On March 25 this year, director Afzal Hossain Munna shared a video message on Facebook declaring he would make a film on different kinds of harassment women face every day. He challenged three of his film-maker friends to do the same. A handful of those films premiered at the Central Public Library on Thursday evening. Directors Afzal Hossain Munna, Saki Farzana, and Ashikur Rahman shared their journey the day before with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Sadia Khalid
DT: Let us start with Munna Bhai. You first called for this movement by sharing a video on Facebook. After that the movement has progressed so much. Were you able to proceed as planned?
Munna: When we set the plan, it was not really a big issue. It was a simple plan which entailed the thought that something needs to be done about this (abuse of women). But that was not possible with just my own content. I was wondering how we could involve more film makers. At that time we did not have any notable work based on this issue. Therefore I started this challenge. I committed to making one film and challenged three filmmakers to do the same. They in turn could challenge three other people each. My idea was to spread or expand this for a multiplier effect.
DT: Last October the #MeToo movement gained worldwide momentum and your movement started at the end of March this year. Do you feel #MeToo impacted your challenge in any way?
Munna: Not at all. I don’t know if you remember from the video, but I did not just focus on rape. I also talked about how women are ignored, and how women are suppressed. Society suppresses them. Sometimes even women suppress women here. The idea was to create a discourse about all these issues. Another disturbing thing is that, we do not know how to talk to a woman. We do not know what actions are respectful, or what actions can be perceived as disrespectful. There needs to be a standard for this.
Rape has increased to a great extent here. When it happened in India, lots of content was made on this issue. That did not happen here. No artiste was doing anything. No maker was doing anything. No initiative was taken to sponsor such social content. From that observation, I wanted this (content challenge) to happen.
DT: Saki Apu, how did you join this movement?
Saki: When Munna Bhai declared in the video that he wants to start a movement like this, I took the challenge on my own. Nobody challenged me. I didn’t know where the financing would come from but I was determined to make something. If we get irritated by something, we give a status on Facebook and we feel like we did something. Nothing actually happens from this. There is no better way to express the problem of harassment besides films. With that frame of mind, I decided to join in.
DT: And Ashik Bhai. When did you join?
Ashik: I joined much later. I have been observing (the movement) through Facebook.
Since I have a minimum set-up from my work in television, one night I sat down to write the idea. The next morning I made the script and called the artistes. I am the last one who joined this movement.
DT: Why don’t we see more film movements in Bangladesh?
Munna: The thing about film movements is, if we were to talk about New Wave film movement, or European film movements, how did those things come to be? Critics wrote about studio films. Then they decided that they would make films as well, and they wanted to make them outside of the studio system. It is not like everyone is calling each other and planning to do it together.
DT: In “I stand for women,” why do we have just one woman filmmaker?
Saki: Well, I got interested initially, not because I was a woman film-maker. I wanted to speak as a human being. As for why I am the sole woman filmmaker in this movement, the truth is, female film-makers are fewer in number.
DT: Were most of the scripts written by men as well?
Ashik: Everybody wrote their own script.
DT: Will you try to involve more women filmmakers in the next premiere of the movement?
Saki: I believe that we should just try to involve film-makers in general. There shouldn’t be any reason to look specifically for female filmmakers.
DT: You will hold the premiere at the Central Public Library?
Munna: Yes. We are going to talk to some universities as well, to arrange screenings. There could be a screening in Kolkata as well.
DT: Did you initially target universities while starting the challenge?
Munna: Not at all. The plan was to make it a viral film making challenge. I would invite three people to make a film. And they would each invite three other people. At the time I thought it was a losing proposition, but things turned out well.
DT: How is the hashtag faring on social media?
Saki: It is doing really well. Everyone is sharing anything they have to say regarding this issue using this hashtag.
DT: Saki Apu, your film “The Park, the Bench and the Girl” is bold and it has a masturbation scene. Are you expecting any backlash or criticism because of it?
Saki: Yes. Obviously I probably wouldn’t have faced it if I weren’t a woman. The point is this is the reality. In my film, the park represents the world and the bench could be my office or my home.
The thing that I wanted to capture is the mindset with which a man objectifies a woman. It is not just about physical touch. It’s hard to forget the look in the eyes of the perpetrators.
I did an unofficial survey as to whether I should include the scene or not. 70% said yes, which is amazing.
DT: Ashik Bhai, in your film, you show a woman carrying a gun in her bag. Are you encouraging women to carry weapons through your film?
Ashik: The objective was to have the fantasy of confrontation. The intention was not to inspire everyone to carry a weapon. I wanted the abusers to imagine their mothers or sisters in place of the victim.
DT: I have not watched Munna Bhai’s film. Does it also tackle controversial topics?
Munna: Mine is the longest, as it is a 25 minute film. I tried to incorporate all the different issues that constitute sexual harassment of women. On the surface, the story is simply about a girl revolting against harassment. However, there are many subliminal messages as well.