Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mateer Moina, the award-winning film from Bangladesh

The first ever Bangladesh Film Festival held in New Delhi from April 16 to April 18, 2010 has evoked a good response which is in a way surprising. Of course, most of those who turned up to see the films were Bengalis living in New Delhi but there were quite a few non-Bengalis too in the audience.
The opening film of the festival was 'Aaina", produced by well-known actress Sarah Kabori, who is also a member of parliament. It was a simple, message oriented film on the crime of throwing acid on women. The message is conveyed through a simple story with enough interesting turns and twists. There is nothing very intelligent or sophisticated about the cinematic language used here. But the point is made and the story holds interest while giving a glimpse of the slumside of Dhaka but where there is hope and bonhomie among the struggling members of the working class. Rural Bangaldesh is shown without much thought but the simple beauty of the place comes through. By high critical standards, 'Aaina' is a mediocre film but it does not take away from the virtue that it does manage to show a slice of Bangladesh society, and it is a heartwarming picture at that. It is about the poor in Dhaka but one where the humane aspect scores over the dehumanising dimension.
'Mateer Moina', shown on April 18 at 4.30 pm is indeed a different kettle of fish compared to 'Aaina'. Here too the poor are shown and it is confined to rural Bangladesh and to a small town. But the picturisation is indeed sophisticated, something that appeals to the Western sensibility. The film won the critics' award at Cannes in 2002. There is a fine play of light and darkness in the frames. The ethnic elements of faith and music and belief form the visual focus of the narrative.
First, there is the innocent assertion of puritanical Islam in the nooks and corners jostling uncomfortably with the Hindu festivals, rituals and beliefs. There is also the rich folk Islam of Bangladesh with its music and poetry, which is both powerful and moving.
The story centres round a village kazi, who practises homeopathy and who scorns at allopathy as part of his ideological dislike of all that is Western. He sends his son away to a madrasa, he loses the life of his daughter because he sticks to his ineefective medication of homeopathy and opposes the use of antibiotics in a principled opposition to the allopathic system. Then there is the political upheaval that is the prelude to the formation of Bangladesh. There is also the little story of Roknoddin at the madrasa who cannot adjust to the narrow ideology of puritanical Islam.
These are the interesting complications in the story and they form the strength of the film. The film's weakest link is acting and the narrative. The story is good but it is told from the outside as it were. It is not the tragic story of the village kazi that reflects the ideological and political tumult but it is the gathering storm that frames the story. As a result, the film stands rather awkwardly on a single leg as it were.

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