• Tuesday, Oct 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 02:47 am

Ontorjatra: A great film for young film-makers to learn storytelling

  • Published at 09:16 pm December 5th, 2019
Harold Rasheed, Sara Zaker, and Nurul Islam Bablu from Tareque Masud's film <i>Ontorjatra</i>
Harold Rasheed, Sara Zaker, and Rifaqat Rasheed from Tareque Masud's film Ontorjatra | YouTube

In a perfect film, the music is also perfect and helps to set the mood. Near-perfect on-location sound recording and mixing complement the cinematography and the score

If he were still alive, internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi film-maker Tareque Masud would be 64 on Friday. Tareque and cinematographer Ashfaque Munier Mishuk died in a road accident on August 13, 2011, while returning to Dhaka from a filming location in Manikganj.

Tareque’s untimely death created an immense void in Bangladesh's film culture that can never be filled. His absence is felt not only in the film industry, but also in every sphere of arts and culture. He was a maestro of storytelling and visual narratives. 

The prospect of a new wave in Bangladeshi film died along with him. 

Today, on his birthday, we will remember the maestro, through one of his greatest creations, Ontorjatra. Tareque's wife Catherine Masud, herself a renowned film-maker, co-directed the film with him.

This film changed my life entirely. It is also close to my heart for various reasons. As my paternal family is from Sylhet, I could relate to the conflict, landscape, music and the language of this film from the bottom of my heart.

However, the most beautiful thing about the film is its story. The way Tareque developed its storyline in each scene is absolute perfection. I first watched the film in my early adolescence, and ever since then I have been awestruck by its craftsmanship. 

I keep marveling at how beautiful the visual narrative or storytelling of a film can be, how authentic characters can be. 

As I myself went to film school abroad and have been involved with the film industry, film movements and film festivals for my profession for a long time, I have, of course, watched many films in my life. 

But with a 100% confidence, I can say that there is not a second film in this world that overwhelmed me as much as Ontorjatra did.  

I cannot stress enough what a masterpiece of film it is in the history of Bangladeshi cinema. 

Visual storytelling

Ontorjatra explores the complex issues of dislocation and identity in a diasporic world. Through the story of a divorced mother and her son, who return to Bangladesh after 15 years abroad, the film follows a transforming experience for both the son and mother. The son, Sohel (played by Rifaqat Rasheed), a teenager brought up in the UK with no memory of his father or 'homeland,' the return to Bangladesh is a journey of self-rediscovery.

On the other hand, his mother, Shireen (played by Sara Zaker), returns to Bangladesh after a long time and her journey involves a mixture of nostalgia for her youth, and anxiety in anticipation of a difficult reunion.

This film could be a great example for the upcoming generation of Bangladeshi film-makers, helping them learn how to tell ‘real-life’ stories with authenticity and simplicity. 

The characters and dialogues feel very close to reality. Through the dialogues especially, the directors address many important issues in the film, including partition, women’s empowerment, secularism and relationships. 

As a film professional, I was taught by Ontorjatra how important it is to create a strong screenplay.


Acting

Sara Zaker, Rifaqat Rasheed, Abdul Momen Choudhury, Rokeya Prachy, Jayanto Chattopadhyay, Harold Rasheed, Nasrine R Karim and Raisa Nawar are the major cast members of the film.

Most of the characters in the film represent a generation, a society, and/or an age group. Every protagonist is equally important. For instance, when the old caretaker of Shirin and Khaled’s parents’ house, Lakkhan (Lakkhan Das) talks about the old days, his words bring in history. Dialogues are another strong aspect of the film. Sohel’s monologues create a nostalgic feeling, urging us back to our roots. Doesn’t his character remind us of Gogol from The Namesake?

Beautiful cinematography by Gaëtane Rousseau captures the chaos and hustle-bustle of Dhaka perfectly, while also capturing the stunning landscape of Sylhet. 

Female characters 

Shireen, played by Sara Zaker, is definitely my favourite character. Sara Zaker’s portrayal of Shireen is brilliant. As an independent single mother, Shireen represents women’s empowerment and encourages women to fight against any odds. Thus, Shireen’s journey in the film and her conflicts in the film are symbolic. When she says, “It was kind of selfish love” and breaks into tears, it demonstrates what the character has been through, and no doubt many single mothers out there can understand her emptiness. 

The scene in which Shireen confesses about her past and her relationship with her ex-husband to Salma (Rokeya Prachy) is, I think, one of the strongest and most memorable in the history of Bangla Cinema. 

Other female characters such as Salma, Najma and Bithi are worthy of mention as well. 

Music and background score

Harold Rasheed and Buno directed the music for the film. In a perfect film, the music is also perfect and helps to set the mood. Near-perfect on-location sound recording and mixing complement the cinematography and the score.

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