Festival del film Locarno

Under Construction_Shahana Goswami 02.tif copy

Open Doors

69 Festival del film Locarno is showcasing Under Construction in Open Doors Screenings section.

Under Construction

Bangladesh · 2015 · DCP · Color · 88′ ·  o.v. Bengali

Struggling to find herself in the sprawl of urban Bangladesh, Muslim theater actress Roya suffers from her husband’s wish for children and traditional life. Not interested in motherhood, she decides to reconstruct a famous and politically minded play for modern times, reclaiming her identity, her freedom and her sexuality in the process.

Link: http://www.pardolive.ch/pardo/program/film.html?fid=888700&eid=69


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Festival de film Locarno Open Doors Lab

Locarno open doors

Director/producer Rubaiyat Hossain is representing Khona Talkies in this year’s Open Doors Lab.

Link: http://www.pardolive.ch/pardo/professionals/open-doors/person.html?pid=852101&eid=69
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Labor of Love is Nothing Short of Meditation

dhaka tribune


Rubaiyat Hossain

‘Labors of Love’ or ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe,’ is an ode to the men and women caught in the capitalist industrial civilisation

4This lyrical and emotionally evocative film revolves around the lives of a couple: a man who works at a newspaper printing press and a woman working at a handbag factory. The partnership of their marriage is conveyed in total silence. The man and woman never speak in the film and neither do we ever come to learn their names. In being nameless or without individual identification, the couple represents millions of men and women caged in industrial civilization.

Labors of Love’ opens with a newscaster reporting on a sudden shutdown of a factory due to global recession which results in thousands of workers out of jobs. The screen is black as we hear the news. When the visuals fade in, they do so with music, raga ‘Tilak Kamod’ in Shehnai signifying a wedding. The camera moves over surfaces in close proximity, old rugged walls, examining closely the texture and colour. This is precisely what the film continues to deliver throughout its duration. It examines the textures of the lives of this married couple in excruciating detail. The use of sound and music along with prolonged shots create a unique rhythm to draw the audience into a world without speech.

The married couple doesn’t get to see each other as the husband works night shifts while the wife works during the day. However, they carry their partnership seamlessly and in perfect sync. In the beginning of the film we see the woman walking through the alley and then blending into the cacophony that is the crowds of Kolkata. The tired husband comes home, changes into pajamas, washes himself, puts the clothes out for drying that his wife had washed, and eats his rice and fish curry left by his wife. After a small nap, the man is out in the world again, cashing his humble monthly salary check of eight thousand rupee at the bank. He goes to the fish market and buys a fish. At home, he puts the fish in the fridge and goes to bed. While at the handbag factory, enveloped in industrial noise, the wife is seen supervising daily inventory. A beautiful shot in this sequence delivers her caged state as a worker: the shot begins with a serpent like chain holding the old fashioned elevator, as the chain coils the elevator slowly comes up revealing through iron bars the tired face of the woman standing next to huge packaging boxes.

The man wakes to the sound of his alarm. He again washes himself, dresses in the clothes left ironed and folded by his wife, takes his food prepared in a tiffin box and leaves the key at a special place for his wife to find. While dressing, he finds a hole in his pants, and so hangs it on the bedpost before leaving. After reaching the empty apartment, the woman changes, washes herself and eats her meal before putting away the kitchen ration her husband had bought from the market.

Another meaningful visual strikes when we see the grains: rice, lentil, spices, and mustard being poured into containers. We see the grain in vivid detail, in extreme close ups; we follow its endless falling motion. And it is for these very grains that this man and woman work so hard. It is for this humble meal of rice and curry that they spend literally every waking hour of their days working.

What makes the film so special is the attention to details. We witness the daily routine of this man and woman down to the most personal and private details. The struggle for them to fall asleep and wake at an ungodly hour is masterfully done through the portrayal of the body language and facial expression of the actors. By simply looking at the husband and wife sharing identical snacks, tiffin and meals, gives off the impression that they are a couple. They carry out each one of their domestic chores in perfect harmony without having to even verbally communicate. When one comes home, the traces of the other are evident from the burning incense growing small. One picks out the burnt incense and starts a fresh one, continuing the daily ritual in a circular motion. The shot of the man and woman’s wet footprints on the floor is another such element that draw them together. What’s most remarkable is that, the camera lingers on the footprints as they eventually dry up. The camera, still in extreme closeness, also lingers up on the water slowly drying on the frying pan and on the golden mustard oil being poured in its place. The camera takes us very close to the soap bubbles in the bucket where clothes are left to soak, as we hear the popping sound of the bubbles, we are taken into the micro detail and reality of this household.

