In India, we’ve heard of the odd Pakistani film — such as the Oscar contender Zinda Bhaag. Besides, a number of Pakistani singers are active in Bollywood. But from our neighbour on the other side — Bangladesh — there has been radio silence since the 1965 war, as far as films are concerned.
Kalki Koechlin and Prosenjit Chatterjee in Shanghai.
Now, Bangladeshi war veteran and filmmaker Nasiruddin Yousuff is set to change that with his 2011 film Guerilla, which will release in India in October.
In this chat, Yousuff talks about the struggle of the Bangladeshi film industry, and his home country’s resistance to cultural exchange with India.
How hard was it for you to overcome the barrier of exchanging films between India and Bangladesh?
Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and actor Prosenjit Chatterjee showed interest in bringing Bangladeshi films to India. Prosenjit even spoke to officials from our Ministry of Information. There is a resistance here towards Bollywood films, since the country fears suppression of the local film industry. But now, the Indian and Bangladeshi information ministries have agreed to release four films each in the other country. Guerrilla will release in Kolkata, Delhi, Bengaluru and Guwahati, in 15 theatres. Ghosh’s film Shunyo Awnko will release in Dhaka in October.
Will this exchange aid Bangladeshi cinema?
Most of the films made in Bangladesh are sent to Mumbai for post-production work. If we’re allowed to release our films in India, we will stand a better chance of recovering our investment. This is an important beginning. If our film industries work together, there will also be healthy competition.
How did you go from a war veteran to a filmmaker?
I realised that we don’t have a cinematic documentation of the Bangladeshi liberation movement (of 1971). As a freedom fighter, I felt it was my responsibility to depict not just the history, but also an artistic documentation of it. So I thought of translating my experience on film.
What is the present state of the Bangladeshi film industry?
We’re in a bad state. For the last 40 years, the political situation has been bad. Along with social restrictions, the cultural space too has shrunk a great deal. We used to have 1,500 cinema halls, but they been cut down to just 150 now.
What kinds of films are being made there?
Some good independent films are being made. The Bangladesh Film Development Corporation is the hub for making and releasing films, but some people who have influence just copy Bollywood films. We also lack proper infrastructure and editing studios.
How did you manage the finances for your film? Have you been able to recover the money?
I made the film for 4.2 crore Bangladeshi taka (`3.3 cr approx). The government provided amenities to re-create situations from the 1971 war. I couldn’t recover more than 2 crore taka (Rs 1.6 cr), since there are few takers for Bangladeshi films.