"The Promised Land": Tanvir Mokammel's moving documentary on Biharis | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 30, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 30, 2007

"The Promised Land": Tanvir Mokammel's moving documentary on Biharis

Press show at Public Library


Footage used in the film (top), a scene from the documentary (left)

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Tanvir Mokammel's soul-searching and poignant 90-minute documentary The Promised Land (Shopnobhumi) had its press show at the Central Public Library Auditorium on November 28. In the documentary the filmmaker looks back to 1947, when the Partition of India took place, which, in Mokammel's opinion was a great tragedy as a lot of people suffered, and yet solved nobody's problem.
“The Hindus of East Bengal and Sikhs from West Punjab fled but the worst sufferers are still the Urdu-speaking Muslims from India, who suffered both in 1947 and in 1971, when they became 'state-less'. I wrote a poem in protest for this community, which is the soliloquy of an old Bihari woman, Amina Begum. The film is based on it,” Mokammel says.
The documentary is in colour, which uses a lot of old historical footages in black and white. Interviews of a number of people have been included in the film. Mokamel did a lot of research through libraries, books and the internet, along with examining of newspaper clippings and trips to Bihar and Karachi -- which were essential to find the roots of the subjects.
The theme, however, mostly revolves around an old woman, Amina Begum, who migrated from Bihar to the then East Pakistan. “It is her family tree that is traced and followed vividly and the audience sees the story though Amina Begum's eyes,” says Mukammel.
During the Liberation War this community became involved and decided to support the Pakistanis. They became marked as “collaborators” against Bengalis and this move proved to be devastating for these Urdu-speaking people after the war. Now they live in “refugee camps”, isolated from the mainstream.
The research for the film was time consuming -- five months. The actual shooting by Anwar Hossian, comprised two and a half months. Mahadeb Shi edited the film. Background music was done by Syed Shabab Ali. Uttam Guha and Sarwar Tamijuddin assisted Mukammel in direction. Khalid Hussian and Muhammad Hasan assisted in research. The film was produced by Kino-Eye Films.
Asked about the making of the film, Mokammel says that the theme was something that preoccupied him for decades and he felt an enormous sense of satisfaction in being able to hold this up to both the intellectuals and masses of the nation -- for them to ponder on and think of some satisfactory solution.
“It was something cathartic as I don't belief that we have really treated our minority groups fairly, even though we have a reputation for being tolerant and hospitable. The Hindus, the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts or the Urdu-speaking people living in the country -- have all suffered maltreatment in some way.”
Mukammel's film Quiet Flows the River Chitra follows the plight of a Hindu family and Teardrops of Karnofuli deals with the troubles of the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The latest film, Mokammel says, gives him a sense of contentment -- an aesthetic fillip to his mind. The Biharis whom he worked with, he says, were kind and understanding, cooperative and helpful, specially the people living in “Geneva Camp” at Muhammadpur and Mirpur in Dhaka, Syedpur, Rangpur, Bogra and Khulna.
The film was shot from May to July earlier this year. “As the issue is a sensitive one many people were not as enthusiastic about the film as one might have expected thinking people to be,” -- Mokammel's observation.
The film marks the 60th anniversary of the Partition of India.

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