Throughout the entire film I kept waiting for the moment the man and woman would speak to each other, but it never came. When they finally meet, the scenario is conveyed in a trance devoid of speech. At the end this lack of words is what makes it possible to take an introspective and meditative journey into the visual reality created by Aditya Vikram Sengupta in ‘Labor of Love.

There is no music score done originally for the film. In its place Sengupta uses an array of stock music, the most haunting of which is the use of an old romantic Bengali song ‘Tumi je amar, ogo tumi je amar,’ as the husband is preparing to leave for work while the wife is getting ready to come home. The heightened romanticism of the song is bound to send chills down the Bengali audience’s emotional backbone as the couple continues to miss each other, not just one day, but everyday. The sound design of the film is nothing short of mastery. The macro sound of the monster city: the tram, the mammoth printing machines, packaging machines, the noise of the fish market, the crowd, the newscasters voice, the workers protest on the streets are juxtaposed with the subtle micro sounds of the household: the ceiling fan, the soap bubbles, the girl next door practicing music every morning, the water evaporating on the frying pan, fish frying, floor sweeping. Together these sounds bring the world of this unnamed man and woman alive for us to hear in a cinematic reality devoid of speech.

In a world of cinema where the canvas is usually overflowing this kind of stillness is a rare find. Watching ‘Labor of Love’ is nothing short of meditation.

Awards and Festivals:

  • Indira Gandhi Award for Best Film and Best Audiography at 62nd National Film Awards (India)
  • Best Director of a Debut Film at 71st Venice International Film Festival
  • Best Director at Marrakech International Film Festival
  • Jury Special Mention Abu Dhabi Film Festival
  • Honorable Mention BFI London Film Festival 
Source Link: http://www.dhakatribune.com/weekend/2015/jun/04/labor-love-nothing-short-meditation#sthash.6ePHiq5b.dpuf
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Interview : on Under Construction

dhaka tribune


Female Director, Female Gaze

Tausif Sanzum                 

What it means to be a female director in a male dominated industry

Rubaiyat Hossain

Rubaiyat Hossain

With her new film, Under Construction being selected in the main competition ‘The New Directors Showcase’ at the Seattle International Film Festival, Rubaiyat Hossain is gearing up for its theatrical release in Bangladesh on July 31, 2015.

In an interview with Weekend Tribune, this dynamic new director shares some insights into her fascinating life and work.

Tell us about your new movie
My new movie recently got cleared by the Censor Board and it is up for release on July 31. It is about a middle class urban Muslim woman’s journey. It’s about her day to day life being a theatre actor. The reason I call it Under Construction is because the background of the film is Dhaka city and if you look at the city, you cannot find a single spot where a building is not being constructed – so the city, as such, is being constructed – it’s in a transitional phase. The urban citizen is also in the making and so is the modern Bengali woman.

And by saying a larger theme, I mean it is about trying to question tradition because she is a theatre actress doing Rokto Korobi on stage for a very long time. She wants to re-interpret the play. Can someone re-interpret something as traditional as Rabindranath Tagore? Are you supposed to do that? What happens when you do that? It is also about questioning womanhood as we know it and how she is actually trying to push the boundary in an effort to find herself.

With your earlier film also being women-centric, how is this movie different?
This film doesn’t have a heated political background like the one of 1971. It is a contemporary story and it’s about your everyday life.

With your earlier film also being women-centric, how is this movie different?
This film doesn’t have a heated political background like the one of 1971. It is a contemporary story and it’s about your everyday life.

Some people might say that you had it easy because of your affluent background. What do you have to say about the challenges of being a woman director in Dhallywood?
I think it is difficult for anybody to make films. A lot of people who are making movies are getting funding from somebody else. If you want to make a film it doesn’t happen for free. You have to either have your own money or have somebody give it to you. Either way it’s the same thing. You can say that I have more creative freedom because I don’t have to go to an outside producer. However, in terms of technicality and in working with the crew, it’s totally vague. And also in terms of working in an industry that is predominantly male dominated, the struggle is the same.

At any given time, look at the landscape of female directors even in places like Bollywood or Hollywood, how many female directors are out there? And how many of them are actually telling women stories. I think Reema Kagti tried to tell a female story in Taalash but still she needed an Aamir Khan in it to sell the movie. I had to go to films where I had to teach myself to make short films and documentaries before I could be in a position to make a feature film. Having said that, it was easier in my second film because my camera person, two of my assistant directors were women, which made it easier for me. But still, most of the rest of the crew are all males.

