In his heart and soul
His endeavours on the Liberation War first calls for a context.
Let's start with Adam Surot, then, one of his earlier works. This documentary, about the legendary Bangladeshi artist S M Sultan, is a must-watch if you are an art aficionado.
Tareque Masud had attributed a lot to Sultan.
"Whatever I learned of filmmaking, and life, or of the rediscovery of agrarian Bengal; all of this I saw through Sultan's eyes...Through the making of Adam Surot, I matured and evolved as an artist," he explained in an interview.
"The films that came after, whether Muktir Gaan, Muktir Kotha, or particularly Matir Moina — whatever I could express through these films as an artist — all credit goes to Adam Surot."
He was very influenced by S M Sultan, a painter well-known for his portrayals of pastoral Bangladesh and struggles of farmers and peasants.
Furthermore, his wife and colleague Catherine Masud's contribution ought to be mentioned. "In any of our productions, our contributions are equal," he had informed in another interview.
Indeed, we often see her name alongside his (as directors, for example).
Another person closely tied with him is of course Mishuk Munier — the brilliant cinematographer who also embarked in many of the projects by the Masuds.
Now there, with a context set, let's dive deep into Tareque Masud's art and war!
An archivist extraordinaire
If you have not already, you should watch Muktir Gaan, a film on a musical troupe who travelled from one place to another during the Liberation War, entertaining and motivating refuges and freedom fighters.
At first impression, it is just a well-made documentary film. But just delve a bit, and the genius of Tareque Masud will become clear.
Muktir Gaan was made by painstakingly collecting and stitching footages of 1971 shot by an American filmmaker, Lear Levin (plus other archival footages).
Levin's footage, a goldmine, sat in his basement for many years. And when approached, Levin allowed their usage for Muktir Gaan for free!
Tareque Masud was not just a filmmaker. I would argue that he was an archivist as well.
And a fantastic storyteller he was too! Muktir Gaan wholly absorbs the audience into the story. The songs and the first-person narrative (by one of the members of the singing troupe, who read a script many years later for this film) had surely contributed to that.
The result of it all? A marvellous feat well-received by the people.
The Cinema Feriwala
In a sense, Muktir Gaan paved way for Muktir Kotha, which is a film featuring various stories of freedom fighters, as told by them — an oral history project, you may say.
The way this project came to be is very fascinating. After Muktir Gaan was released, Tareque Masud and his team went far and wide, throughout Bangladesh, in remote villages, to screen the film; to bring it to the grassroots level.
Tareque Masud actually had a curious nickname, 'Cinema Feriwala' — he was a vendor of films!
He was not simply a director; he was much more: a film activist, a researcher, a patriot.
Anyway, that experience, or the journey throughout Bangladesh with Muktir Gaan, led him to make Muktir Kotha: "The audience of the film Muktir Gaan became the protagonists of Muktir Kotha...When they saw Muktir Gaan, they said, it is very good but we have also fought; our stories are not there in Muktir Gaan; we will tell our stories," Tareque Masud explained in an interview.
"While screening Muktir Gaan we were shooting its audience; they are telling their stories," he continued. "Almost two years later, I realised, wow! They are saying so many unknown stories. Hence, we started shooting in a more organised way."
The film tells about the sufferings, struggles, and resistance against the Pakistan army, told directly by those who experienced it themselves.
Its usage of 'September on Jessore Road,' an iconic poem on the refugees of the War, deserves a separate mention by itself. The Bangla translation, sung by none other than Moushumi Bhowmik, accompanied by scenes of devastated refuges shown on the screen, sparks a sense of horror, morbidity, and melancholy in the audience; an impact which lasts for some time even after the film is over.
Another work, which is somewhat similar to Muktir Kotha, is Narir Kotha; also an oral history project.
Narir Kotha presents the stories of the roles of women during the War of Liberation, from the atrocities they faced to the resistance against the oppressors.
Tareque Masud did not shy away from presenting stories of people who may be argued to be relatively underrepresented or voiceless — the poor, the marginalised, and the minority groups. The interviewees of these two documentaries reflect that.
What Tareque Masud actually did shy away from, is the act of painting with a broad brush. Instead, his camera lens was a kaleidoscope, through which he saw variations, exceptions, and unique colours.
Naroshundor, a short film, is a testament to that. It is a political thriller (no worries, we won't give any spoilers here!) set in Old Dhaka in 1971, which reflects his "complex reading of history outside the dominant narratives."
If not any other film by this maker, you have probably watched Matir Moina at least?
After all, the pride this movie brought to us as it won an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival cannot be understated. The movie indeed created a buzz.
For starters, Matir Moina has brilliantly celebrated our culture, from songs to boat race.
Film historian James Leahy once wrote about the director: "Two great passions are equally clear: his love for cinema, and his love of Bangladesh. His extensive knowledge of both indicates the depth of his engagement. He loves the richness and diversity of his Bengali culture, not only the 'high culture' of Rabindranath Tagore or Satyajit Ray, but, as he told me, the 'rural, folk and un-modern parts'... In this, he felt, resided the great potential of Bangladesh."
Set in the turbulent '60s, Matir Moina highlights deeply rooted sentiments, and digs deep on complex issues such as religion and Bengali identity — all surrounding a boy called Anu, one of the main characters of the story.
The director heavily drew inspiration from this own childhood in the film.
The fact that Matir Moina does not directly deal with 1971, but the prior scene of the '60s which paved the way to '71, reflects the depth and maturity of the director.
After all, Bengalis' road to freedom was simply not the nine months of war. Years and years of oppression, revolutions, and the uprisings are part of the story — all closely knit together.
The year 1947, for example. And Tareque Masud was working on that too: Kagojer Phool was supposed to be a prequel to Matir Moina, set in 1947, where we would see Anu's father's youth!
It was one fateful day when he was returning after work, on Kagojer Phool, when that accident happened, forever snatching away Tareque Masud — and his friend and cinematographer Mishuk Munier — away from all of us.
What Tareque Masud gave us — his films, through which, we see our history — comprises of an invaluable body of work, for which we shall forever remain indebted to him.
What Tareque Masud could have added to it in the future, is a loss irreversible.
Sources: Books — Chalacchitrokatha: Collection of Interviews & Lectures by Tareque Masud; Tareque Masud: Life & Dreams; YouTube channel: Tareque Masud Memorial Trust.