Saad’s micro-budget film brought groundbreaking achievement to the Bangladeshi fiction film scene for the first time, but these credentials must not have been good enough for our film theatre owners
The internationally acclaimed film “Live From Dhaka,” directed by Bangladeshi film-maker Abdullah Mohammad Saad, was definitely one of the most anticipated films among Bangladeshi film enthusiasts in recent times. Amid the hype on social media since 2016, the film was finally released on Friday in only one theatre in Bangladesh.
Recent media reports suggest that the film, produced by Shamsur Rahman Alvy, Imtiaz Bijon Ahmed, and Arifur Rahman for Khelna Chobi, did not get bookings in any other local theatres as the film did not feature any popular film stars in its cast. Yet the film managed to secure the Best Actor and Best Director awards at the Singapore International Film Festival, and participated in the competition segment of numerous international film festivals around the globe, including the renowned International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
Saad’s micro-budget film brought groundbreaking achievement to the Bangladeshi fiction film scene for the first time, but these credentials must not have been good enough for our film theatre owners. Bangladesh Motion Picture Exhibitor Association officials even said at a recent press conference that they will start a strike from April 12, by closing every cinema hall in Bangladesh, due to the lack of quality films.
Having become curious due to the brilliantly cut trailer of “Live from Dhaka” released in 2016, I could not wait for the film to hit Bangladeshi theatres. As soon as they were available online; five of my friends and I booked tickets for the first show on Friday morning. The morning show was a full-house and, according to the Star Cineplex online booking site, the entire first day was sold out. Some of my other friends could not book their tickets, such was the demand.
Although “Live From Dhaka” is Saad’s directorial debut, the beautiful craftsmanship of the screenplay, visuals, and editing suggests otherwise. The star of the noisy, black and white film, actor Mostafa Monwar who plays the role of Sajjad, steers the audience right into the dark and grungy side of the Bangladeshi capital.
Sajjad is 30 years old, unemployed, has to use a crutch, and is in persistent pain due to an accident he had been in earlier in his life. Throughout the film, he tries his best to escape the shackles of the urban middle-class in Dhaka.
Although Saad showed his finesse by serving us with one of the most exciting and thought provoking local films to hit theatres in recent years, the film failed to meet my admittedly high expectations in certain areas. The brilliant trailer may have oversold the film a little, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
One major turnoff was the terrible acting by some of the actors, particularly when juxtaposed with the brilliance of the lead cast. Apart from Mostafa Monwar and Tasnova Tamanna, who played the role of Sajjad’s girlfriend Rehana, the actors did not seem to try their best and some of the lines did not seem genuine upon delivery.
However, the biggest disappointment was the sound quality of the film. While budget constraints were an issue, with the film produced for under Tk15 lakh, an hour and a half of bad audio is still difficult to endure.
The film did not have surround sound and the stereo mix was awful. At some points the audience in the back rows with me could not hear the dialogue, and in other parts it was so loud that it hurt my ears.
The Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR), commonly known as dubbing, of the film was also painful to consume. The dialogue was rarely off sync, but no loudness metering seemed to be involved. Every sequence, whether it was in Sajjad’s car, on a busy street, or in his room, had the same fall off, echo and reverb. This was a bit of a nightmare, and took away from the stunning visuals shot by Tuhin Tamijul.
In addition, the lack of music throughout the film struck some as odd, but I personally loved this brave stylistic choice by the director.
Overall, the film was a delight and never dropped its pace for even a single frame. The audience were kept guessing until the very last scene. I may have been disappointed by poor audio and bad acting, but “Live from Dhaka” has established its own original cinematic language in a country that was longing for it. I urge everyone to go and watch this piece of visual poetry on the big screen, and I am eagerly awaiting Saad’s next venture. Hopefully, the next film will be given proper financing.
Khelna Chobi, the production company behind the film, may have just ushered in a new wave of independent film in Bangladesh.
Siam Raihan is a film editor and a sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune’s Showtime Desk