The 1971 Liberation War is the most significant period of Bangladesh’s history. The nine-month long bloody war with Pakistan led to the independence of the nation. Bangladesh, like every other nation which has gone through warfare, has made many film’s to portray the struggle, losses, and achievements of the Liberation War. As it is a small developing nation, the country still has not produced large scale war films like the multi million dollar World War films of Hollywood or other western nations. Bangladeshi film-makers took a different approach and produced micro budget films focusing on certain aspects of its war for independence and sovereignty.
Most of the 1971 Liberation War films of the country had a male centric storyline, where the film directed and written by a male director had a male freedom fighter as its lead cast. The only exception which hit the mainstream was eminent film maker Nasir Uddin Yousuf Bachchu’s 10 National Film Award winning feature film, “Guerrilla,” which had acclaimed actor Jaya Ahsan in its lead role.
Yet, there is another star studded Liberation film, “Shilalipi,” directed by renowned screenwriter and Bangladesh’s first female feature film director, Shamim Akhter, which did not get as much attention at local box offices.
Shot on 16mm film, this was the second feature length film directed by a female film maker of Bangladesh. Her first feature film was another Liberation War film titled “Itihaas Konna-Daughter of History.”
I recently had the pleasure to watch “Shilalipi” and meet its director for a Q&A session at the capital’s Goethe-Institut on Sunday (March 17), and absolutely loved it.
The event was a part of Goethe-Institut Bangladesh’s “Through Her Eyes – A space to watch and discuss films with women filmmakers of Bangladesh,” in collaboration with International Film Initiative of Bangladesh (IFIB).
The film is a biopic of Selina Parvin, a writer and journalist whose body was found amongst the decapitated bodies of intellectuals at Rayer Bazaar, a day after Dhaka claimed victory in the 1971 war. It was shot in 2001 and its premiere was arranged at the capital’s Press Club in 2002. After many complications the film hit Bangladesh theatres in 2004.
In the film, Sara Zaker, who plays the lead role of Nasrin (adapted name of Selina Parvin), is a single mother raising a young child in Dhaka in 1971. She is a brilliant young woman who did not get a chance to complete her graduation and earns her livelihood by teaching and working as a copy editor at a newspaper. After her husband, an active communist leader played by Jayanto Chattopadhyay, leaves her when he gets to know that she is pregnant with his child she is given shelter by another middle aged communist activist whom she calls her Mama (uncle), played by renowned actor Aly Zaker, Sara Zaker’s husband in real life.
Popular actor Chanchal Chowdhury, plays the role of her brother, an active student activist in the ‘70s. He is the only family member she has, apart from her son, played by Jishnu Brahmaputra and Manosh Chowdhury, in two separate timelines.
Acclaimed actor and cultural personality Asaduzzaman Noor plays a young artist who works as a designer in the ad department of the same newspaper. Noor and Sara Zaker develop a friendship in the office and later on they start their own periodical named Shilalipi with articles and updates on the war. The local publication catches the attention of local Al-Badr members and she is abducted by the Pakistani military in front of her own seven year old son, played by the director’s own son, Jishnu Brahmaputra.
In a dual timeline film we see her grown son, played by actor, cultural activist and academician Manosh Chowdhury, who was brought up in an orphanage after the war, search for answers to why his mother had to go through this. “Shilalipi” starts with an unconventional way, breaking the barriers of fiction, non-fiction and adapted filmography, as Selina Parvin’s real son, Sumon, comes onto the screen and talks about his mother.
The screenplay of the film is beautifully written. Each of the masterclass actors performed better than each other. The film’s parallel storyline, its unconventional yet beautiful intro of the true story it is based on, the whole war depicted from a young and independent single mother’s perspective living in urban Bangladesh back in the ‘70s, has not only set standards for upcoming female filmmakers of Bangladesh, but for the whole war filmmaker community of our country. I would personally like to recommend the authorities showcase this beautiful piece of celluloid which portrays how women like Selina (or Nasrin) have sacrificed themselves and actively participated in Bangladesh’s liberation war with their intellect.
After the film was screened the film’s director came onto the stage and answered questions from the audience. Shamim Akther shared what challenges she faced as a female filmmaker who started her career in the ‘90s, how she did not have enough funding to shoot this film on 35mm film, and how hard it is to get financing and sponsors for films.
She told Dhaka Tribune’s Showtime that she wants to keep making films and is currently working on another film which is based on rape victims of the 1971 Liberation War.