Honouring mother languages is an excellent initiative any day of the year, even if it takes place only on International Mother Language Day. The Bangla Language Movement paved the way for languages to be recognized and given special respect.
As part of many diverse efforts to respect mother languages, RTV will be premiering a telefilm called “Oshomoy” directed by Tuhin Hossain starring Mehazabien Chowdhury and Shajal. Mehazabien’s previous pairing with Shajal saw her play a victim of sexual violence.
Typecast in another role subject to abuse, Mehazabien is set to play a Chakma girl who marries into a Bangali family and is forced to neglect her native roots. She is often confronted with outbursts of downright racism – like when her mother-in-law turns up her nose at her cooking.
“Ki ranteso? Eto bod gondho!”
You would think it looks all clean and good on paper, except that Mehazabien does not remotely look like she is a member of any indigenous community, much less the largest group - Chakma.
Rather, the effort to make her resemble indigenous groups with eye makeup and giving her bangs is stereotype at its finest.
So when two women tell her she speaks Bangla as well as a native, it is hard to take it seriously, given that a person who looks very much like a Bangali, will of course speak Bangla like one. The inanity of this effort can be likened to the culture of whitewashing in the west. The trend of whitewashing is a cornerstone of Hollywood and has only been vocally criticized throughout the past decade.
Casting a Bangali actor to play a member of an indigenous community does not achieve the goals of the telefilm. The discrimination faced by the indigenous people in Bangladesh is very real, even if it is to the chagrin of many of our readers. Mehazabien is a talented actor, but she cannot be taken seriously as a Chakma girl.
The question at the heart of this article - why not have an actor from the indigenous communities play the role?
The Dhaka Tribune reached out to the director, Tuhin Hossain, who said his original idea called for an indigenous actor, but his telefilm was rejected by all other TV channels before RTV picked it up. The issue of indigenous languages was considered particularly sensitive to broadcast, especially on International Mother Language Day, coaxing Tuhin to oblige RTV’s recommendations – primarily have a renowned actor with an established fanbase play the lead role.
It is important to note that in a world changing towards more and more progressive ideals, indigenous characters can be best represented by indigenous people. The situation of the TV industry in Bangladesh reflects that we have yet to eliminate the prejudice rooted in society. A faux representation for the sake of representation alone does nothing to honour indigenous groups, indigenous languages and the International Mother Language Day.