone, dabbling in astrology to pass the time. His closest friend is his granddaughter who lives in England with her parents (Majnun Mijan and Aparna Ghosh). The highlight of Asgar’s lonely days is the Skype call with that granddaughter. Suborna’s character, on the other hand, is a practicing dentist; a widow, whose daughter also lives in England. Fate seems to play Cupid, as these two keep bumping into each other under hilarious circumstances. As their friendship deepens, their children can’t accept the intimacy and stage a cruel intervention.
The central theme of the film is “friendship without boundaries,” an important premise to explore in our society. We are overly critical of friendship with someone from the opposite sex, even more so when that camaraderie is between two elderly people. Films like Gondi can play a part in conditioning people to become more accepting of such companionships.
Why Not (2020)
Director: Shekh Al Mamun
Runtime: 61 mins
The documentary is a compilation of interviews of Birongonas from 1971. It also tries to draw a parallel with the South Korean women who were tortured by the Japanese in the riots of 1931. The accounts of these women are heart wrenching. However, why this is one documentary instead of two different ones, is not clear. Maybe we can guess the director's stance to our "why" from the film's cryptic title.
Having said that, watching these true stories is more meaningful than having to sit through some ambitious and ill-equipped director’s immortality project that is but a sheer waste of time for the audience.; like the third feature film by popular actor Afazal Hossain- Subarna Rekha (starring the director himself alongside Aupee Karim and a few insufferable novices), Deepto TV’s Jowar by Pervez Amin (makes you wonder how these films get funded), musical Gohiner Gaan by Sadat Hossain (which one should only watch if they love Asif Akbar’s music videos so much, they need to watch 104mins of it at a stretch) and the list goes on. The only female director in this list, Mrittika Goon, also fails to impress with her government funded film, Kalo Megher Bhela, inadvertently butchering her father’s (Nirmalendu Goon) novel by the same name.
While DIFF is garnering praise with its Asian Competition, Retrospective, and Tribute sections, the festival’s attempt at showcasing our home-grown talent has so far been futile because of the continued dominance of substandard films in this section. Some of last year’s most celebrated Bangladeshi films could not be screened here because of the directors’ preference to screen at foreign festivals, or hold the Bangladeshi premiere at some other festival where they might win some prize money, or merely for they could not move past an overtly concerned censor board. It seems one can’t simply blame the organizers for the current state of this uninspired collection. Our efforts need to be concerted if we truly want to show our local audiences the best films coming out of Bangladesh each year.