Matir Moina flies further
Friday, November 1, 2002

The extension, by a week, announced by the Modhumita authorities of Matir Moina's first commercial run in the country comes as a well-deserved affirmation of a film that has had to go through much turmoil, mostly unnecessary, on its journey to the local silver screen. The full-house showings of the internationally acclaimed film directed by Tareque Masud and produced by Catherine Masud bode well for not just them but also the country's film industry in general.

In Bangladeshi film circles, Matir Moina, at least by comparison with the commercial junk that goes on in our movie theatres, would be considered more in the genre of the so-called 'art film' than anything else. By the director's own admission, the film was made with international viewers in mind. His justified fear must have been that an offbeat movie such as this - with no gyrating women weighing tons, no simulated fight scenes, and an intelligent, socially relevant script - does not quite deliver on the foolproof recipes of Dhaliwood commercial success.

Amidst all the scepticism, however, the response from the crowds at Modhumita last week has been encouraging, to say the least. The dress circle tickets, not surprisingly, have been pre-sold for every show - the demographics ranging from the cultural elite to middle-class families to university and college students. But what has truly been a revelation are the overflowing aisles at the stalls downstairs. The 'lungi crowd', as they are called in industry parlance, have been coming in by the scores. From their reactions inside the hall - clapping spontaneously and singing along with the hit folk singer Momtaz, for instance - and from their chatter outside, the movie seems to have struck a certain chord. A heartening signal indeed, and one that the Masuds admit has excited the film's crew the most.

But the significance of the earlier fact stated - the demographics of the dress circle - should also not go unnoticed by the cast and crew of Matir Moina. That fact, for sure, is not lost on the Modhumita authorities at least.

Modhumita, after all, remains the lone ranger in the waning movement to bring the urban middle-class back to cinema halls. In the absence of anything resembling artistic quality in the local film industry, Modhumita's fight continues mostly through its showings of Western commercial hits. But whenever an 'offbeat' local venture of quality, and of any remote commercial promise, has sprung up, Modhumita has stepped up to be the platform. Its support for Matir Moina at a time when most others were ready to condemn the film to the tiny projection rooms of the many foreign cultural centres around town that set the standards for our 'arty crowd', surely should not go unnoticed and unappreciated.

The resounding presence of the middle-class, especially the younger generation among them, is a definite success of the synergy between the faith the theatre put in the film, and the film's delivery of quality and mass appeal in response. Throughout the week, the hall has been brimming with bankers, teachers, businessmen, housewives, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandchildren. A sure sign to the industry that this particular audience exists - it is only a matter of seeking them out. We can only hope that other filmmakers in the mould of Tareque and Catherine are taking note.

The silly shenanigans of the Censor Board that Matir Moina has had to fend off before making its long-awaited premiere in Bangladesh deserve a special mention. The difference between the original copy, shown at Cannes and Marrakesh, and the print that has been shown at Modhumita, are miniscule - the minor changes that have been made are certainly not proportionate to the hoopla, nationally and internationally, that the censors had created. Time and again the Censor Board insists on bringing on negative publicity on themselves and the nation with actually very little at stake.

Quarters that had lobbied the government to ban the film had asserted that the film would 'hurt the sentiments' of certain groups. Last week, a large group of madrassah students on their way out of Modhumita were interviewed by a satellite television channel. The boys, shy as they were, voiced their appreciation of the 'fair treatment' in the film of 'the good sides and the bad sides' of madrassahs. One of them said, straight out, that the film does 'more for us than against us'. What more of an affirmation could he have given?

Congratulations to Tareque and Catherine!

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Copyright © 2002 Novita Rahman