Ours is a society of cultural amnesia, so it is not surprising that Alamgir Kabir is not a part of our usual reminiscences. However, some remember him as a filmmaker who ceaselessly tried to develop a proper film sense in a country that confuses celluloid theatre with film. Kabir was, in fact, more than a filmmaker—he was an activist and above all a prolific writer, something that many of his fans do not know.
Kabir wrote about filmmaking for newspapers at home and overseas—hardly surprising for a filmmaker who wanted a change, but he went even further as a majority of his writings aimed to contribute to the liberation of people at home and beyond.
A group of young enthusiasts, many of whom were infants when Alamgir was killed in a road accident in 1989, did the impressive work of collecting some of his write-ups and compiling them into a book called Challachchitra O Jatiya Mukti (Cinema and National Liberation). The outcome of the book is that for those of us afflicted with cultural amnesia, Kabir is born again and enters our consciousness once more.
We are more than our bodies. We expand our existence through our speech, work, and creations. The body disappears as death accomplishes its duty, but the expanded self stays here that others continue to encounter through observation. We observe a filmmaker through his films, and an author through the words he crafted before his body bade farewell. Challachchitra O Jatiya Mukti is a part of Kabir's extended self.
Challachchitra O Jatiya Mukti does not merely revive Kabir from an almost forgotten zone; his written words paint the image of a person whose prime mission was emancipation from political and cultural suppression in the context of our Liberation War and post-liberation Bangladeshi films. In 45 write-ups under six themes in two categories—articles, and speech and interview—he gives voice to the films and Bangladesh's Liberation War in a self-reflexive way.
Self-reflexivity bears emotion, pain, confusion and questions, and therefore Kabir writes: “I couldn't understand the Liberation War… I couldn't understand who villain the villain was and who was the hero in the Liberation War” (Page 202). Kabir's thinking is informed by European spirit of the 1960s—a mix of Sartrean existentialism and Marxian revolution, painted with Bergmanian cinematic vision. During his stay in England, he steered East Bangla Liberation Front—a platform to liberate Bangladesh through armed struggle. But unfortunately, what he experienced in post-liberation Bangladesh was a country contradicting his aspirations.
Kabir did not give up. He made films, organised training in film, wrote in different platforms on film, the Liberation War and culture in post-war Bangladesh. All he did was try to reverse the stream that was obstructing good for the country. To him, the film was a way to national liberation, and he never separated one from the other.
The editors of the book deserve high praise for collecting such rare writings—a painstaking endeavour in data mining—and for competently editing the information, much of which may not have been in proper form. Such editing competence is sporadic in Bangladesh. And the good news is that the editorial team has many more of Kabir's writings, which will appear in future volumes.
Challachchitra O Jatiya Mukti is a manifestation of Kabir's observations in print, although he had also presented his observations on the films he made, many of which are not available now.
The editors of the collection have made his observations available to us for our own observations. By observing Kabir's observation, we get a glimpse of a time that seemed to have been dead. Challachchitra O Jatiya Mukti is the resurrection of Alamgir Kabir, the man who dedicated his life for human emancipation, and thus by reappearing he is here to instil a good spirit in us one more time.
Anis Pervez is Additional Director, Dialogue and Communications, Centre for Policy Dialogue