When did the directing bug bite you?
I have always been a very visual person. I remember when I was young and liked a novel, I would make a casting list. As I grew older I started watching Satyajit Rai movies, and that’s when I began to realised just how meaningful films could be really be. I started reading his books on films and watched all his films. Throughout my undergrad studies, when I majored in Women Studies, I took some film production courses. After I finished my undergrads I went to New York Film Academy for a Diploma in Film Direction. It was during this Diploma course when I realised that this is what I really want to do. I still went ahead did my Masters in South Asia studies. Right now I am planning to do a PhD in Cinema Studies from NYU. I am interested in academia and film making. I don’t want to be a completely commercial filmmaker. My engagement with films is more passionate.

So you never want to make a pop corn entertainer?
Never ….maybe I could but that would be de-constructive. I am very fascinated by Bollywood. I go to Mumbai a lot. I am very fascinated by the power that this kind of cinema has over people. I am interested to work on something like that, if I could make a film that would have real commercial elements, I would like to see how it affects the society. I am really interested to see how films reflect the society – how cinema can reflect, analyse a social phenomena.

A simple rickshaw puller, for example, has his own bag of problems. Why do you think he will spend his hard earned money to watch a movie based on hard hitting social messages instead of an escape-from-reality entertainer?
I think we often underestimate the audience. If the story is strong, the audience will relate. Yes, you can entertain them with a lot of bright colours, loud sounds and really good music, but I am sure if you can actually present a film that represents the actual life and trouble of, for example a rickshaw puller, then I think they will enjoy it more. When we watch a film and if we find a reflection of our life in it that makes us really happy as I can relate to that. You never can understand what kind of films audience will like unless and until you give them those options. If you are only giving them one type of films then that’s all they are going to watch.

What do you want to do with your production house, Khona Talkies?
With Khona Talkies we basically want to take baby steps. We want to produce some meaningful cinema. We have already produced one documentary which unearthed three individual voices of Birangonas. We have produced a short film which is completed and will come out soon. We plan on producing more documentaries and shorts films. We want to create a platform where we can raise issues which are otherwise not encouraged to be spoken of. We are going to start some films sessions where we are going to watch films and have discussions with people who are interested to engage with films as visual texts.

There is a recent trend for the media hype for a product out-selling the product itself. What is your take on this?
I think in today’s time and age it has become very important because if your film is going to be in theatres and if you don’t let people know then they are not going to come. But I think most of the promotions we do is online on Facebook, Youtube etc. However, I think one has to reach out not saying that my film is the best, come and watch it but at least saying my movie is in theater, come and watch it.

In the long run, do you want people to tag you as a ‘female director’ or just a ‘director’?
I think I always want to be identified as a woman. I think every person has one battle to fight and I have always picked my battle to be a woman, to find my space in the world and raise my voice as a woman creating the same space for other women. At the same time, when you make a film, you make a film. For example, in Under Construction there is a scene with this python and I am dead scared of snakes. But the moment we started shooting and I was looking through the camera, I was not scared anymore. At that moment it was not a snake but a part of my film. So when you make a film, you are just making a film and that goes beyond gender roles. But I always want to be conscious of myself as a woman.

So you feel that be it commercial or art house movies, women are shown in a very sexual way?
There is certain amount of objectification. As a director it is your own journey to find your form of representation. I wrote an article called, female director, female gaze which dealt with how a female director represents a female character. Do they sexualise the character or do they completely desexualise her? I think that’s a process of which the language will be made clearer as more female make films.

Source Link: http://www.dhakatribune.com/weekend/2015/may/07/female-director-female-gaze#sthash.bXV1Y2Ey.dpuf

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Not a he, nor a she, but an individual, in life and in death

dhaka tribune

June 11, 2013 | Op-Ed | Rubaiyat Hossain

Rituparno Ghosh’s sudden death has hit a massive emotional chord with the queer population

The funeral for Rituparno Ghosh

The funeral for Rituparno Ghosh

When Rituporno Ghosh passed away, I got the news from a queer friend of mine who lives in Kolkata. The guy was crying when he gave me the news. In the following days I have seen my queer friends in Dhaka, especially males, reacting very strongly to the death. The sudden death of Ghosh at the fairly young age of 49, seemed to have hit a massive emotional chord with the queer population in Dhaka, or at least the small intimate circle I am familiar with. I also felt that Ghosh’s passing was more than the passing of an award-winning popular director, rather it was passing of someone very close to heart, someone who was part of this intimate queer group, someone who went through the pain, humiliation and imposed silence of the queer identity as a regular dose of poisonous social reality.

