There are many Bangladeshis who made their home in Europe or America. Not many came back to give back to their origins, let alone do something beneficial for the country they once used to call home. Munsur Ali, born in Bangladesh, moved to England at the age of two. In his words; since the age of two, his schooling, education, upbringing and culture has been that of a Londoner. But he never forgot his roots – and dared to produce a film in Bangladesh in a situation where our film industry is in dire conditions, both in terms of quality and finance. His film Shongram – based on a romantic drama during Bangladesh's glorious Liberation war – has been released in the UK and in Bangladesh (on 28 March 2014).
My father has been in the UK since early 50s. Majority of my relatives live in the UK. Growing up in London, I had a very multicultural influence. Let me be clear; I had a strong Church of England culture – simultaneously, on weekends I would do Arabic/Islamic schooling and also would be going to Bangla School and of course there's teachings from my parents. These things are a combination of how I perceive things, how I decipher things. London is a very multicultural city. Therefore, we who grew up in London are not necessarily a Londoner or a Bangladeshi only – we are so many other things: Muslim, Asian and so many other things. I graduated with honours in 'B.A. Film and TV Production'. I also did vocational courses in Hollywood film institute, it was very dogmatic. After setting up my film production company in 2003, I have produced various short films and documentaries and also founded Limelight Film Awards.
Why film making?
The way I am challenging dominant ideologies and how I am representing what we perceive as truth is very important for me. And that's why I got into film school. We consume a lot of Hollywood and Bollywood films. As they have a very strong presence worldwide, we consume the Hollywood and Bollywood culture, perceptions and points of view. Unfortunately, that overshadows other points of view. I felt like it was my calling to use film to challenge those unrepresented ideas and re-educate people.
Equations of Film
For me, as a filmmaker, the way I see it, a film has three elements, they are: commercial element, presenting truth and the technical element. Film makers must have a balance of the three. For example; budget is important for film making. We have a perception that millions of dollars are needed to make a good film. In reality, with modern technology, a film can be made with very little budget. Famous example is 'Paranormal Activity', which was made with a budget of only fifteen thousand dollars but it grossed more than 150 million dollars. If one can tell a fantastic story, he can engage an audience with limited budget.
Struggle with 'Shongram'
Shongram is an international film. It casts international stars like Anupam Kher and Asia Argento. I have two target audiences: International and Bangladeshi audience. I must understand what is commercially appealing to the Bangladeshi audience and also to the international. It is truly a challenging task in understanding the audience's needs and requirements without overly compromising my values and ideas as a film maker.
I really don't like to address 'Shongram' as a commercial film because it takes away a lot of elements behind it. You can say it is a semi-commercial film but will definitely be commercially viable. The moment you say commercial then you have a lot of limitations.
The International tagline of 'Shongram'
It is an international film in every possible sense. The context of the film is about an era that is post-partition, 1947. And that immediately attracts at least three quarters of the world; which the British controlled during colonial period. And I am showing one of the effects of British rule. Other elements too makes 'Shongram' international, like my filming crew is from the UK, my scriptwriter is German, my characters are international. Anupam Kher plays a British Bangladeshi who lives in the UK – flashback happens in Bangladesh. The music is international as well. So, all these ingredients make the film internationally appealing.
The leading roles of 'Shongram'
Because my film is more international, I didn't want a heavy commercial Bangladeshi actor. For my leading character, Karim, I needed an actor who evolves from a big boy to man during the nine months of Liberation war. He needed to transform and have silliness in him. It was a challenging role and Amaan fitted perfectly. On the other hand, Ruhee plays Asha, a sweet, attractive, beautiful and feisty hindu-Bengali girl. During screen test, both Amaan and Ruhee had to go through three scenes: one was emotional, one was humorous and one very serious. Both Amaan and Ruhee proved their ability in carrying the scenes.
‘Shongram' has been released in Jamuna Future Park, Star Cineplex and Balaka. The film is scheduled to be released internationally in UK, Malaysia and Singapore. Find more about 'Shongram' at http://www.shongram.com.