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    Volume 11 |Issue 43| November 02, 2012 |


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Cover Story


As the credits rolled down amongst loud applause, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki could not help reiterating the words inside his head – lights, cameras, action! Suddenly, he was under the microscope and it was he who was now playing the part for a change – smiling and nodding in appreciation to the 6,000 viewers, answering questions forwarded to him by the media. As lights flashed around him, Farooki, along with the artists of Television, walked the red carpet, and spoke to the international film critics – about 'Television', his life, his country and his inspirations. He speaks of this exhilarating experience with the Star.

Elita Karim
Photos: Chabial

Mostofa Sarwar Farooki's latest endeavour, 'Television,' his fourth film, was selected to be the prestigious closing night film at the 17th Busan International Film Festival on October 13, 2012. Screened for the first time in South Korea, the festival had begun on October 4, opening with 'The Cold War,' a film by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk from Honk Kong. It was for the first time, that a Bangladeshi film had been chosen to open or close a film festival and that too the Busan International Film Festival, regarded as one of the top 10 film festivals in the world. Film publications and websites all over the world had echoed both the events as highlights of the top film festival in Asia. Wall Street Journal's headline read – “At Busan Film Festival, starring roles for Honk Kong and Bangladesh”; AFP said “A Honk Kong action thriller and a rural drama from Bangladesh will open and close Asia's top film festival”; and the famous Screen Daily said – “Busan to open with Cold War and close with Television”.

Mostofa Sarwar Farooki and his team walk the red carpet at the Busan International Film Festival.

'Television', produced by Chabial, co-produced with Star Cineplex (Bangladesh) and Mogador Film (Germany), is a film that deals with traditional thoughts versus modern ideas and adaptability. “It's a story defining a conflict between a traditional window and a modern window,” explains Farooki in his way. “But it is not a black and white fight between two different generations. It deals with the relationship of two generations and defines their compassion for each other. There is no outright rejection of each other. Though the film has got strong satirical or at some places comic elements, it also plays the emotional tone. So far whoever has watched the film had the same feedback – an emotional roller coaster ride that made the audience sway between laughter and tears. For the foreign audience, the film was definitely a genre-breaker.”


'Television' was awarded the post production fund and a script fund from Asian Cinema Fund from Busan festival. The film was also awarded the Gotteborg Film Fund from Gotteborg film festival. It was also a selected project of Asian Project Market 2010 and Film Bazaar India 2010.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) director Lee Yong-kwan says, 'Television' was an easy choice as the closing film. “It was first of all very entertaining as a movie, in both its subject matter and storytelling. It was selected by not only BIFF but also representative experts from around Asia for the Asian Cinema Fund, for a reason,” he said. “A new trend can be industry-related or artistic, and the fact that a country is creating domestic films through telecinema is monumental. BIFF felt compelled to showcase this movement."


The cast of 'Telvision' include, Shahir Kazi Huda, Mosharof Karim, Chanchal Chowdhury, Nusrat Imrose Tisha, Shamim Shahed, Imam Lee, Mukit Zakaria and others.

The cinematography was done by Golam Maola Nabir, edited by Rajon Khaled, sound was done by Ripon Nath, music by Ayub Bacchu and Golam Kibria was the Production Designer and Assistant Director of the film.

Shahir Kazi Huda, Kim Dong Ho, Farooki, Tisha and Kim Ki Duk pose at the BIFF.

One of the main characters in the story, Amin Chairman, is strong and is almost like a father figure to everyone in the village. “The character of Amin Chairman was partly inspired by my father whom I love very much. He and I would often have the usual generation gap issues. We got into quarrels and tussles all the time. But looking back today, I can see that we have both adapted many ideas from each other. I think the movie 'Television' also reflects this idea.”

Publications, websites and film reviewers from all over the world were moved by 'Television' after it was screened as the closing film of the festival, and quite overnight, the international arena became much more welcoming to more ideas and fresh stories from young filmmakers in Bangladesh. “The Hollywood Reporter, a famous film publication, mentioned this in a big story of theirs,” explains Farooki. “It is a nice feeling that the world is paying attention to our work. Getting selected for the closing screening of Asia's largest festival is something that opened a road to new possibilities. Younger filmmakers in Bangladesh need to make the best out of this opportunity.”

