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In conversation with Mrittika Kamal

  • Published at 07:27 pm March 8th, 2018
  • Last updated at 05:29 pm March 27th, 2018
In conversation with Mrittika Kamal

How did you end up in filmmaking?

My mother bought me a DSLR camera as a gift in 2012, when I got accepted by IBA’s BBA program. In the meantime, I became a member of Dhaka University Film Society. After a few days with the camera and film society, I started to like my camera more than IBA, which had once been a cherished ambition. Eventually, I left IBA and got admitted into ULAB’s Media Studies and Journalism program to pursue what I am really passionate about and to date, I don’t regret it. This is pretty much how I started to make films.

Do you face any obstacles at work because you are a woman?

The main obstacle that almost all of the women involved with the media industry (including me) face, is the common social perception about media. Be it radio, television or any other sort of media, the popular perception is somewhat negative. Other than that I don’t think I have been discriminated much for my gender. But that doesn’t mean that no woman does. I think I am being spared because of my personality and integrity toward my duties. Moreover, since I am a woman and I often have to stay outside and return late night from shooting, I got married a little earlier to avoid the gossip and speculation. Nothing blocks my way to pursue my dreams and my parents get a sense of relief and security.

Apart from filmmaking, you have travelled to different corners of the country to capture the lives of various minority communities. How was your experience? Have you ever felt insecure or uncomfortable?

Honestly speaking, according to the popular perception, only a man can be a photographer or cinematographer, but woman with a camera is a rather rare sight. When I am working alongside a male photographer, the male one often runs out of subjects, because all of his potential subjects are busy watching what I am doing there! However, there are also many cooperative people as well. I did feel insecure numerous times, especially when I work in religiously conservative areas since I don’t fall within their acceptable criteria of women. But in general, most of the rural people of this country are really gentle and tolerant. I have worked on around 20 ethnic communities living around the country, including the Dalits, the Horizon, and the Bede community. Initially, I was just photographing them but then I started to make documentaries on the communities and issues pertaining to their rights. My journey with these communities for the last five years has changed my perception of life.

What kind of characters and stories would you like to see more of in film and on TV? Is there any area that you believe is being overlooked?

Obviously the representation of women in media runs parallel to the social attributes imposed on them. I would definitely want to change this scenario. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be in the Zee Bangla way, where they are brought out of one traditional role and another one is imposed on them. The representation hereof is very negative in a sense and I think there is a lack of positive stories in today’s media. There should be more stories about communities like the Jolodash which will in fact help them transform their life in many ways. Only the media can catch the attention of humanitarian agencies by projecting the sufferings of these people. While paying a pre-production visit to Dinajpur, I came to know about a project on the transgender people living in that area and saw that they are being trained as makeup artists, which is undoubtedly a great initiative. But after their training is complete, how many people are actually going to take service from them? There is another project I know about the Bede people, where some of the young members from the community are being trained as professional drivers. Again, how many of us are going to recruit them as our drivers? I don’t think the number will be high as the popular attitudes towards these people are usually not welcoming. This is the gap that only media can meet. Be it through films, news articles or TV programs, they can bring these wonderful initiatives forward and pave the way towards greater inclusion. On another note, I work on taboo issues. I made a film on marital rape and showed it to some people around me and the most popular comment I got after screening the film is ‘this is a little extreme and you should skip this part.’ Now, I know it’s not just about their perception; they were speaking on behalf of the majority of viewers in Bangladesh, who decline to see those things in a film. My question as a filmmaker is: how am I supposed to tell a story if I can’t show how it needs to be shown? If I want to make a film on the “Birangana” women and I am not allowed to portray rape in the film, how am I supposed to depict their sufferings? I want to make stories about male victims of child sexual abuse, another issue which is deliberately overlooked by us.

What are you up to nowadays? What are the plans for future?

I am trying to establish a platform called ‘Short Circuit,’ through which I plan to inspire young, aspiring filmmakers struggling to work. I am providing both technical and skill-building support to them. The first group of film enthusiasts has already started working under the project. With Chhabir Haat gone, street art no longer exists in the country. The galleries and art platforms have become hub for only the rich people. Middle and lower middle class can barely gather the courage to get into one of those galleries. I would say art in this country has become the property of the elites. With my main venture, Terracotta Creatives, I am trying to bring it to the mass again. We have an art wing and we are planning to arrange twelve events throughout this year mostly dealing with public art. We will organize a number of art camps, workshops and open exhibitions under the project. The disadvantaged communities that are living in some part of the country are suffering from issues which may seem pre-historic to us city-dwellers. There is a community of fishermen called ‘Jolodash’ who fish in the deep sea. These simple fishermen are being enslaved for generations by some ‘Mohajon’ (moneylenders). Similarly, tea workers in the Sylhet region are also being financially and socially handicapped by a similar group of people, who are relentlessly blocking their road to social and financial development. I want to bring the appalling reality of their lives out in the open. As you know, these kinds of projects need proper monetary, and organizational patronizing, and sadly people now-a-days seem to only care about what’s trending and what’s hit. They don’t care about what these disadvantaged people are going through. This is the urban truth. Aside from this, I am working on a script on the transgender people of the country, while also making a documentary on the Rohingya community. There are also some other issues including, fundamentalism and drugs abuse, I am interested to work on. But as I said earlier, funds for projects like these are quite inadequate. However, if anybody feels the same about the issues I want to work on, I can be reached at [email protected]