When will our stories teach the world?
“Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire -- it tells you how to desire”
- Slavoj Žižek, 2009
Cinema can be an effective medium in understanding how politically strong or weak a certain country is. It is important to take into consideration how your neighboring country represents you in their cinema, drama, or art culture.
It is also apposite to pay attention on whether your country is being able to counter these depictions through similar forms of art.
We have been considering cinema as a harmless mode of entertainment. We have not yet been able to consider the role of cinema in creating public opinion or reforming the thought process of the masses.
Of course, it is crucial to develop our hard power through investment in guns and weaponry. But in this era of complex geo-politics, as a 48-year-old country, should we not pay heed to the significance of soft power as well?
Ever since the Holey Artisan incident, global propaganda machines have been very persistent in depicting Bangladesh as a terrorist state.
Cinema is probably the most powerful weapon in making that propaganda successful.
Almost all cinema lovers are aware of how Indian cinema misrepresents Bangladesh.
It is not possible to take each of these cinemas for such dissection. As such, I want to focus on one particular Telugu film, Goodachari, released this year.
This film is a textbook example of how Indian films depict Bangladesh as a country that is inferior, lacks communal harmony, and cultivates terrorism.
Watching this film, any non-Bangladeshi will come to believe that Chittagong is a haven for terrorists, training their children to become terrorists who want to avenge India. The purpose being to eliminate India and then unite Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan as a Muslim caliphate.
This is not where the misrepresentation ends. An abundance of weapons are hidden in the ramshackle houses in Chittagong. Roadside DVD shops offer porn to visitors. Female officers in the sea port arrival office are clad in burkhas.
Men in beards and the Islamic caps are to be seen in offices, streets, and even on the beach. This is how our ethnic identity is portrayed.
On the contrary, India and RAW is depicted as being patriotic, high-tech, and peace loving, with Bangladesh and Pakistan being nothing more than perilous neighbors.
We should not underestimate this film just because it’s South Indian. South Indian cinema is now the most popular and easiest available form of entertainment across the country, thanks to Hindi dubbing.
Goodachari has gone on to earn more than Rs35 million on a Rs6 million budget.
The sooner we recognize the political intent of these films, the quicker can we respond. Of course, it all depends on how cognizant our state mechanisms and film-makers are regarding the construction, reconstruction, and publicity of our national identity.
Directors might ask how they can make political movies in this country with the basics of this industry leaving a lot to be desired. Such is our national misfortune.
Millions are spent in infrastructural development in this country, and yet, is it too difficult to spend a million in an incubation project for the infrastructural development of cinema halls and the reconstruction of our film industry’s future.
A regrettable reality is that the best film-makers of our country have become full-time ad makers to make their ends meet. But we have a large number of young creators in our country who are deeply conscious about international politics and are determined to preserve their national dignity in this era of global cinema.
The government needs to take up a long-term project if they want to establish the industry.
It is not very politically judicious to build thousands of bridges, flyovers, and parks while leaving it upon the international hegemony to represent our national identity.
Of course, both are important in their respective ways. But it is necessary to fix the future of our culture before we step into our 50th year.
Our history of political struggle, secularism, cultural plurality, and cricket, the success stories of our women, the stories of our entrepreneurs, the bravery of our police and soldiers, the persecution at our borders -- when will these narratives reach the world?
Md Nazmul Arefin is a teacher and researcher.