Vol. 5 Num 214 Thu. December 30, 2004  

Face to Face
Rebecca, the filmmaker

The lady with back-brushed silvery hair, wearing a bright yellow handloom saree and a red teep on her forehead, was lying in a hospital bed. Despite her illness, she seemed strong. Possessing an unmatched mental strength, she gave least importance to her sickness. Her bright and expressive eyes were shining with excitement as she spoke about her life, venturing into an artistic career in the face of all adversities. This young-at-heart woman is Rebecca, the first woman film director of the subcontinent.

Her milestone achievement is a black and white Bangla film called Bindu Theke Britto.

In the course of our conversation, she said that Bindu Theke Britto was screened on BTV in the 1970s. However, in course of the Liberation War, the Pakistani Army burned both the negative and the positive of the film. She had plans to direct more films but her goal was not fulfilled. Moreover, she felt that she had a more important task to do: bringing up her children. As Rebecca said, 'Many producers came to me with proposals to direct films, but I had reservations. The whole situation changed after the war, when many of my co-workers died and local films lost the quality that they had earlier. I could not continue for this reason.'

Rebecca played a little role in Bindu Thekhe Britto. Talking about the film, she said, 'The story was about the repressed women of our society. The story had two parts. One was about a young girl who was ditched by her beloved and the other one was about a tortured married woman. I played the latter.' The understated story was a departure from the norm of overdone emotion, a common feature of contemporary films. Explaining the careful choice of a title for the film, she says that the reference is to a dot of pain or as smidgen of hope which creates an unending circle.

Rebecca was on good terms with filmmaker Fakhrul Alam who was also her guru. 'In an informal gathering, Fakhrul, on hearing the story of my life, suggested I make a movie on it,' recalls Rebecca. Fakhrul asked Madan Shahu, a common friend, to write the script for her. This apparent whimsical endeavour saw the creation of a milestone film, Bindu Theke Britto.

In the whole subcontinent, two other women filmmakers--Manjusri of India and Nurjahan of Pakistan--were working on their films at that time. However, Rebecca was the first to release her film Bindu Theke Britto in 1970.

The contemporary films of Ritwitik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray had a strong influence on her as she wanted to make a life-oriented film.

Recalling some of the early bottlenecks, Rebecca says, 'The financial problem was the main barrier in making the film,' But soon there was an answer to this conundrum: Fakhrul Alam's mother offered them Taka 80,000 which she got from selling her land. A large sum also came from Mofiz, who played the hero in the film. 'Because of the difficulty of casting highly paid actors we ourselves played different roles in the film,' recalls Rebecca. However, there was one exception: the heroine, played by the attractive and popular actress Atia, known for her histrionic skills.

Other than Fakhrul Alam and Madan Shahu cinematographer Nazir Ahmed was also with Rebecca in the production. 'May be one of us was holding the light while the actors put on the make up. In different shots we used to do the prompts by terns. Many times we had limitations of make up kits. Once I had to give Atia a Pan to chew to make her lips red because there was no lipstick. We had serious financial problems so we spend the days eating only Muri on the set. But those were the days when we enjoyed working.'

After much struggle and hardship the film was completed and released but unfortunately was not a commercial hit because it had less commercial elements.

Rebecca was an actress before she directed her maiden film. She played different roles in 14 films, including a small role in Zahir Raihan's film Bahana. While working in Bahana, she learned different directorial techniques such as how to make the actors work professionally. She said, 'I learned how to deliver the dialogue from Mustafizur Rahman in the film Mala. He told me to feel and then play the essence of the character.'

The hospital visit to Rebecca over, one went back with the image of a confident and die hard woman, suffering from kidney ailment and yet unafraid of what the future might hold for her.

Rebecca, the director of Bindu Theke Britto