To understand the various aspects of movie making and develop a film maker’s instinct, one needs to love art first – that one line may sound simple but through it, acclaimed cinematographer, Opu Rozario, summed up the basic aesthetics essential for movie making.
Rozario was talking to young aspiring movie lovers and would be film makers at a masterclass session arranged at the British Council on Friday, 15 September, as a curtain raiser for the much awaited European Film Festival two days later.
The canny use of light and shadow
As Opu was explaining the technique of light and shadow in films, he presented before the audience, Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofernes, a masterpiece capturing a wide range of human emotions along with strategic usage of light and shadow.
A painting can be seen and appreciated as a connoisseur but it can also be analysed and scrutinised for its subtle artistic nuances, added Opu, which encouraged the audience present to look deeply and see how a 16th century artist used light to illuminate faces, darkness to obscure the macabre and shadows to imply the ominous.
What Opu said was seen first-hand when the European Film Festival opened on Sunday at the Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka with the presentation of two movies, 'Mally Can Fly', and 'Poster Boy', Dutch and Bangladeshi productions respectively.
In both the films, light and shadow have been used liberally to create a wide range of emotions – sadness, elation, resignation, conviction and stoicism.
'Mally Can Fly' is about a young girl who dreams of becoming a basketball star but reality along with financial constraints stand in the way.
Mally represents millions of young people who dream but are forced to bury their dreams because of countless impediments.
Wearing tattered shoes because she cannot afford to buy a pair, the girl at one point decides to crush her passion.
Celluloid obstacles with real life significance
A heart-broken Mally in the film resonates poignantly with the real life Bangladeshi woman film maker from Khulna, Syeda Nigar Banu.
At the masterclass event, she articulated the seemingly insurmountable odds she had to face as a girl from Khulna to take up movie making as a profession and passion.
While watching the movie, the predicament of Mally reminded us of the social restrictions faced by Nigar who had to contend with dismissive comments from people around her.
A girl from a Syed family cannot make films as a living, recounted Nigar during her masterclass while talking about the stern, flabbergasted reaction from her relatives.
But I persisted and, in the end, they relented thinking that there’s no point arguing with a ‘possessed’ maverick, added Nigar.
Nigar then went on to study film in Pune and then in the UK but had to face barriers at each and every step.
There was even a moment when I was asked to work for the fashion department of a film making set although I had trained to work in direction, script writing, editing and shot set up, lamented the woman film maker.
Preconceived ideas plus ingrained social stereotypes dictate where a woman should and should not work, deplored the film maker.
But she carried on and decided to add a new angle to her work when she moved to Khulna to pursue her passion.
In the film, Mally is motivated by her coach, father and even her rival in the team, thus helping her to do what she loves the most – play Basketball.
For cinematic impact, she is shown victorious in the end, but the true message from both Mally and Nigar remain the same – the result is peripheral, do your work because the joy in pursuing what you love is a reward in itself.
The second film shown at the opening is called 'The Poster Boy' – a short film with plenty of light and shadow, creating moments of hope, despair and fortitude.
A motherless boy living on the street earns a livelihood through a variety of work – selling flowers, picking up discarded paper and then, one day, he is given the task of plastering posters.
The end comes with a sting and it would be a spoiler to reveal it but let’s just say, it presents a glaring message which society often fails to address.
While on the film making side, both the productions use techniques of light and shadow to constantly change the mood, the underlying theme is the undaunted human spirit.
In the masterclasses, both Opu and Nigar emphasised on persistence – the unwavering conviction to never give up.
Young film makers break the template
The resoluteness of film makers was appreciated at the opening day discussion ‘Youth in Cinema’, moderated by EU Ambassador to Bangladesh, Charles Whiteley.
At the discussion, Executive Editor of Prothom Alo and noted poet, Sajjad Sharif, said, ‘A new breed of young film makers are breaking the formulaic approach and seeking creative ways to tell stories; they are shunning the traditional format to make characters more credible while delving into uncharted areas of society to create plots.’
This observation was echoed by film activist Simin Ibnath Dharitri who acknowledged the impact of films on the young eager to use celluloid to portray, not an idealised version of society but a realistic one.
Commenting on local movies, Ambassador Charles Whiteley, alluded to the film critically acclaimed movie and Cannes Festival entrant, Rehana Maryam Noor, where a young woman takes up a resolute fight to stand against sexual abuse in academia.
Prothom Alo Editor, Matiur Rahman, underlined the crucial role the Bangla daily has been playing in promoting, fostering and encouraging films, theatre and drama.
‘Prothom Alo’s yearly award event, Meril-Prothom Alo’ Award is now recognised throughout the country as a platform celebrating and cherishing aesthetics and the arts.’
We are delighted to be part of the European Film Festival, added Matiur Rahman.
Among the audience present were journalists, movie critics and ardent film lovers.
‘Bangladeshi film making is currently undergoing a revolution due to the rise of OTT platforms, especially Chorki where movies break the traditional template of black and white to explore the hitherto untouched grey areas of life, where vice and virtue are not distinctly separate entities but often blend to form a unique set of beliefs,’ remarked Sudipto Rashid, a former student of Dhaka University and a film enthusiast.
Appreciating the European Film Festival, would be film maker Zahirul Islam Mamoon said that the chance to see contemporary European Films will help local film lovers and makers to understand the zeitgeist of European nations.
‘In addition, I see that in many films, life, aspirations, travails and tribulations of migrant communities are portrayed – a sign that people of different backgrounds and their inclusion in European societies is being addressed.’
The European Film Festival, a joint initiative of the EU and the largest Bangla daily, Prothom Alo, is currently running at Alliance Francaise de Dhaka, Dutch Club, Shilpakala Academy and will conclude on Saturday, 23 September.