Born in Nakhalpara, Dhaka, on May 2, 1973 amongst four brothers and two sisters, this 'tough guy' was actually a punching bag in school. “I used to study at the Tejgaon Government Boys High school, and I rarely attended classes,” Mostofa Sarwar Farooki remembers. “I never enjoyed the way our teachers would teach or give their lectures. I was also afraid of their harsh treatment, physical torture, and bullying. True, there were friendly teachers, but their numbers were very few. I could not make too many friends in school because I was small in size. The boys in my class would bully me and get me to call them 'boro bhai' or big brother, and show them 'respect'. Hence, I simply used to sit for my exams and try to pass them.”

Farooki is also well known for his ad films, the way he revolutionised the use of colloquial Bangla in his TV films and his family dramas like 'Ekanno Botti' and '69'. Many of his stories start and begin on the streets of Bangladesh, for instance, the famous serial '420,' a 35- episode political satire, portrays some common street features of Bangladesh – street addas, gun fights, area / moholla fights etc. Strangely enough, for Farooki, the streets of Dhaka city had a lot to teach him while growing up. "My favourite classrooms were on the streets. While my classmates attended boring classes, I used to roam about in the streets of Karwan Bazaar, mostly checking out the wholesale shops. I used to love to look at the happy faces of the people coming to sell and buy vegetables, fish, and other things. Bunking classes, I also used to roam about in the Tejgaon Railway station. There I used to sit on the bench idly watching trains coming from some strange places I did not know of and again leaving for some strange places.”

For Farooki, filmmaking was a learning process that happened outside the confined walls of a classroom.
Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

Eventually, he would go back home to Nakhalpara, where, according to him, he owned everything! “I used to live like a king in Nakhalpara! I was spontaneous, sometimes rebellious, and very social.” In fact the characters and streets portrayed in '420' were also shot in his very own streets of Nakhalpara. “The area itself was a school of sorts,” he continues. “Since it is very close to the industrial area in Dhaka, we would mingle with all kinds of people coming from places all over the country. Studying people can open your eyes.”

Talking about his profession he says that filmmaking to him was a learning process that happened on the streets, outside the confined walls of a classroom. “I never studied in a film school, nor did I assist any film maker,” he says. “I simply decided to jump and learn how to swim. And, no, I had no interest of becoming a filmmaker. I tried so many things in life and failed. I actually tried filmmaking to impress a girl! I am not sure if I ever managed to impress her or not, but I was hooked to this new found love.”

Farooki is inspired by so much around him, even a relaxing game of chess!
Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

Clearly, a Jack-of-all-trades – which eventually helped him to build his filmmaking career, for Farooki, working for television helped him to build a base for his future movies. “A little more than a decade ago, I was looking for the right channel to express myself. At that stage of life, I encountered a movement called the film society. I used to go to the German Cultural Centre, Alliance Franchaise, Indian Cultural Centre to watch films. The DVD rush had not yet started back then. These screenings were quite instrumental for my fellow filmmakers and me as well. Most of the filmmakers from my generation have benefited plenty from those screenings. I thought to myself that Cinema is the right medium for me to express myself.”

After the screenings, it became routine for Farooki and yet another contemporary filmmaker, Nurul Alam Atique, to discuss what they had seen on their way back home in a rickshaw. “There I used to improvise a new script everyday,” says Farooki. “Atique would obviously appreciate them. But daydreaming and writing scripts in the air were definitely not enough. Who would finance these ideas? How would I turn these ideas or stories into films? Do I know the right technique? And who would watch our films and why? We were bombarded with so many questions.”

