Hitting the big league | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 16, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 16, 2012

Hitting the big league

Bangladesh and its women filmmakers

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Clockwise from top left: Kohinoor Akhter Suchanda, Nargis Akter, Afsana Mimi, Faria Hossain, Shahnewaz Cacoly

Bangladesh has just entered the ripe age of 41 years. Over the last four decades the country has witnessed change in the form of progress in various areas. There have been a rising number of women working in various fields ranging from medicine to architecture, from education to journalism. Simultaneously, the country has taken a cultural leap as well. The role of women in the entertainment industry is undeniable.
However, how many women are actually involved in the decision-making aspect of that industry? Can we really see as many women filmmakers, as we would have liked? The Daily Star had a candid talk with the precious few female film directors in an attempt to dig deeper into issue.
Kohinoor Akhter Suchanda
“What do women know about directing films? And who is going to watch a movie made out of such an old and mundane story?”
These were the very responses Suchanda got when she applied for a government grant for the movie based on Zahir Raihan's Adamjee Award-winning novel, “Hajar Bochhor Dhorey”. The movie, which was her second, bagged six National Awards in 2005.
Suchanda, one of the leading actors of the film industry in the '60s, made her debut as an actor with the movie “Kagojer Nouka” (1966), directed by Subhash Dutt. In 1968, she married Zahir Raihan, a noted film director and intellectual who was to lose his life soon after the Liberation War of 1971 while looking for his missing brother Shahidullah Kaiser in Mirpur in January 1972. It is suspected he was killed by Biharis who had been armed by the Pakistan army in 1971 to resist the Mukti Bahini.
“When I felt I was ready, I made my debut as a director in 1998 with the film 'Bidesh Jatra,'” she said. Her production house, Suchanda Chalochitra enabled her to grasp the technical aspects of filmmaking, as she used to work very closely with the crew.
“However, it was a rough time for quality movie makers, as the market was rampant with substandard vulgar movies. Even my movie had to be renamed to Sabuj Coat Kalo Chashma upon the insistence of cinema owners,” she said sadly.
When asked about the inspiration behind her surfacing as a film director, Suchanda said, her husband Zahir Raihan had always inspired her to direct films.
“Whenever he worked in the editing room, I sat right by his side watching him work, while pouring him cups of tea,” she added with a laugh.
“He always asked for my opinions and valued my judgments. I guess that was where I got my confidence.”
On the subject of the presence of fewer women as film directors than men, Suchanda said the male-dominated film industry need to broaden their perspective.
“ 'Why does she want a grant again when she got it once already', was the reaction when I submitted the screenplay of Zahir Raihan's 'Borof Gola Nodi', almost five years ago,” she said.
“What hurts is that even after you accomplish success perceptions don't change that easily,” she said.
Nargis Akter
Founder and managing director of FEMCOM, an all-women media group, Nargis Akhter's first feature film “Meghla Akash” deals with the issue of HIV/AIDS prevention and control. Studded with superstars from Bangladesh and India the movie not only was a box office hit but also received the National Award in six categories.
“Most women take up film making as a hobby. She directs a film or two and disappears. Women need to be serious in their profession in order for society to take them seriously,” she said.
According to Nargis Akter, women in Bangladesh are not yet ready to put in the required level of hard work and commitment necessary for making a film.
An artist at heart, Nargis has a natural flair for film making. On top of that education and technical know-how has helped her launch successful movies all carrying a social message. Recently, she has taken up the work of making a documentary on rescuing rivers from pollution and encroachment with a special focus on the risks of ship breaking industry.
“Society acts as a barrier in women's progress, as it discourages and sometimes even forbids women from moving their focus from the conventional role of a homemaker and a mother,” she said.
Mother of a 22-year-old engineering student, Nargis says unconditional support from her family is what made her who she is today.
“My family, especially my son gives me immense support. If a woman's family does not accept her job then it becomes next to impossible to pursue it. Most women fall into this trap and abandon their dreams even before they have begun.”
Afsana Mimi
“I don't think we should limit ourselves to Bangladesh only. The scenario is similar all over the world. Don't you think?” questioned actor turned director Afsana Mimi when asked why there are so few female film directors in our country.
