One of the most bankable stars of Bangladeshi film industry, Ilias Kanchan made his debut in 1977. After over four decades, he is still very much part of the industry. He has been a jury member at the 17th Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF). The Dhaka Tribune's Showtime's Faruque Ratul spoke to Ilias Kanchan just before the festival began
As a DIFF jury member based on what elements do you judge a film?
Actually, films have a different language. Even if you do not understand the dialogue, you can still understand what message the film is trying to convey. That "language" or message is created by the film directors and script writers. I have a lot of experience in films, as I have worked with many directors; worked in many films. So, I have the experience of understanding the language of a film. I also have the experience of being a film jury member. I have worked as a film jury for the Prothom Alo as well. I have judged Iranian films. Even if I did not understand the language of those Iranian films, I looked at the cinematography, the work given by the artistes, the shot-division of the directors and so on. Therefore, I use my experience of being an artiste of films to judge films whenever I am a jury member. I am also a producer of films and I have directed two of them.
Please share a memorable experience from one of the many film festivals you have attended in your career.
The last time I worked as a film jury before this was for the Rainbow Film Society. I watched this Iranian film "Papers." Right now, I have goose bumps while thinking about that film, which is easily a landmark of how much creativity one can show in terms of technical aspects of films. Even at Prothom Alo's film festival; I would not have probably seen amazing films on offer, if I did not work as a jury member. And, love for any art stays forever in one's mind. The opportunity to watch such films is actually a big take-away from being a film jury.
Another thing is that many international directors, producers and artistes attend film festivals. Therefore, it is an opportunity for local artistes to network with these people. There is exchange of philosophy and culture. Therefore, I think if there are more film festivals, and more people are able to attend them, only good things can happen.
What is your take on this practice of keeping mainstream films away from film festivals?
I think we, as film-makers, have created the distinction between "festival films" and "mainstream" films. If we were able to take both kinds of films to the people, then the distinction would not be seen. What I feel is that, be it film or TV program, this particular set of arts depend on practice or habit.
In Bangladesh we drink tea obsessively. However, there was a time when Bangladeshis did not drink tea. People from Ispahani used to make tea and give people samples for free. They also gave teabags for free to take home. Now, there are people in Bangladesh, who are crazy about tea.
Similarly, the mainstream commercial films are promoted in one way. We do not promote art films in the same manner. So, if we were able to promote these art films as mainstream films from the beginning, viewers would perceive them as such. If we were able to screen these films at a lower price, and made people habituated to watching them, then this distinction would not have happened. Maybe we should screen them for free. I feel we did not make our masses accustomed to such films. We created these categories with different names, and now we live by them.
Some would say, many directors are making films for the glory of being awarded at film festivals. Do you think there’s any truth to it?
I think there is some truth to it. As I have mentioned, people have created two categories of films in Bangladesh. One category of films is made just for those awards. They think that, if they work more on a story, or if they present the story in a different way, they will be able to win an award for it. The idea of making a film for the masses, that could also win an award, does not have much prominence. The people who are usually at jury boards are also responsible for spreading this mindset.
In Hollywood science fiction films, like “Star Wars,” are also winning awards. However, that kind of open and receptive mindset is not so popular in the film jury boards of this country.
Many film-makers and artistes alike have expressed concerned about the current state of Bangladesh’s film industry. What is your take on this?
To be honest, I am very worried about this. From a number of 1400 cinema halls of Bangladesh, there are now 300 left. And most films are not making enough business to even reach break-even. If there is no return on investment, then producers who make films cannot continue to do so. There were some legends among producers, who made films one after the other. They produced films for a long time. Now, you will not see them.
What happens now is that people, who have “floating” money, come in, make a film and then leave. Film directors are constantly searching for people like them. They make another film after convincing the financier for a long time. If the film is hit, then the financier or producer gets interested enough to make couple more films. For example, Square made two or three films. However, you must notice the time taken to make those films. Those films did well in the box office, but where is the next set of films by Square. A proper film producer should at least have one or two films in their credit every year. If this is the scenario, then how will the industry survive?
There is a lack of professional producers. The industry people are failing to hold onto their professionalism, as the producers are not being able to earn any profit. Therefore, the cinema halls have reduced in numbers.
I think the government also has a responsibility to help the film industry flourish. If some regulations were in place, this situation would not have arisen. If someone wants to make a shopping mall, that is fine. But instead of getting rid of the big cinema hall entirely, they could make two or three small cinema halls on the top floor of the mall. These regulations were missing.
Another thing that should be considered is that even if we are a small country we have a large population. The market is large. The number of film consumer is large. Hence, the neighboring countries have always wanted to sell their products here. Before 1971, even Pakistani films were made to market in Bangladesh. After the liberation, Bangabandhu set regulations in place to protect the domestic film market. However, those same regulations were violated and undone later by politicians.
Film personalities like us have suggested to the government many times, that you should not give out meaningless aid and grants to film-makers. Instead of that you can choose to give monetary rewards to 10 films out of a 100 that may get released in a year. If 100 directors see that they can earn a monetary reward for a good quality film, then they will try to make their films more tasteful. They will try to focus on the art of making films. Artistes would want to perform better for that reward. However, these things do not happen. Bangladesh’s film industry is like a neglected orphan. Bangabandhu was the last guardian. Now there is none. Just as an orphan is given a little bit of charity, the film industry received charity from here and there, and reached its current state. Those who wanted to do business with it instead of art did so.