Popular Bangladeshi filmmaker Abrar Athar's short film, Life in Other Words, had created a buzz in the international film arena last year, and it had participated and won awards in various film festivals around the globe. After completing a long successful run in the film festival circuits, the film was released on Amazon Prime, Vimeo on demand, Roku, and Shorts TV. The acclaimed director recently sat down with the DhakaTribune Showtime's Siam Raihan, and talked about the film’s upcoming release on YouTube
As a young filmmaker you have reached a huge number of festivals around the globe. How was that experience?
My point wasn’t to make it to the festivals, my point literally was so that everybody could enjoy it. But of course international festival approvals are a huge honour, which means even critics claimed that the film was good. Our main intention was to reach bigger audiences around the globe. We have done that.
Out of all the art forms, why did you get into films?
I used to play music before. I played the drums. Composition wise if you look at all the adverts I directed, I really focus on the music, and it is very different than other local ads. So, what film did is, it expanded my medium. I can communicate with my audience more easily. That’s why I moved to film. Everything I do is very structured. I like to follow all the grammar, and rules. I believe our brain is, kind of, trained that way, and it communicates best in that way. Like in this short film (Life in Other Words) it is a fun short film with a social commentary. Like how women are treated in Dhaka’s public transport, how kids are always pushed for their studies, and how a middle income family struggles to survive in this city. But all of this was presented in a fun way so people can connect, and relate to it. That’s why I love this medium so much.
What is your take on the Bangladeshi film industry?
I am really hopeful about Bangladesh’s film industry, because young filmmakers like Abdullah Mohammad Saad, Nuhash Humayun, Tahsin Rahman, and many more are doing excellent work. On the other hand Adnan, Amitabh bhai, Sumon bhai, Piplu Bhai are also doing great work. Whether or not more cinema halls or multiplexes gets built, with the rise of internet streaming platforms we should all get together, and focus our energy on making more fictions. Most importantly telling authentic Bangladeshi stories. Films should be a representation of you. I think that is how humans or a human race evolves, through storytelling.
Young filmmakers of Bangladesh often complain that there is more investment in our advertisement industry rather than fictions. So how can a film industry run without proper investment in this arena?
I think this struggle of a filmmaker should help these people. It’s not like that investors in Hollywood are sitting with money, and ready to invest in your film. No! That is not the case. I think if the advert industry in Bangladesh is getting bigger then it is a great platform for young storytellers to perfect their craft. The great thing about this genre is that it is a micro-format of storytelling. Advertisements won’t make you a bad filmmaker. Every major filmmaker are working in advertising as well. One thing I always say to my assistants, and teammates that if you are a filmmaker you need to be dying to tell a story. Whether it is through advertising or whichever format suits you. They need to have that dying urge.
What are the upcoming fictions in your pipeline?
I have quite a few ideas in the pipeline and working on its scripts. It is a bit heavy so that’s all that I will say. But I am very picky about my team. If I am starting a film, then I want to control everything from my research, the actors I sign, to my locations. Hopefully, I can start within this year. I don’t have an investor right now for the project, and have two kids to feed. So, I’ll be doing any adverts I get right now.
What is your dream project, like a story that you have to tell?
Well, I always wanted to remake a classic Bangla cinema. Any one which I can completely reshape, and retell in my own way. I really want to do that.
How is your day to day life apart from filmmaking?
I wake up, hang out with my family, regularly go to the gym, I work in advertising (laughs). Another thing that I do is, I frequently get off the grid because all this nonsense around gets to you. But again I run out of money, and have to come back and start working.
What recent Bangla fictions have you seen?
I tried to watch a few Bangla natoks recently on YouTube, and they were horrible. I don’t know what they are trying to say. I mean is it a sitcom formula, or a trash comedy? What are these? We are consuming Bollywood content, right? The whole Salman Khan era. But look at Bollywood now. They are slowly evolving. Their films and advertising are changing their society. They are successfully running films which wouldn’t have been a hit even a few years ago. Yet in Bangladesh we are treating it as a business. Cast a certain duo in a project, then it will surely get millions of hits on YouTube, whatever the story might be. But are we actually telling stories honestly? No I don’t think so. If I go and ask them in their deathbeds, are you happy with what you made all these years, I am sure that they will say no too. They will confess that they had a different story to tell in a different way.
What are you watching right now?
I recently watched “White Boy Rick” and I loved it. The film is based on a true story about an undercover drug informant for the FBI. Finished the season two of “Money Heist” which was too Bollywoody for me. I am really looking forward to the upcoming season of “Peaky Blinders.” I also loved “Sacred Games” though a lot of people said otherwise, and I am really excited about its season two. The last film I really loved was a Marathi film called “Court.” I was completely blown away by it. The film I am really looking forward to is Scorsesse’s “The Irishman,” and Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
If you have to pick one film guru who would it be?
If I have to pick one, then it will always be Stanley Kubrick. I just recently rewatched all of his films. He has the perfect balance, with captivating visuals. Apart from Kubrick, I really love Wes Anderson’s storytelling. The whole production design, and how they handle humour in their commentary. They are very inspiring.
What is this industry lacking right now?
We are lacking good writers the most. It is a huge crisis in our industry. I have tried to work with a few writers, and most of them were terrible. I mean writers should be more real. Whenever they get into writing something they suddenly go all Rabindrik (Rabindranath Tagore’s writing style), and write dialogues which most of us never use while talking. No one talks to their parents, friends or loved ones like we are seeing in our contents. Neither the Rabindrik way, nor the way we are seeing in our television contents these days are accurate. There is nothing natural about it.
Why are you releasing your short on YouTube for free?
I have made this film, and wanted to prove myself in the international arena. I have achieved that. Also released it in major streaming platforms, but what will make me the most happy is, if everyone from my own country gets to watch it, and hopefully they will receive it well too. Life in Other Words will be released on our production company Little Big Films’ official YouTube channel on August 11 at 8pm.