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700 Taka and the evolution of Nuhash Humayun’s short films

  • Published at 04:38 pm September 20th, 2018
WT_Sep 20_2018
Photo: Courtesy

Hopelessly broke, what's a young man to do when he's got a date?

The first work of Nuhash that I watched was Hotel Albatros. With all its flaws and widespread criticisms, I was still blown away with his fresh approach to storytelling. I shared the link with my co-writers (screenwriters I collaborate with). Unfortunately, they couldn’t watch it, as it could only be streamed in Bangladesh.

I searched YouTube to see if there were any other shorts by this novice director. Dhaka Pocalypse popped up on the BongoBD channel and my suspicions were confirmed. He does, in his own style, represent a social and intellectual class whose stories have been marginalized by the overwhelming wave of “khaet” (excuse my French) dramas that get million plus views. 

Paper Frogs, however, didn’t resonate with me on any level. I believe it wasn’t the director’s intention to appeal to the masses. Although I couldn’t quite decipher how small a niche he was targeting with this one, it came across as an honest and personal work. I should put out the disclaimer here that I only watched those short films once and with no intention to critique them. 

Then came 700 Taka, a romcom. Watching the trailer, I was excited of course, but apprehensive of whether Nuhash was entering the typical “Bangla Natok” territory out of peer pressure or commercial considerations.

The film follows a hopelessly broke young man (Pritom Hasan), who has a date with a beautiful girl (Sabila Nur) he is trying to impress. It’s the end of the month and he only has 700 taka left in his pocket. Now, at the dreaded date, he desperately tries to constrict the restaurant bill within that pitiable amount. 

The most noticeable aspect of this film, to me, was the style. It felt like the launching of a brand after a few test runs. 

When Pritam’s character sees the price tag on the imported water bottle, he screams, “O Khoda” (Oh God). We hear the scream while a montage of master shots takes us further and further away from the restaurant, into the mountains, as if his scream can be heard in the mountains from where the spring water claims to have been collected. It’s a good example of how 700 Taka gives the audience “two plus two,” and instead of four, provides them with opportunities to connect the dots.

The film ultimately hit a home run with its tight pacing. This is an area that Bangladeshi film-makers, more often than not, miserably fail at, making the audiences fidget in their seats waiting for the narcissistic rant to be over. While everyone is busy trying to get their long poetic Wong Kar-wai shots, Nuhash’s film, was cut really fast, almost like a music video at times. 

The performances of 700 Taka were super natural (pun intended). Every single character came across as believable. The two non-professional actors who stood out the most were Pritam, the lead, and Asif Zaman, who plays the grumpy waiter. 

However, no film is without its flaws. I enjoyed the film so much that I had to watch it a second time to remind myself of the flaws. The long single shot of Pritam and Sabila’s first meeting when he picks her up for the date, has some repetitive dialogue.  

Sabila telling Pritam: “You order like a girl,” doesn’t make sense. This might be the “woke” critic in me speaking, but that’s uncalled-for sexism. In any case, we don’t need the media to point out one more thing that girls do wrong in public. 

It was a relief to see the film didn’t compromise with quality to get more views. I would love to claim that the short film went viral, but iflix couldn’t yet give me a number reflecting how the film was received by the audience. 

Recently, there has been an outbreak of short films in Bangladesh. But only a handful of those are entertaining. 700 Taka would fall into the latter category. For people who are fed up of consuming foreign content all the time, I recommend 700 Taka for 17 minutes of pure, light, Bangla entertainment.