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Revelling in the Dhaka experience

  • Published at 09:45 pm February 8th, 2018
  • Last updated at 09:47 pm February 8th, 2018
Revelling in the Dhaka experience
Last month, International Film Critics Association of Bangladesh - IFCAB and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute organised an intense two-week long “8th Dhaka Cine Workshop.” After the screening of the workshop productions, we caught up with the workshop instructor, American director, Ovidio Salazar aka Abd al-Latif. In the audience at the screening, was none other than the Kolkata TV actor Shudeshna Roy, who was in Dhaka to show her film set in an old home - “Beche Thakar Gaan.” Salazar, who currently resides in London, is famed for producing BBC series “Faces of Islam” and “Hajj – Journey of a Lifetime.” As I was escorting Shudeshna from the Central Public Library to the National Museum, we could barely take two steps before fans came rushing in to take photos and selfies with their favourite Kolkata TV villain. It makes you wonder how “Game of Thrones” fans would behave around Lena Headey. After the closing ceremony of the 16th Dhaka International Film Festival, Shudeshna and Salazar were sitting side by side, discussing their time in Dhaka. This is when Showtime had a little chat with these two, where they expressed their thoughts on the workshop, its productions and (as Salazar puts it) the “Jadur Shohor” Dhaka.

What was your favourite film among the workshop productions?

Salazar: I’m a proud father. I’m not going to choose a favourite. Certain ones were closer to me because of the efforts that were involved in it and I know the struggles they had to overcome in order to make it. And they did a brilliant job. Shudeshna: For me, I just came in that day. I watched all of them. The first one that I remember is the one about kites (“Up on Roof”). So, that means it was a film that hits you. The other film that I remember is the street food one (“Food. Dhaka. Rasta”) and boxes (“Life in Box”). I loved these three. There’s another one on river (“Nodi Crying”), which I liked.

How did you like the level of enthusiasm and knowledge in the students?

Salazar: It’s like Farid Uddin Athar’s “Conference of the Birds” where all of the birds get together. It’s a poem by a Persian Sufi of the 12th century… Some give excuses that they’re really not cut out for the journey. Others say we’ll go off. Then they have their mishaps and their adventures. I basically set out to help them navigate the path. Some were more, in all frankness, committed and despite obstacles, were still dedicated. Filmmaking above all demands passion. You don’t get things made without the effort. You need time. In this situation, you only have two weeks. The clock is ticking onyou. It’s about pulling their resources and their expertise and sorting themselves out as groups. And that I thought was part of the learning process, for me. I mean I grew during it.

You had students from different countries. So, were there any unique qualities in the Bangladeshi ones?

Salazar: Every film was approached with a different perspective. I gave them time for thinking laterally. (I asked them) What are your inspirations for coming to Dhaka; what do you want to see? They came up with various ideas.

What were your impressions of Dhaka?

Salazar: This is my very first time in Dhaka. “Jaanjot” – you have to take into your stride. Yesterday was a Jummah day, it was very easy flow. You can appreciate it. I actually fell in love with the “Jadur Shohor,” the “Praner Shohor.” Shudeshna: It’s my fourth time in Bangladesh. The first time I ever visited Bangladesh, I didn’t come up to Dhaka. I only went upto Jessore and Chittagong. It was on the 19th of December 1971. Salazar:  Oh wow. Shudeshna: I was a student of class five. I came with the Indian BSF and the army. We came here to meet up with people and it was a heady feeling. I still remember, as a child, wherever we went people were saying “Joy Bangla” “Joy Mujibur Rahman.” It was really a feeling. I still remember there were parts where total anarchy had happened. And there were cars which were like car graveyards. I still remember the smell. Cause people have been killed, thrown into the ponds, still hadn’t been taken out. It was only on the 19th… We went to a mosque. We found a huge crowd outside. They were the Bangladeshi “Muktijoddhas.” Some of the Pakistani army has taken refuge inside the mosque. And they were all waiting for them to come out.

Because you wouldn’t kill in a mosque?

Shudeshna: You can’t kill in a mosque… At that time, for a normal man, you just want to kill, because they had done the same to you. You want to extract revenge. It was a big lesson for me when the army kept telling me “…The war is over. They’ve taken refuge. So, we have to rescue them.”

Then you visited again thirty years later. What do you think changed the most?

Shudeshna: After that, in 2001, I came again; then again in 2003. That’s when I came to Dhaka. The city reminds  me of my own city, Kolkata. Because this is one place you feel at home. Everybody speaks the same language as I. This time when I came to Dhaka, there are a lot of changes. You have a lot more flyovers now. But the traffic’s still the same, because you have cars and rickshaws on the same roads. They’re the ones who are moving slow. You have slow moving vehicles with fast moving vehicles. Salazar: It’s very creative driving. Shudeshna: In Kolkata also, we have very, very heavy traffic, but now because of the metro and one-way roads, there’s a little less traffic. Also, rickshaws are not allowed in the main roads. But you’ll get things done. You have a woman at the helm.
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