Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bhashajoyita - A Documentary Movie

Yesterday I was invited to a screening of the movie Bhashajoyita. It is a documentary about women of the Bangla Language Movement, and was presented as part of a larger function to honor women who rose up for Bangla in late 1940s and early 1950s. The movie is directed by Shabnam Ferdousi and made with the support of Steps Towards Development.

At the function, the following were honored: Protibha Mutsuddi, Rowshan Ara Bachhu, Halima Khatun, Sofia Khan and Sufia Rahman. Back in 1952, they were all university students, and participated in the Language Movement in various ways.

The movie itself is priceless because it has a lot of interview footage with, and about, the role of women in the Language Movement. It weaves the story of the Movement with these interviews, historical footage and location shots. It becomes clear, for example, how hard it was for women at that time to participate in political movements. In retrospect it looks like the obvious thing to do, but breaking the 144-Rule (against congregating in groups) on Feb 21, 1952, was not an easy decision. Only a handful of the women students in the university had the guts to do it.

While most of the movie is centered around Dhaka, it also travels to Sylhet and Barisal. In Sylhet, several women leaders and their work is discussed, including Zobeda Rahim Choudhury (my Dadi; also the first Muslim woman politician of Bangladesh) and Syeda Najibunnesa Khatun (my Nani, whose aristocratic house, Ahia Villa, lends a moment of wistfulness and romance to the movie). These women were active in politics, first against the British, and, after 1947, in the Language Movement. [There is an anecdote in the movie about my Dada and Dadi that I hadn't heard before and need to check on.] Rani Bhattacharya and her group's role in Barisal are also discussed. Bhasha-Shoiniks Mr Muhith, Mr Rafik and Mr Matin are among other interviewees.

For me, a poignant lesson was about Ms. Momtaz, the headmistress of Narayanganj Morgan High School who mobilized women there for the movement. Not many know about her, and yet she was a true firebrand leader who was severely punished for her activities. How many others are there like her that we don't know about?

Bhashajoyita is a timely effort that should be applauded. It is the culmination of a lot of dedicated hard work by its makers.

Wishlist: I hope a DVD version will be available soon to reach larger audiences. The producers might also consider a shorter downloadable version particularly for NRBs. Finally, a documentary based so heavily on oral recollections may be prone to factual errors - if any come to light, I am sure the makers will rectify.

My thanks to all who put in their efforts to make this wonderful movie. It is truly wonderful to see such a work produced by a new generation of Bangladeshis.

(For those unfamiliar with Bangladesh history: the Language Movement was what led to independent Bangladesh. When the British left India in 1947, two countries were formed: Pakistan and India. Pakistan was geographically split into East Pakistan (Bangla-speaking) and West Pakistan (Urdu-speaking), with India in middle. When the Pakistan government tried to impose Urdu as the only national language of Pakistan, the Bangla-speaking people of East Pakistan protested, resulting in the Language Movement.)