Mimi has garnered much praise for directing TV plays like “Sharey Tin Tola”, “Doll's House” and “Poush Faguner Pala”. Her movie “Run” based on the Liberation War of 1971 is expected to be released in mid - 2013.
“Speaking from the context of our country, I don't think many women get the opportunity. I consider myself very lucky to have got that,” she said, smilingly.
Mimi stressed the importance of film institutes in enriching the motion pictures sector.
She worked for a year as an executive producer before a window of opportunity opened up for her. There was a need for a director in the play “Bondhon”.
“I was never unsure of myself. But when my mentor Nawazish Ali Khan told me that he had no doubts about my directorial abilities, my self-confidence spiked,” she said.
When asked whether she had faced any obstacles at the beginning of her career as a director Mimi gave a surprising answer, “Not at all. On the contrary, it is the cooperation of my friends and colleagues that has kept me going.”
“I believe that as long as you are sincere, committed, have leadership qualities and have the willingness to work hard, it doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman, anymore”.
Mimi says her character was shaped by celebrated women like Aparna Sen, Sara Zaker, Sharmily Ahmed and Luva Nahid Chowdhury and women like her grandmother and mother and even her domestic help of 20 years Jamila.
“Women from all walks of life have made an impression on me. They taught me that no matter how bleak things look, never give up” she said.
Shahnewaz Cacoly
“If you are a woman, self-confidence is crucial in this profession because at each step of your way you will face obstacles threatening to pull you down,” said Shahnewaz Cacoli, a film and play director.
“I was no exception. Though I received a lot of support, tongues wagging behind my back hurt me a lot,” she said sadly. “I wonder why they can't tell me on my face how I am bothering them.”
Cacoly made her debut as a director in big screens with the film “Uttorer Shur” which has been screened in various international film festivals like Goa International Film Festival; Kolkata International Film Festival (2012) and Third Eye Mumbai Film Festival (in Mumbai). Another movie by Cacoly, “Jal Rang” will be released shortly.
Also a painter, Cacoly admitted to being influenced by Bengali film director Ritwik Ghatak. “Growing up I watched heaps of movies by Satyajit Ray and Ghatak which inspired me. In fact, film critics at the Goa Film Festival compared my film to Ritwik Ghatak, a compliment I shall treasure forever,” she said.
According to her, women should thrive in the film making business because not only are they more sincere and committed than men but they are programmed by nature to nurture.
“Only mothers have the strength and willpower to wake up at three o'clock in the morning to tend to their baby,” she added with a smile.
Cacoly foresees a brighter future where society will evolve and minds will broaden. She hopes someday society will not hesitate to recognise talent and will come forward with their appreciation for women. She hopes that she in her own way will inspire another young woman to pursue her dreams of materialising her vision on the celluloid.
Faria Hossain
“There is no alternative to learning,” said Faria Hossain, one of the torchbearer female directors of our country.
In a society where her profession was considered somewhat unconventional, playwright-director Faria Hossain had to encounter obstacles in various shapes and forms. “I might have fallen victim to backstabbing and gossip had I not retained my self-confidence and my utmost faith in myself and my work. Unexpectedly, I did not face much resistance in fieldwork,” she added.
Her career began in February 1995, at the impressionable age of 22. During her teen years, when her peers used to watch Hollywood or Bollywood flicks, Faria used to take a deep interest in the works of maestros like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, which was quite unusual for someone of her age.
Faria Hossain has settled in the USA with her husband and five-year-old daughter. However, she has been in Dhaka for the last three years, to take care of her parents.
Her production house “Drishti Deep Audio Vision” has developed another talk show “Khola Akash” that will air shortly on Channel i, after celebrity talk show “Shopno Orar Din” just wrapped up at 45 episodes. She has written a script for another television play which will go on air in the next three months.
“The perception of women has altered significantly and acceptance has increased. Society has recognised that women can work just as well as men,” she observed, adding, “The scenario has changed dramatically in the last five years or so.”
An optimist at heart, Faria believes the country will see more female film directors in the near future. “Nothing is wrong in being a woman. Women can be very hard-working and committed. On top of that they have an eye for detail, which is a vital quality in directing films.”

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