Tue Dec 11,2012
According to Dorothee Wenner, programmer of the Celebration of Indian Cinema segment at DIFF, directors from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are not isolated in their battle against big-budget commercial Indian films. “Several documentaries and independent films from within India face the same difficulties as the studio system is very strong,” she said. “Regionally, finding release slots and screens is problematic.”
The region’s film-makers also have to deal with their societies’ negative view of a film career. “A career in cinema was never considered respectable,” said Bangladeshi director Mostafa Sarwar Farooki (TELEVISION – Wednesday at 15:45, MoE 7). “I came from a pretty conservative family. There was no ‘weekly cine-watching culture’ in my family. There was no television set in our home even though we were one of the most well-off families in the locality and we were not even from a village… [but rather] we were in the heart of the capital city of Dhaka.” As a child, Farooki had to peek into his neighbour’s house for his dose of television, so when the time came, convincing his parents that he wanted to be a film-maker was not easy.
On the rise
And yet, the number of films emerging from the region is steadily on the rise. “India obviously has a very established and dominant film industry but for me, it’s very exciting to see that we have such strong films coming out from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and festivals are a place where the films can be celebrated in equal footing,” said Nashen Moodley, director of the AsiaAfrica programme.
“Bangladesh has built up [an active film] scene… Their main competition was from Kolkata [in India]…When the government enforced a ban on Indian movies (in a move to support the local industry), film-makers have benefited. Bangladesh’s audiences are movie-crazy and they like to watch movies in their own language,” said Wenner.
Farooki, who has played a key role in shaping and developing a local industry, and is a pioneer of the avant-garde film-makers’ movement called Chabial, has amassed a large following among the country’s youth through his real life storytelling approach. “Earlier, our films used to be imitations of Bollywood stories and these are now slowly losing their appeal. It’s a good sign for the mushrooming of new cinema on the big screen,” he said.
“We had a strong film industry in the 1970s-90s, but now, after the arrival of TV and internet, that’s not the case,” said Handagama.
However, Wenner is optimistic about the future of Sri Lankan film. “One has to consider that the island is recovering from a civil war,” she said.
“I enjoy being controversial. It’s interesting to push the borders and broaden the horizons. If I see something that needs to be told, then I will address that and bring it out.”
“I don't look for stories, rather stories arrest me. Bangladesh has a great mix of different cultures, beliefs and ideologies. Stories roam around us! I just pick them. I go for the stories which torture me – that trouble my sleep. Sometimes, it is the characters, who literally beg for a voice in my film. They roam around me in my conscious and sub-conscious [mind]. One thing I can say is I don’t like to sing the song which has been sung so many times before!”