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            Volume 10 |Issue 40 | October 21, 2011 |


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It's Glorious Past teve Jobs

Fayza Haq

It was in the early 70s that Manzarehassin Murad joined the Film Society Movement started by Alamgir Kabir, Tanvir Mokammel, Morshedul Islam and others in the 60s. Later in 1986, Murad played a part in forming the Bangladesh Short Film Forum, along with other young filmmakers. They were activists campaigning for creative and aesthetically rich cinema at a time when mainstream cinema in the country was plagued by crass commercialism. Murad's close network of friends included Tanvir Mokammel, Morshedul Islam and Tareque Masud, all of whom broke the conventions of commercial cinema to create films that were both artistic and political.

Murad took film appreciation courses, arranged by the Film Archive of the Film Institute, and workshops organised by Alamgir Kabir, who was a mentor for the young, aspiring filmmakers. Later Murad studied at Charles University in Prague, working mainly on documentary filmmaking coming back to Bangladesh in 1988. Murad also belonged to the Alternative Film Movement of Bangladesh, which began with Tanvir Mokammel 'Agami' and Morshedul Islam's 'Hulia'.

With flowing silvery hair Murad speaks about the development of films in Europe. Murad – whose early interest in cinema grew as an Economics student of the Dhaka University – had his finishing in filming in Eastern Europe.

He spoke about the techniques and know-how emerging in European countries like France and Russia. He also spoke of the coming of films in India and Bangladesh, especially Satyajit Ray.

Manzarehassin Murad

"Talking about the contributions of the French and Russians in film making," Murad says. "In my understanding these two nations have a glorious history of film. Everyone is aware of this. The French, along with others, invented the cinema. The credit goes to the Lumiere brothers. The first cinema was shown in 1895. The fiction format was also evolved by the French, although the contribution of Thomas Alva Edison is well recognised. The problem with Edison was that the movie he made could only be seen by just one person, the whole apparatus being like that. The Black Maria Studio, was what Edison built. Apart from having a glorious past, the French contemporary films are also good. During World War I, the French were not as much battered as the Russians. As one knows, France was occupied during both the World Wars. The Allied Forces liberated the French.”

“The Russians had a different history– e.g. film-making came to Russia through the pioneering works of French experts and experimenters. The Russian film-makers and exhibitors of the early nineteenth century were French businessmen.”

This was pre-revolutionary Russia says Murad. When the Red Russian Revolution began in 1917, the entire socio political economy had changed in Russia, first with Lenin, and next with Stalin came in the early 1930s.The system of film-making was transferred – production and exhibition—was state-controlled, as socialism dictates. Film making was made with different political ideas behind them. Films which were pre-Revolution were ones for making money. After the revolution film was taken as one of the vehicles to motivate people. This was completely a new outlook for using the film medium.

“When considering the films of the fifties, one finds depth, emotions and characterisation as well as delineations of scenes, which one always remembers. This is a new outlook for using the film medium. The black and white films after World War II, after Hitler and Stalin, considering the films made in fifties and early sixties, is another phase, if we can divide the history of Russian films. The early history, which goes to the time of pre-revolution occurred, and new cinema began—cinema for social change. We can say that the Russian Revolution gave birth to the modern cinema. The works of Sergei Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov and Alexandrov. These are the stalwarts of cinema who brought the modern cinema. They took the medium as the medium of communication—of educating people, of igniting a spirit of change in the minds of spectators. They rejected the earlier notion that cinema is basically for entertainment. At the earlier stage during 1917 they had neither the technology nor money nor ever the raw materials ( negatives) for producing films. The first film came out around 1922. Before Stalin took power, there was a phase in which a new kind of Russian cinema was born. The films were basically war films, and these well- made, very human stories stirred up the imagination of peace-loving people all over the world. The stories told were basically anti-war. These films of 50s and 60s came after Stalin was deported and Khrushchev came to power.”

The French too, says Murad have a rich beginning, to be proud of — with Renoir and René Clair who have contributed immensely to film history e.g. the poetic realism which gave birth to the neo-realism of 1950s, the most significant film movement after War. Actually the neo-realism was inspired by Renoir. There is no point in comparing the merits of the great masters of film history of Soviet and French film-making. As a nation of film makers they have produced wonderful films, which have shown new creativity in film-making, with certain 'languages' for films. Each of the countries have made enormous contribution to film –making.

Asked how Italian films grabbed him — do they not leave indelible marks on the mind of the viewers?

'The Rome Open City' was the first film made at the time says Murad. “It was made during the final battle of Rome,” says Murad. “Rome was again recaptured by Allied Forces. Mussolini's people were still there in Rome. Roberto Rossellini began making that film. New realism or this new film movement with its slogan: 'Take your camera to the street' depicted the real life. The ordinary men, the working class people as in “Bicycle Thief” were the protagonists of great films. New-realism, which was inspired by the works of the great film-maker Renoir, specially the work “Tony”, which depicted the life of migrant Italian workers in France, ignited the minds of a whole generation of film-makers. The brain behind that brand of neo-realism was Caesar Zavattini.

“This, in turn, influenced film-makers around the world, such as Sayajit Ray in India, who saw ‘The Bicycle Thief’, when he stayed for two years, in London. He then felt he could make a film like ‘Pather Pachali’, because the way the film was made followed the neo-realistic way. His ideas were that with little money, equipment and social commitment, one can make a superb film. This has also inspired a whole generation of film-makers. In fact, they have been reinventing neo-realism,” says Murad. “ The stylistic cinematic approach of most good films in our country is inspired by neo-realism.”

What does Murad have to say about the great film makers of Bangladesh of the 1970s, who made wonderful creations in black and white – How is it that they were so different from the slap-dash contemporary creations of the more recent times ? To this, Murad, an icon of our contemporary film world says, “The film industry reacts to the market. Why is film-making important for a country like Bangladesh? What is its purpose? Who are going to see the films? These questions are never solved. The political establishment, they see films as, primarily, media for public entertainment. They try to see films as means of cheap political propaganda. The film medium was never considered as medium of artistic expression; the medium of raising social awareness as in educating the mass. The strength of the film medium was never taken into consideration.” Murad, a prince among documentary makers, adds that our outlook to film, as a medium, from the very beginning was faulty. “If intelligent and devoted people tried to do something like Zahir Raihan or Alamgir Kabir, but the Bangladesh film industry began in the very early sixties, the Film Development Corporation (FDC) was the only place where you could hire equipment, do the editing and make the film. It was the only establishment and it still remains the same.”

The destruction of some of our cinema halls led to loss in the interest in going to the cinema in 1973 and 1974 he adds. The films were telling the story of the middle class; and they were not interested in seeing the films. The TV and the stage drew away much of the viewers.

“The general atmosphere of the cinema halls,” Murad continues, “also contributed to the viewers not going to see films.” Till now, we have the protection of the local cinema from the competition of mainly foreign films. We cannot import Indian or Pakistani films, commercially, in the cinema halls. For five or six years some people are importing a limited amount of films for Cineplex in Dhaka and other metropolitan areas. The import of good foreign films have been discouraged through the years, to assure the local films that they don't have to compete with the Indian or Pakistani films. This gave them a good opportunity, but they took this for granted to do their business.They did nothing to improve the quality of the film, the cinema screening infrastructure, like the halls etc. Now they are making films for a limited audience—mainly for those who are illiterate, and working in small towns, metropolitan areas—the low income group, going to the cinema for entertainment, and for sexual pleasure—to some extent."


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