‘Hariprabha Takeda: An Unsung Traveller of Bengal’ screened at LWM

The Hariprabha Takeda documentary team with Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki at Liberation War Museum, Agargaon, Dhaka, on 9 October 2021UNB

Narrating the extraordinary tales of Bengali voyager Hariprabha Takeda, also revered as the ‘first Bengali modern woman of Dhaka’, a travel documentary titled ‘Hariprabha Takeda: An Unsung Traveller of Bengal’ was screened at the Liberation War Museum (LWM), Agargaon in the capital on Saturday, reports UNB.

Produced by traveller and documentary filmmaker Eliza Binte Elahi, the Rashik Barikdar directed documentary’s inaugural screening was joined by Japanese ambassador to Dhaka Ito Naoki as the chief guest.

LWM trustee Mofidul Hoque and Dhaka University’s Department of History Bangabandhu Chair professor Muntassir Mamoon were also present at the inaugural screening as the special guests.

Praising Eliza Binte Elahi’s effort behind producing the captivating story of the first Bengali modern woman of Dhaka, guests and audiences lauded the documentary film after its inaugural screening at the LWM auditorium.

“On behalf of our Embassy and all the Japanese people, I wholeheartedly thank Eliza for initiating the documentary, which must have faced difficulties in the making under this Covid situation. You have dealt with the subject, which goes beyond the border for Bangladesh, so this is a cultural story regarding the cultural exchange between Japan and Bangladesh. I was really stunned while watching this documentary,” ambassador Naoki said at the event.

The true idea of ‘Modernism’ does not depend on how modern a person is with clothes or academic degrees; it depends on the viewpoint and mentality
Professor Muntassir Mamoon

“I learned about the story of Hariprabha Takeda three months ago, when I attended the Cosmos Foundation’s virtual dialogue on ‘Bangladesh-Japan Relations: Prognosis for the Future’ from renowned Bangladesh scholar Monzurul Huq, who really emphasised the significance of Hariprabha’s story, and the history of Japan and Bangladesh, the friendship and partnership between the two countries, and the people to people exchange. She was a really courageous woman, a pioneer who overcame the difficulties of her time. Though there are cultural similarities between Japan and Bangladesh (rice culture, fish eating culture etc.) which might have helped her to get familiarised herself in Japan, nonetheless, her story is truly fascinating,” Naoki added.

Professor Muntassir Mamoon emphasised on the cultural impact made by Hariprabha Takeda, whom he referred to as the “first Bengali modern woman in history” in his previous scholarly article for ‘Kali o Kalam’ magazine and also in the documentary itself.

“The true idea of ‘Modernism’ does not depend on how modern a person is with clothes or academic degrees; it depends on the viewpoint and mentality. Over a hundred years ago, a Bengali woman married a Japanese man, adopted the cultural identity of both the countries and also wrote about her experiences as a traveller. I believe that speaks volume for her modernist identity.”

Traveller and documentary filmmaker Eliza Binte Elahi hands over a poster to Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki at Liberation War Museum, Agargaon, Dhaka, on 9 October 2021

“In 1971, the civil society of Japan cordially assisted Bangladesh, and in respect to the glorious friendship between the two countries, I would request the concerned authorities to dub the film in Japanese language so that our Japanese friends can learn about this amazing documentary made by Eliza,” he added.

Bangladeshi scholar Monzurul Huq conveyed his greetings and expressed his admiration to the project and the film via a video message at the event. He played a major role behind rediscovering and addressing Hariprabha to the world by locating a copy of the first and only book published by her sister, Santiprabha Mullick in 1915 in London’s Indian Office Library. Later, he brought out an edition of the book in 1999; two more editions were published later in Delhi (2007) and Kolkata (2009) by others.

“Hariprabha and her Japanese husband Uemon Takeda are true pioneers, who laid the foundation of a very cordial bilateral relationship between the two countries. She married a foreign national at the time when women were supposed to stay at home and follow straight social order. She travelled to an unknown world and also shared her experiences for the others, through writing a book on what she has seen. The book was published in 1915 and all the proceedings were donated for ‘Matriniketan,’ a shelter home for abandoned girls and destitute women in Dhaka’s Nimtali, run by her family.”

Producer Eliza Binte Elahi, who also played the character of Hariprabha in the documentary, talked about her experience behind the project and expressed her gratitude to the concerns at the screening.

“Discovering and presenting Hariprabha through the documentary was a challenge, nonetheless it was truly an amazing experience for me. I feel honoured to showcase her amazing tale through this film, which I believe will enthral the audiences,” she said.

The 26-minute documentary was shot in several locations in Dhaka, recreating the picturesque atmosphere of Hariphaba’s time in history back in the early years of 1900.

Several renowned personalities demonstrated the fascinating tales of Hariprabha in the documentary, including Monzurul Huq, Muntassir Mamoon, ‘Kali o Kalam’ magazine editor late Abul Hasnat, and Watanabe Kazuhiro, the chief of Bangla Department of Japan’s public media organisation NHK World.

Hariprabha Mallick Takeda (1890-1972) was born in Khilgaon, Dhaka and was married to Uemon Takeda, a Japanese chemist employed in her father’s soap factory in Dhaka called ‘Indo-Japanese Soap Factory’. Hariprabha visited Japan for four months in 1912-13 with Uemon Takeda and wrote a book ‘Bongo Mohilar Japan Jatra’ in 1915.

She settled permanently in Japan in 1941. But she moved to Jalpaiguri, West Bengal after her husband’s death. She breathed her last at Shambhunath Pandit Hospital in Kolkata in 1972. Renowned Bangladeshi filmmaker Tanvir Mokammel made a documentary titled “Japani Bodhu’’ (The Japanese Wife), based on Hariprabha’s book and her entire experiences.