It has almost been four years since the theatrical release of internationally acclaimed filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki's feature film "Shonibar Bikel" (Saturday Afternoon), has been denied by the Film Censor Board of Bangladesh.
The film has already won many international awards, and was screened at the Busan International Film Festival, among many other international programmes.
Based on the terrorist attack in Dhaka's Holey Artisan Bakery in 2016, the film was reportedly shot in one take.
However, the Film Censor Board of Bangladesh denied the film's theatrical release, on the grounds that it may deepen the religious divide in Bangladesh, and distort the country's image globally.
Jheel Kutum, a film-themed cafe in Hatirjheel, took an initiative to protest against this controversial decision by the censor board.
"Besides selling food, we intend to make people more interested in films," shares Cju Khan, Head of Marketing and Sales at Jheel Kutum. "We have planned a new year special 'cinematic offer' for our guests, wherein we are providing one-month of free subscription to Netflix, a book by filmmaker Nurul Alam Atique called, "Notun Cinema, Shomoyer Proyojon", and a t-shirt of "Shonibar Bikel".
"Audiences should get to decide whether they want to watch the film or not," Cju Khan further added. "Under the Film Act of 1963, the censor board has taken this decision. As individuals living in an independent country, we should question how reasonable it is to follow acts that were made during the pre-liberation period. I believe it is high time to reform the act."
Cju Khan is also an independent filmmaker and film society activist.
Renowned directors Amitabh Reza Chowdhury, Ashfaque Nipun, and Adnan Al Rajeev have already participated in this campaign.
"At the very least, the young ones are raising their voices, and it's even more heartening as it was organised completely independently," says Farooki. "When they first told me about their plans, I could not thank them enough. I feel that we can be hopeful about our young comrades!"
Farooki, along with National Film Award winning actor Nusrat Imrose Tisha, who is also featured in "Shonibar Bikel", and filmmaker Redoan Rony, joined the campaign today.
"We don't know why the film has been stuck in the censor board for so long," says Amitabh Reza Chowdhury. "We must know and understand the reason. Knowing Farooki, I don't think he would represent something that will be a threat to the country's image."
Similarly, Ashfaque Nipun expressed his solidarity with this protest and saluted the initiators. "This protest should have begun earlier and it should have come from the people who are deeply involved with the arts," states Nipun.
"It is commendable that Jheel Kutum took this initiative and that independent filmmakers are standing for the rights of art and culture. As artistes, we need to have the freedom to practice our craft."
Redoan Rony also expressed his concerns. "At a time when we are talking about OTT platforms and going global, we cannot go backwards by putting barriers to the freedom of our art and culture," says Rony. "There can be a certification system for a film, but it should not be stopped in such a way," he says. "Let the people watch and decide. The film has already been screened at many international festivals, and it has earned accolades. Why should our audience be deprived of it?"
The campaign will run until January 8. Jheel Kutum further plans to continue their activities to raise awareness about cinema.