With fake ghosts and crossdressing, the tone of the film dwindled into indeterminate, between drama and comedy
“Fagun Haway” (In Spring Breeze) has now been running in theatres for the fourth consecutive week. What is it about the film that is pulling in audiences since its release on February 15? In a special screening last week, I watched the film with the cast, the crew, and the director himself, at Jamuna Blockbuster to see what it was all about. What followed confirmed my suspicions about the film championing entertainment over history.
In 1952 Khulna, a rich Hindu girl, Dipti (Nusrat Imrose Tisha), and a Dhaka University student, Nasir (Siam Ahmed), fall in love while the town around them falls apart at the brink of the language movement. A determined Pakistani police commander (Yashpal Sharma) reprimands everyone who speaks Bangla, including the bird that sings “Bou Kotha Kou,” the title of Tito Rahman’s short story the film is based on.
Writer/director Tauquir Ahmed has often said that this is neither a historical document nor a documentary; it’s a fiction aimed at amusing viewers. However, when the backdrop is as important as the language movement, it is not wrong for audiences to demand more weight or substance to the story and its characters.
There were scenes and set pieces that pulled at the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and catapulted us out of 1952 straight into 2019. Simple things like a common Jordana lipstick or a Deshal saree could easily be replaced by something lesser known or customized. The aristocratic world Tisha and Abul Hayat live in had no trace of 50s Khulna, from its modern mosaic floors to the single panel doors.
There’s a thin line between writing humour into drama and writing comedy. With fake ghosts and crossdressing, the tone of the film dwindled into indeterminate, between drama and comedy.
Tisha and Siam’s characters become secondary to Yashpal Sharma’s character, whose deepest desire is to see Urdu declared as the only state language in Pakistan, a strange selection for the central character. Furthermore, Dipti’s motivation to join the language movement is oddly ambiguous. When she asks her father to let her join her friends in the movement, one wonders whether her primary interest is not simply to spend more time with her love interest, Nasir.
However, one must applaud the director for having the courage to take on a story set in such tempestuous times. There hasn’t been any other major feature film on this movement despite its mammoth contribution to our independence and our national identity. The director did not inject any overt political motivation or agenda in the film, which is admirable in itself these days.
Another commendable aspect of the film is its intention to connect with the average, common, mass audience. It wasn’t made for cultural elites or film connoisseurs. The primary objective of making the film was to entertain, not to please critics or win self-affirming awards.
Since the director received widespread renown in the international arena with his last two films (“Oggatonama” and “Haldaa”), “Fagun Haway” may not live up to expectations. But, to future filmmakers, this film will certainly serve as an example of how much more time and effort needs to be put into making a historical fiction, especially when the whole world is watching.