It was around the time when Ekushey Television, popularly known as ETV, came into being, and brought about revolutionary changes in the electronic media. The hungry viewers especially the younger generation of viewers, happily welcomed the fresh ideas, smarter sets, proper editing and of course, the modern technology, which was apparent in the talk shows, musical programmes and also the TV films and dramas. “I didn't wait for too long,” says Farooki. “My first telefilm for ETV was 'Waiting Room'. However, the ETV selection committee outright rejected it. I lost faith and went back to my 'tramp-days'. After two months, I got a call from ETV and they said that they had reviewed their rejected works and selected mine for a possible airing on TV. Farhad Mahmud, the then MD of ETV, even gave me a kind of green signal that empowered me to take up new stories, make many more mistakes, learn new techniques – how to shoot a scene in a cinematic way shedding off the typical melodramatic style, which was the only school of filmmaking here back then. I am grateful to Noazish Ali Khan, Rahber Khan, Sajjad Sharif, Poet Belal Chowdhury, Faridur Reza Sagor, Afzal Hossain, Wahidul Hoque, Pulak Gupta and many more great personalities who inspired and supported me in my early days.”

Farooki's TV films from the earlier days, and certainly the films that he has made in recent times have a raw yet a very dramatic setting. Who inspires him? “My favourite filmmakers, who inspire me, are so varied – from Tarkovski to Robert Bresson to Abbas Kiarostami to Wong Kar Wai to Kim ki Duk to Xhang Imou to Hou Hsiao Hsien to Asghar Farhadi to Lee Chang Dong to Hong Sang So to Jafor Panahi. This list is endless. These are the filmmakers who are so different in style but have made a strong impact on me.”

Snippets from the movie 'Television.'

It was in his telefilm 'Kanamachi' that the famous duo – Farooki and writer Anisul Hoque – made a mark and also made a proper name for themselves as a creative team. “Back then, I did not know how to make a scene look real, how to direct the actors to act natural, where, unfortunately, the only style people could adapt to easily was melodrama. I was trying different tricks. In 'Kanamachi,' my co-writer Anisul Hoque, and myself, finally sat down to define outlines for the TV film. I improvised some more scenes and all the dialogues were written on set then and there! The actors were obviously unsure, but they tried to follow my instructions and sketches. It was definitely a tiring process. The experience taught me a lesson. If you give your actors the lines, they tend to memorise everything. In order to memorise, they need to utter the lines a hundred times. Saying the same lines a hundred times makes things very lifeless. It loses the life and the charm of 'suddenness'. Like the kind of charm you have when the very first time you say 'I love you' is totally different from the hundredth time you say it. The hundredth kiss is definitely not as thrilling as the first kiss!”

While the rest of the world seems to be producing more for the silver screens, we in Bangladesh invest a lot in television fiction, TV films and stories. Television kills cinema – isn't that the common complaint everywhere else in the world? “But in Bangladesh it is working in a different way,” explains Farooki. “It helps aspiring young filmmakers to practice the art of story-telling. It also helps the younger filmmakers to create an audience base for our way of story-telling. This energy is then transferred to the big screen.”

According to Farooki, his first two films – 'Bachelor' (2003) and 'Made in Bangladesh' (2007) were his training platforms. After working extensively for television, he was not used to working with the medium of 35 mm. “I had a hard time crafting my images,” he remembers. “The only positive elements that I can remember included making mistakes and learning from these mistakes. The biggest advantage I had while working in these films, is that I gained enough confidence to break out of the clichéd themes that the Bangladeshi film audience is used to watching or the industry is used to making.”

In 2003, Farooki's 'Bachelor' made a hue and cry in the country, mainly because of the urban lifestyle and language that he portrayed in the film. The film also had an excellent collection of original sound tracks, created and performed by big names in the country, starting from Ayub Bachchu to SI Tutul. “Making a film like 'Bachelor' was not an easy job. With all the praise and criticism on the issue of morality, the film earned a cult status just because of the story. The story was very simple and everyone could relate to the elements – urban Dhaka and the youth. It probably broke away from the typical way of 'so-called' mainstream stories and art-house films. I must thank Faridur Reza Sagor, Managing Director, Impress Telefilms Limited, for trusting an untested player like me with an unconventional story.”

In 2009, Farooki's third movie 'Third Person Singular' premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, which was definitely a huge leap in his career. A story about a young, single woman, trying to survive in the city, managed to shock many in the audience. Farooki highlighted on scenes, which the Bangladeshi audience are not used to and consider taboo – living together, buying condoms, sexual desires of both men and women and much more. “'Third Person Singular' is the first film that I enjoyed making,” says Farooki. “I didn't have any inhibitions while making the film or showing it on screen. Whenever I watch my work, I notice many flaws, be it TV films or films for the big screen. While watching 'Third Person Singular' today, I find so many flaws and things that have gone wrong in the film! Things could have been made better. But then again, this is what art is all about. Art is a mixture of flaws and beauty. Art is a statement with all its flaws and beauty. It can never be perfect. If you keep looking for perfection to the highest degree, you will find yourself editing the same film over and again. You will never be able to complete one single film!”

