A Jewel of Bangladesh Film
By Peter Bradshaw

Last May at the Cannes Film Festival I had the kind of experience that critics and film-fans live for : the experience of discovering a sparkling new talent. Tareque Masud's movie Matir Moina, or the Clay Bird, was showing at the Arcades cinema just off the Croisette and I was going along as the critic for London's Guardian newspaper. There was a problem with the projection, I remember. The sound was a crackly and there were only French and no English subtitles. It didn't matter. The movie was so fresh, the performances so natural and unadorned, with wonderful human charm, and the photography was terrific. When you're seeing four or five films a day, and sometimes going to two or three parties a night, it is to get jaded and dyspeptic. But the Clay Bird was like a tonic, or a multi-vitamin shot! This story of Anu, a lonely boy in the East Pakistan of the nineteen sixties sent to a strict Islamic school or madrassah, was sad, funny and involving. I left the cinema with a spring in my step, jabbered about The Clay Bird in the bars and coffee-shops of Cannes to anyone who would listen and I was thrilled, though not surprised, when it won the 'Fipresci" or International Critics Prize at the end of the Festival. Now it is being distributed throughout France, and on Monday 19th August it receives its keenly-awaited UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Already comparisons are being made with the great master, Satyajit Ray.

So like many international critics, I was surprised and saddened that this jewel of new Bangladesh cinema had actually been banned in Bangladesh itself on the grounds that it contains 'religiously sensitive' material. Well, yes it does contain religiously sensitive material, but it deals with it in a sensitive and intelligent way. It is surely the right, perhaps even the duty of filmmaker to tackle the realities of world about him. And it would be a terrible irony if this superb film were to be treasured everywhere in the world, and yet not shown in Bangladesh. Because although the conflict between faiths, and indeed the political conflict between Pakistan and the emergent state of Bangladesh are very important to the film, what makes it so engaging are its universal, human qualities which transcend doctrinal and ideological tensions.

The scenes of Anu's vulnerable childhood at the madrassah are fascinating to anyone who remembers being lonely as a child, who remembers feeling that the grownup world is a scary, hostile place in which you have no place, and certainly to anyone who remembers being sent to boarding school anywhere in the world. Masud coaxes a touching performance from Nurul Islam Bablu, within the melancholy fantasy world, and cleverly contrives a situation in which his private trials unfold in tandem with the gathering political storm of East Pakistan.

Anu's Father Kazi (Jayanto Chattopadhyay) has rejected the worldly European-British manners of his own youth to immense himself in pure Islam. He rejects western medicine to treat his ailing daughter, and is perpetually exasperated at his brother-in-law, an easy going intellectual, introducing Anu to Hindu folk festivals. It leads to all sorts of tensions, elegantly and eloquently represented on the screen, and a moving emotional document.

Masud's movie, edited, co-written and co-produced by his wife Catherine Masud, has an admirable, unforced quality. it feels like natural storytelling, with no tricks or gimmicks. The Clay Bird is the kind of cinema that never goes out of style anywhere in the world.



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Copyright 2002 Novita Rahman