“You know he actually committed suicide, he overdosed on sleeping pills, after all, how long can one live in such pain?” a queer male friend exclaimed. We sat in a small circle, talking about the social isolation Ghosh must have felt in his everyday reality — the marginalisation, the lack of social space for disclosure, the constant battle with ones parents and loved ones, the humiliation, the loneliness, the social reality that makes it impossible for a queer individual to pursue long term relationships, marriage and family. The death of Ghosh opened up a space where the silenced of the silenced, the queer community of Bangladesh, was able to speak up, at least in private spaces, outside the spectrum of heteronormativity.

Whether or not Ghosh committed suicide and whether or not the West Bengal government hushed it up, is not significant from where I stand. The fact that remains significant is that, the silenced community was able to relate to Ghosh’s life and Ghosh’s death. The social restrictions on practicing queer identity and desire were surpassed while talking about Ghosh’s reality, Ghosh’s films — Ghosh became an imagined identity, an identity one could not speak about as Muslim Bengali men, but an identity they could see reflected in Ghosh’s life, death and cinema. “We don’t live in the country of Elton Johon, Shubho!” the protagonist undergoing a sex change operation in Ghosh’s last film Chitrangada, proclaimed.

No we do not live in Elton John’s country, Kolkata is no New York, Berlin or Paris. Kolkata is still largely a patriarchal society where queer identity is marginalised, the patriarchal misogynist currency of desire largely dominates the film/media industry. Ghosh survived in that culture, and was able to express identity as chosen by an individual, not imposed by norms; and this is precisely why the silenced queer males and females looked at Ghosh’s life and film as the only mirror where they saw themselves reflected. The death of Ghosh was a death of that mirror. The death of Ghosh was the culmination of violence of the narrow social prescription on queer individuals.

Another friend of mine, a heterosexual male, a Film Institute of Pune graduate confessed, “we did make fun of him a lot, humiliated him about his ways.” Another friend of mine, heterosexual and male, once told me that all Rituporno Ghosh films were actually Ritupornography. The slight nudity and often sexual element of Ghosh’s film was termed “pornography” whereas there are numerous other Bengali/Indian films that show much more flesh, and that too for the purpose of box office sales. I believe, Ghosh’s sexual content was criticised by them because Ghosh posed an elaborate critic of Bengali patriarchy and its manipulation of female sexuality in films like Antarmahal , Dahaan , Chokher Bali, etc.

Whereas Tagore’s Chokher Bali depicted Binodini as a fallen woman who eventually comes back to her senses and denounces material life, Ghosh took the depiction a step further and established agency in Binodini. Binodini in Ghosh’s Chokher Bali is presented to us as a complete individual who cherishes love, friendship, sex, revolution, travel, drinking tea and home making all at the same time. When this film came out I was an MA student in south Asia studies in Philadelphia. That semester I had a course on Indian Cinema and Society with an acclaimed visiting professor from India who is also a filmmaker. When I expressed overwhelming satisfaction with Ghosh’s representation of Binodini, the professor replied: “Rituporno’s Chokher Bali is all décor, nothing more.” The reason why, while I internalise the passing of one of my favorite contemporary directors making films in Bengali language and culture, I piece together personal anecdotes, is to depict the general reaction of heteronormative film culture towards Rituporno Ghosh.

Rituporno Ghosh only started expressing his queer identity after the death of his parents. It is obvious that the parents could never accept Ghosh’s identity, Ghosh had to wait till their death to make films like Memories in March, Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish, and Arekti Premer Golpo, where the proclamation of queer identity was possible. The question remains why would Ghosh have to move on just when the journey into stripping off the performance of gendered identity, and the quest for understanding, and living individual desire were coming into play? Was it narrow social space? Was it truly a heart attack? Was it depression? Was it loneliness? Was it the umbilical cord of Bengali culture, a cord that haunted Ghosh’s cinema in his mesmerising reinterpretation of Tagore tunes, a cord that was never cut? Would Ghosh have lived longer, lived more happily if he actually lived in Elton John’s country as the protagonist of his last feature film, a character played by Ghosh, had said.

Whether or not Ghosh’s death was natural or suicide, is irrelevant, what is relevant is the mourning of my queer friends who truly believe that it was a suicide, and it was a result of Ghosh’s socially marginalised position in society because of his queer identity. “After all, how long can one suffer like this?” one of my friends vented. The event of Ghosh’s death too, was imagined as a suicide, this belief was rooted in the personal pain of these queer individuals living in Dhaka city where silence must be worn not like a mask, but like a skin. Mourning Ghosh and talking about Ghosh I felt myself unable to use the term “he” or “she” to denote Rituporno Ghosh. The person who lived to create a life, and self, outside the cage of gendered norms remains as an individual in cinema, in life and more so in death. Rituporno Ghosh with the films, with the lived experience of decoding the gendered body, proved that gender is a mere performance, it is what we do at particular times, rather than a universal notion of who we are.

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