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      Volume 10 |Issue 36 | September 23, 2011 |


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Film Frames and Memory Games

Zakir Hossain Raju

A dreamer who inspired others to dream.

I wasn't sure, I wasn't sure even after a week. I felt utterly confused—would I write or not? What should I write? About you? About our times, talks together? How can I?

You are no more in this flesh and blood world, really? Can it be true that you will not call me suddenly, late in the morning or late at night, and say, 'shono, kotha ache' (listen, I've something to tell you). Yesterday (20 August) at the memorial meeting at Shahbag Public Library hall, after all of us talked about you and your 'memory', when they showed you on screen talking, I felt all these memory games were not real, you were still there!

We are going through a dream, a very bad dream, as a group. It can't be true that you will not be at the Public Library anymore.

The Public Library was a favourite place for you, for all of us who dreamt together. We dreamt that we'd bring lives to our cinema screens. The first Dhaka international short film festival in 1988 that you coordinated—was one of the first steps in our collective dreaming at this Public Library campus. You took our dreaming a step further when you excavated heaps of Lear Levin's footage shot in India-Bangladesh border during 1971 liberation war—the celluloid reels those that were peacefully sleeping at a basement in New York. You and Catherine worked, and worked—and restructured, and reworked that footage, ultimately knitting a story that was never on those reels of films. You two told us, once more, about the birth-pain of Bangladesh, through your Muktir Gaan (Song of Freedom). I happened to be in that flat on Staten Island in New York in December 1993. I stayed with you for a few days, and experienced how you both have taken the task of filmmaking as a mundane, daily task—just as we eat, sleep or brush our teeth. For you both making of Muktir Gaan, was your duty, a duty you took upon yourself, alongside cooking meals or finding means to pay the rent for the flat, or for the editing machine that you rented to see and edit the footage. I still see you entering Public Library with the cans of Muktir Gaan in hand—sponge sandals on your feet. That was the Fourth International Short Film Festival in 1995. We were all anxious, counting days, then hours—to see you arrive as well to see the film we had all heard about and had seen you two to toil over so rigorously for five years.

Tareque Masud, Photo: afp

The journey—you and Catherine—began some years back in the late 1980s when we were all hypnotised in those small rooms of 46, New Elephant Road (where now stands the huge Suvastu Arcade). We may call that now-extinct, shabby, two-and-half-storied building our 'Chalachitra Bhaban', following Budhdhadeb Basu's 'Kobita Bhaban'. In that literally dilapidated building, our new journey began. In late 1986, Morshedbhai (Morshedul Islam) rented a small office in the downstairs. Within a few months Short Film Forum took up the next room. Some time later, Muradbhai (Manzare Hassin) also rented a room inside the dark hole of the ground floor of that building. When Muradbhai left, a few years after, I took up the same room for my filmmaking ventures. The whole of the ground floor smelt of urine and sweat as the only toilet in the floor was always in use—by numerous tenants of the building as well as by the passers-by. The smells and noises, however, didn't bar us to sit, meet, write and talk over the films we had just watched, or the films we wished to make one day, many of which were never made, or should I say, not made yet?

In that 'Chalachitra bhaban', one evening in 1989 you and Catherine came together and announced you had just been married on that day. The news was so casual as if such event happens every day. There was no biriyani or chicken roast (as a teenager at that time I always associated weddings with such dishes); we celebrated your wedding with some puri and tea.

The two of you took up everything together from then on; even your email address was shared. We came to know Catherine not as an American who 'studied' Bangladesh culture and happened to be your partner, she became one of us—one of the film activists in Dhaka who dreamt big. In her case, she didn't stop at dreaming and talking like many of us, rather she worked very, very hard to make some of the dreams to come to life. In 2004, when I (at last) completed my PhD in Cinema Studies from Melbourne, you called Catherine loudly, and introduced me—I felt some pride in your voice—'See, he is no more our Raju; here is Dr Raju, he is the first Bangladeshi with a doctorate in film studies!'

Last time I met you, Catherine and Nishad (I met him for the first time) at Morshedbhai's place a few months back. When leaving, you as usual said: 'Shono, tomar shathe onek kotha ache, ekdin boshte hobe' (Listen, I have many things to share with you, let's meet one day'). I never imagined that day will never come again when we would sit face to face, and I would hear your voice murmuring a new project, a new plan—what you want to do, how far you have thought about it, what you want me to do.

Remember, when Alamgir Kabir died in January 1989, you and I travelled together to quite a few places in Dhaka? We were out to find out some old photos of Kabir bhai. I can visualise two of us standing in a minibus going from Science Laboratory to Uttara. You, with your tallness, didn't need to hold the handle, I was looking upward to face you and you were telling me your memories of Kabir bhai.

Tareque Bhai, this time I didn't need to travel to find out pieces of memories. The time and chats I had with you will stay with me forever—mounted in frames—like the frames through which you looked at and renewed our world.

The writer is a film-activist of the 1980s-90s. He now teaches film and media studies at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).


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