When did you know you wanted to make a documentary on “war babies?”
Thirteen babies were born on the same day as me at the same hospital. I didn’t realize it then that it is a rare thing. Four or five of these babies were war babies.
On my birthdays, I always wondered what those 12 other babies are doing. How did they grow up? What are they doing?
Later when I chose filmmaking as my career, in 2004, I confirmed the info with a nurse. I searched for the war babies, especially those born in Holy Family. Ten years on, by the end of 2014, I found three war babies from Thakurgaon, Hobigonj and Canada.
What impact did you wish your film to have on their lives?
Documentary filmmakers don’t start filming with the impact in mind. It was like a journey. I tried to show my journey in this film.These 10-12 years of searching was a long struggle, as I couldn’t find these war babies. There were over 10,000, but they weren’t traceable.
The country their mothers sacrificed so much for didn’t recognize them. Everything we did in the Liberation War is glorified. Then why are war babies still neglected? Even their families or friends didn’t accept them
They didn’t have birth certificates mentioning their parents. They weren’t in a good state financially or mentally, from a political or human rights perspective.
The country their mothers sacrificed so much for didn’t recognize them. Everything we did in the Liberation War is glorified. Then why are war babies still neglected? Even their families or friends didn’t accept them.
What aspects of their lives did you explore in this documentary?
There were many layers in this documentary where I explore their relations with the state and with the world. It’s an anti-war document, not only for Bangladeshi women, but for any woman in any war.
Rape and war babies have become a part of war. I think it is a patriarchal weapon for warmongers to use “rape” and “loosing honour” synonymously. What was the crime of these women and their children?
Is it more relevant now with the Rohingya crisis and other refugee crises all over the world?
Relevance is what the audience will make of it. I had this thirst of knowing the answers. I followed these people for one year. I brought forward whatever I found in my investigation. How people will relate to it is up to them.
After I made the film, a lot of people came up to me and said they have a cousin or a relative who is a war child. I came to know many war children who are very successful all over the world. The fact that people could relate to the documentary and have a realization that this happened in our country is enough for me. If my thoughts touch anyone, my work is complete.
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Shabnam Ferdousi Saikat Bhadra
Do you want to make more documentaries about war babies, or as you call them, “victory babies?”
If I finish one movie, another movie occupies my mind. Many ideas for films run through my mind at the same time. Some take precedence over others. Something that’s negligible to you might be the object of my obsession.
There are so many faces of our Liberation War. There are more stories of Liberation War than can be told in a lifetime. I wonder why people say they can’t find stories to make films on. Aren’t we in touch with our people and our surroundings?
Do you have plans for theatrical or web release of “Jonmoshathi?”
We want to go for a web release. Since it’s not my copyright only, it’s owned by Liberation War Museum and Ekattor TV jointly. They definitely have a plan for its release. It might be Netflix or Bioscope.
It’s high time we arrange for a release. It’s been two years since it was made. These stories were buried for a long time. As a maker, I want people to watch it. Reaching the audience is my prime goal.
My son’s friends saw the film and said they didn’t know about this issue at all. Even I came to know about it when I was 20. If I didn’t read Nilima Ibrahim’s book “Ami Birongona Bolchhi,” I wouldn’t know about it.
What are you working on now?
I always need to make a documentary for my job every three to four months. I’ve made a few documentaries since “Jonmoshathi.” One was about the Korail slum fires. Another was about romantic relations of Dhaka residents.
I made one documentary about interpersonal communication in the age of social media. We’re all talking about issues, news and opinions, but we’re not sharing human emotions. We are all alone in this crowded city. Modern life has given us a lot of tools to communicate, yet we are losing our ability to connect. I’m doing a documentary series on this topic. It might turn into a longer form documentary in the future.
I will work in fiction soon. It will be a new battle. The story is about a rock star. We will shoot it at the end of the year.
Tell us about some of your notable documentaries in the past.
I’ve made about 35 documentaries. Most of these are shorter in length, but not less than 20 minutes. I have four one-hour documentaries. “Jonmoshathi” is 72 minutes long.
“Bhasha Joyita”(2008) about 1952 language movement was one of my most well-received works. I interviewed six living Language Movement veterans who were all women. I worked on it for one year.
“Bhubon Bhora Shukh” was about the theory and philosophy of Tagore songs. My 20 minute documentary “Ichchha Boshonto” (English: Spring of Desire)was the first documentary on hijras. My filmmaker friends and seniors like this work the most.
Has being a female filmmaker ever posed any challenge for you?
I have worked on many gender issues. Being a woman filmmaker has been helpful in this case. For instance, when I worked on domestic violence in 2004, I collected stories from all over the country. The women who have been tortured did not feel comfortable opening up to my male crew. There were times where it was only me, the interviewee and the camera in the room while my crew waited outside. Emotionally, we get better access to everyone, not just women.
We know it beforehand that we will run into certain troubles. However, I can confirm that after 18 years as a filmmaker, we do not have the same problems as we did before. We have different problems. When I started out, I was pampered. I can’t point a finger on any physical or verbal abuse, but I’ve seen the power of patriarchy and the politics behind it. I have realized that we have to carry on this war for the rest of our lives.