'Third Person Singular' then went on to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Rotterdam, and other festivals as well. “The famous publication, Variety, wrote a great review on the film. Nusrat Imrose Tisha, the protagonist in the film, gave an outstanding performance. It earned quite a lot in the box office despite the fact that the story was a little challenging, not offering comfort to everyone in the audience.” Farooki shares an interesting story regarding the title of the film. “The title of the film is actually 'Third Person Singular Number'. This was a grammatical error on our part. The right term is actually third person singular, but we used one extra word– 'number' in the end. The then Abu Dhabi festival director Peter Scarlet called me and asked why I kept 'Number' in the end, since it didn't make much sense to him. “My mother is a grammar teacher,” Scarlett mentioned smiling. “It is a mistake!" I told Scarlet that he was right. But this 'mistake' is a common phrase for us, especially for the ones studying in Bengali medium schools. This is why, I decided to use the phrase to better communicate with our audience.”

With the Masters – Enjoying a light moment with big names like Kim Ki Duk (centre L) and
Mohsen Makhmalbaf (centre R) at the closing party at BIFF.

At this point, Farooki remembers filmmaker Tareque Masud who died in a car crash more than a year ago. “He has always been a great supporter of my works,” says Farooki, “Whenever I felt down, I used to go to his place. He would jokingly tell me that I am making the middle class intelligentsia 'uncomfortable' with my choice of issues for screening! He would also support me for my selection of subjects, handling of stories, use of language as dialogues, way of acting and much more. We want to experience a morally strong middle class philosophy even if we are immoral in our daily lives. He explained that the audience criticising the subject matter was actually quite positive and I should take them good-naturedly! “Keep enjoying the love you get from the millions of people. Keep improving yourself,” Tareque bhai would tell me. He is so omnipresent in my memories”

Farooki thinks that the next few years is a crucial time for the young filmmakers to emerge and experiment with their ideas. “In the next five years, we need to make interesting films of different styles and genres—starting from social dramas to the usual rom-coms (romantic comedies), satire, action, comedy– genre-breakers. But the important thing is that we need to do this in our way of storytelling.”

Farooki emphaises on the fact that everyone should go to the theatres to watch our movies, which would eventually become a popular activity. “At the same time, the international audience has to recognise the uniqueness of our work,” he adds. “We don't exist anywhere by becoming a Bollywood 2, an Iran 2, a Korea 2 or a France 2.”

It is of course, not entirely fair to put all Iranian, Korean or the Mumbai Film Industry in India, popularly termed as Bollywood filmmakers inside one single bracket, he adds. “Kim ki duk is a different filmmaker than Lee Chang Dong,” Farooki explains. “Kiarostami and Farhadi have distinctive features. But at the same time one can identify an Iranian movie from any other movie. To create a unique voice for Bangladshi cinema is not an easy ball game. But we have to keep trying to make films honestly, portraying details magnificently, and exploring the cultural context brilliantly. This way, we might end up giving a different tone to our films unknowingly!”

Farooki stresses on how we need to have our own signature in films that we make. In fact, this is a thought, not only prevalent in the area of filmmaking, but in other areas as well. Only then can we be able to create a whole new generation of young and talented Bangladeshis who can put Bangladesh on the map. “We need to have our very own signature. And I know we can!” says Farooki. “We have that potential in the bubbling pipeline. We have a lot of interesting filmmakers who are still working for the television industry. We need to channel this energy to the big screen and we also need to find financing for them. I am now trying to set up a production company that will mainly produce younger filmmakers. I am already in talks with some interesting filmmakers with great stories. I hope I can manage funds or investments from local entrepreneurs or banks or some other sources for these films.” Mostofa Sarwar Farooki is doing his part. It is now time for us to do ours! “Let us hope for the best,” he says.

The writer is Editor, Star Campus.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012