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  India   All India  08 Feb 2018  Dhaka fest: A good variety, many Indian films, but much better facilities needed

Dhaka fest: A good variety, many Indian films, but much better facilities needed

Published : Feb 8, 2018, 1:37 am IST
Updated : Feb 8, 2018, 1:37 am IST

The Festival had various other sections- Children, Spiritual, Asian Competition, Shorts and Docus.

Festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal addresses the opening ceremony.
 Festival director Ahmed Muztaba Zamal addresses the opening ceremony.

I almost thought I was at the Calcutta International Film Festival, when I attended the Dhaka International Film Festival, last month, with its large number of Bengali films, loud use of the Bangla language, ludicrous traffic, lethal fish curry.

The “Indian” curator of the festival  was from Kolkata, and it was not a coincidence that many of the Indian films selected, were from Kolkata too, in order to reach out to the Bengali-speaking audiences of Bangladesh. The big stars came from Kolkata as well — director Aparna Sen, actor Parambrata Chattopa-dhyay.

The founder-director of the Dhaka Film Festival, Ahmed Muztaba Zamal, has been running the festival for more than two decades, with a small team and a miniscule budget.

He did not seem keen to discuss it, but the biggest disadvantage of the Dhaka Film Festival was the lack of a multiplex-cinema and digital projection facilities.  The city has the impressive “Star” multiplex cinema, and some Festival screenings were held there. But they were ticketed, unlike the “free” screenings at the stand-alone halls of the National Museum, Public Library, Alliance Francaise, Russian Centre.

However, these are old halls, with old facilities, and right from the Opening Film, the projections left much to be desired.

I was also surprised to see Turkish, not Bengali sub-titles, in the Opening film!

 filmmaker Aparna Sen with Indian high commissioner Harsh Shringla.Filmmaker Aparna Sen with Indian high commissioner Harsh Shringla.

For a country that is so proud of its language, especially as they had fought so hard to implement  it, this was the most surprising feature of the Festival.

Budget problem, again.

When one saw the huge government-attendance at the opening (with speeches longer than in IFFI, Goa), the active involvement of a state minister as the chief patron of the festival, one wondered why these issues are not addressed.

It was heartening to know that a big sponsor of the film festival, was the Indian high commission, led by the dynamic Harsh Shringla (who was earlier, ambassador to Thailand, and organised two “Festivals of India” here, in less than two years). He was proud that as many as 26 Indian films were screened at this year’s Dhaka Film Festival!

Among these films, was the small and enjoyable indie debut film Love and Shukla, that is creating waves on the Festival circuit, as well as Tope, by established film-maker Buddha Dasgupta.  The others included Agam by Sumit Mishra, Lady of the Lake by Haobam Paban Kumar, The Song of Life by Abhijit Guha and Sudeshna Roy.

Well-known Karnataka filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli was on the Asian Films Jury, and it was interesting to learn that his daughter Ananya Kasaravalli is also a film-maker, whose debut movie Chronicles of Hari was screened at the Dhaka festival.

On the one day that I found time to watch movies, they were all Bengali films from Kolkata!

These included Aparna Sinha’s talky chamber-tale Sonata, daughter Konkona Sen’s thought-provoking domestic drama Death in the Gunj, Modhurima Sinha’s poetic essay on loneliness Talking of Michelangelo, film critic Ratnotamma Sengupta’s tribute to her director-father, Nabendu Ghosh who worked closely with Bimal Roy- And they made Classics.

Three top women film artistes from Bangladesh at the film festival.Three top women film artistes from Bangladesh at the film festival.

There were projection problems again, and film-maker Modhurima Sinha informed that the technical format of her film was wrong. Konkani Sen’s Death in the Gunj was a shocking ‘Screener’ copy!

These films were part of a big section on Women’s Cinema, which was an important section of the Festival, and included movies like Letter to the President by Afghanistan’s first female filmmaker Roya Sadat, Untaken Paths by Iran’s best-known woman director Tahmineh Milani, The Seven Veils by famed Paris-based Iranian lady-director Sepideh Farsi.

The talented ‘new’ female names were first-time directors Emtyaz Almograbi from Palestine (Detention) and Tayana Zhukhova from Russia (Confessions of a Misanthrope), Devaki Bista from Nepal (In search of Devaki) and environment activist Teena Kaur Pasricha from India (The Woods are calling).

The Festival had various other sections- Children, Spiritual, Asian Competition, Shorts and Docus.

It also had an important Women’s Conference. Considering that the ‘Me Too’ movement has just started in the West,it was impressive to learn that this Conference has been existence for four years, at the Dhaka Film Festival.

But frankly speaking, I felt that two whole days was too long for a Conference, at a film festival, especially as it prevented one from seeing more movies, including the important ‘Women’s Cinema’ section.

I had not heard of most of the women-speakers, but Indian filmmaker Aparna Sen’s participation lifted the level of the conference. However, Oriya artiste Bijaya Jena’s presence was surprising, considering she had made only one film, way back in 1992, and she could not talk of anything beyond that!

What disappointed me about the Conference, was that the ‘feminist’ speakers still harped on the numerous ‘inequalities’ of women, rather than their amazing ‘achievements’. Many women film artistes agreed with me, including the talented women film-artistes from Bangladesh, like Bipasha Ahmed and Bonna Mirza.

It was a pity that I could not see enough movies from Bangladesh, especially as the festival had big focus on the cinema of the country. I heard a lot about Haldaa by Tauquir Ahmed, Death of a Poet by Abu Sayeed, Rina Brown by Shameem Akthar.

I was also sorry I could not see cult director Mustofa Sarwar Farooki’s much talked-about film with Irfaan Khan,‘ No Bed of Roses.’ But he was proud that he had completed one more film- ‘Saturday Afternoon’, based on the shocking terrorist attack on a popular cafe in Dhaka.

“ It’s an intense, one-shot film!”  exclaimed Farooki.

I also missed the presence of well-known actress Rokeya Prachy, but she was busy with her new political career, where she was standing for elections, from President Sheikh Hasina’s party .

There were about 100 foreign film guests at the Dhaka Film Festival (including a large delegation from Iran),  most of whom had been there before, and shared a closeness and camaraderie that was unique to the festival.

Aparna Sen said her trip to Dhaka was sentimental, as her father was born in Chittagong. It was this air of warm sentimentality that was the highlight of the festival

There were social functions every evening, where old friendships were strengthened, and new ones formed. I encountered   film-makers from ‘Russian’ countries I’d never heard off before- Tarkastan, Bashkortostan!

I met an independent Italian film-maker Tommaso Cotronei who shot his highly watchable film Blood and the Moon, in the Taliban-country of Yemen, and young Australian director Tim Barretto who made his debut- film Aceh-Beyond the Tsunami, in the tsunami-hit region of Indonesia.

 The latter film was part of the unique ‘Spiritual’ section of the Festival, where the Dhaka Film Festival collaborated with the Inter Religious Faith Festival in Italy.

Festival director Ahmed travels widely to pick up a good ‘quantity’ of movies for the various sections of his festival. It is now important for  him to focus on ‘quality’ projections, so that the Dhaka International Film Festival could lift its level. That is the only way  Bangladesh’s only international  film festival will be on par with the other major film festivals in the Asian region.

The festival’s aims are big, and they had a lofty theme, this year- ‘Better films, Better audience, Better Society’. I would add ‘ Better Screening Facilities’ for next year.

Tags: aparna sen, calcutta international film festival, dhaka international film festival