Rebellion on Reels

by Tajnim Imami

Cinema is a fascinating medium of expression that can chronicle history and passion like no other form of media. Yet, war movies are in a league of their own. Some aggrandize war with the concept of heroic deeds and larger than life characters while others deliberate on the calm before the storm of war never shying away from the bubbling tension beneath. The Liberation War movies of Bangladesh have played a crucial role in chronicling and sustaining the spirit of independence throughout this country’s history. On this Independence day, Trends pays homage to four of the most memorable depiction of the Liberation War made in Bangladeshi cinema history. These are: Jibon Theke Neya, Ora Egaro Jon, Matir Moina and Amar Bondhu Rashed.

Jibon Theke Neya boasts the undeniable pride of being a spark to the imagination and understanding of the struggle; Ora Egaro Jon examines the nascent nation’s freshly acquired wounds; Matir Moina boldly criticizes the deep seated religious bigotry that tore apart the nation then and rears its ugly head even to this day and Amar Bondhu Rashed depicts a poignant story of youths chasing after what they know is right even before they are old enough to have a profound understanding of their sacrifice and its impact.
Zahir Raihan’s Jibon Theke Neya (1970) is a classic that has spectacularly stood the test of time. Despite having been released prior to the war, it is recognized as one of the strongest representatives of the true spirit of the struggle. Based on the events of the mass uprising of 1969, the movie perfectly captures the rising tension of an aspiring people on the brink of exploding out of the shackles that bind them. The legendary director’s masterful use of witty dialogues and the power dynamics of the symbolic characters of a family illustrate the erstwhile political struggles of the nation. The free- thinking character of Khan Ataur Rahman, the unrepentantly cruel character of Rowshan Jamil, the idealistic student leader Razzak all stand as the metaphor for the real people who played on the two opposing sides of the war. The thundering music of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s “Karar Oi Louhokopat” or the recitation of “Udoyer Pothe Shuni Kar Baani” exude with the energy of the rebellion festering in the minds of the people at the time.

Ora Egaro Jon (1972) by Chashi Nazrul Islam was an ambitious project taken by the director within the first few weeks of the independence. The name of the movie is inspired by the eleven sector commanders of the war as well as the eleven fold demands of the student movement that led to the war. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is that despite the star studded cast of Razzak, Shabana, Rowshan Jamil, Hasan Imam, A T M Shamsuzzaman and others, the titular eleven characters were played by real freedom fighters. To lend it as much realism as possible, the director even used live ammunition and real footages of the war that were collected by several news media at the time. Yet, the most striking feature of the film is perhaps the portrayal of women and their agency during the Liberation War. Shabana’s character Mita doesn’t hesitate to put her life in danger for the care of the freedom fighters even when she suffers horrific abuse by the Pakistani military. Keya, on the other hand, rises to the occasion by standing side by side with her male compatriots and fighting in the war. Rowshan Jamil’s character gives up her younger son for the fight when her elder son dies at war. The heartbreaking scene of Sheila dying at the arms of Khasrau after her appalling condition at a Pakistani military camp adds to the most visceral reminder of the spectrum of loss experienced by the people of this country during the war.

Matir Moina or The Clay Bird (2002), directed by the great Tareque Masud, is a quiet study of the cancerous spread of religious zealotry. Set in the 1960’s, the movie deals with the buildup to the war in the foreground of a child’s attempt to make sense of the world dominated by adults. The young Anu becomes the unwitting victim of his Father Kazi’s new found religious creed as he is sent to a madrasa and is subjected to various manner of ill treatment by his teachers and peers. Anu’s attempt to be friends with the eccentric Rokon and his uncle’s communist idealism clashing against that of Kazi’s mindless grip on religious dogmatism mirror the confusing and struggling disposition of the country itself as it goes through its own search for identity in a cruel and hostile environment created by people who were supposedly a part of itself. As the story progresses, the loss in Anu’s family and his father’s eventual realization that holding the same faith is not a guarantee of solidarity or safety culminate in the coming of the war and loss of lives.

Amar Bondhu Rashed (2011) is a rare cinematic feat for Bangladeshi movie industry as it seldom makes children’s movies let alone a war movie for children and adolescents. Despite the criticism the production and the cast received, it still stays faithful to the spirit of channeling the zeal for freedom. Based on the book by the beloved litterateur Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, the film is narrated by Ibu who tells his son of his memory of the war and the story of his brooding and fearless friend Rashed. The ragtag group of young boys gets embroiled in the war as it comes to their small town. The naive courage that drives the school boys to do something for their country amidst a genocide plays with the heartstrings of the audience. The unspoken fate of Rashed remains one of the most gut- wrenching finales of any Bengali literature or film. At its core, the film is about the legacy of war and how it must be handed down through generations as a treasure.

Cinema has the power to take the spectators above and beyond their imagination. The movies based on the Liberation War captured the tenacity of a people who had little more than faith and grit to fight with. Along with the above mentioned pieces, other incredible titles such as Alor Michil, Orunodoyer Ognishakkhi, Abar Tora Manush Haw, Aguner Poroshmoni, Ekattorer Jishu, Hangor Nodi Grenade and more explored the many facets of the struggle for freedom portraying the birth of Bangladesh in the most heartfelt telling of movie magic.

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