It was my first movie in cinema hall in Dhaka. Having spent more than 3 years in Dhaka including the more than 2 years of Corona infected times, I had thought, cinema halls in Bangladesh have died a slow death, bleeding as they were even earlier. But reading the box-office response to the movie Hawa I was tempted to try getting a ticket, though newspapers claimed tickets have been sold out for several days in advance. To my relief, I not only got the tickets, I found some seats vacant, though it was an early morning show on a working day. Understandable.
Let me also do a candid confession. While I can read and do some conversation in a halting manner, I don’t fully understand Bangla if spoken in the natural flow. So, my venture to the first film was fraught with the possibility of turning into a misadventure. But I persisted.
Once the movie started, it was a wonderful journey into the life of people who lived on fishing in deep sea. I became captivated by the raw beauty right from the first scene which showed the lead actor Majhi, played by the popular Bangladeshi actor Chanchal Chowdhury, puffing at his Bidi, carrying his pet bird in the cage, lungi-clad and carefree getting onto the fishing boat. The hubbub of the sea shore, the street-vendor selling some magical stuff to the people hooked to his mesmerizing call to believe the unbelievable, all of it gave an inkling of the wonder that lay ahead.
The entire story of the movie takes place on a fishing boat anchored deep in the sea. I came to know later that the film was shot continuously for 42 days in deep sea to create the magic of the ocean woven around a tale of love and intrigue, patriarchal lust vs the power of a woman, the pain of poverty drowned in the sheer joy of the moment.
The life of the fishermen, all men crew of the boat, takes a turn for the unknown one day when in place of fish, they get a woman, Nazifa Tushi, in the net, who is miraculously found alive. She bears marks of injury on her body but survives the vagary. Initially, after a lot of internal strife, she gets integrated into the life of the boat helping the fishermen with cooking and sundry chores.
The boat-owner or manager, Majhi, thinks it his right to enjoy the presence of the beautiful lady for himself. From asking her to prepare the betel-leaf, Paan, to convincing her to come to him alone without fear, Chanchal Chowdhury shows superb acting skills with finesse. Small actions like licking the lime paste offered by the girl, as it is touched by her beautiful fingers, becomes a phenomenal scene with the timing and expression of the lead actor. Unfortunately for him, she, the rebel girl, rebuffs his advances and once when the entire crew is enjoying an evening of dance and music with another boat docked together, he is pushed into the sea by the girl. And his attitude changes towards her. Now, he does not want to miss any chance to run her down and see to it that she is hurt.
More than half a dozen crew are, of course, keen to court her. She finds one of them close to her feelings. They start enjoying secret rendezvous drowned half deep into the sea water which they reach using the side ladder. But, alas, one night, the other interested but the frustrated and angry members of the crew discover them in an intimate conversation half immersed in the sea. The misfortune of the ship-dwellers starts with the beating of the two love-torn souls. The Majhi kills her lover and then begins the terrible saga of death and destruction which finally consumes the entire crew of the boat.
The first thing that strikes one while watching the movie is the sheer magic of cinematography. From the close up and mid-shots of the two-lovers talking to each other on the side of the boat, half immersed in water to the long shot of the sea, one gets to feel the beauty of human body in its raw form to the majesty of nature revealed in the vast expanse of sea. Though the film is limited to the small area of the boat, the scenes never look repetitive or lose vitality and dynamism. Each shot is an exquisite play of light and shadow creating beauty in the most mundane of the things like bathing on the deck with sea water, soap-foam covered body excited by the love of the woman breaking into an impromptu dance.
The panoramic expanse of the sea to the pulsating life on the surface of the boat, ecstasy of love to the fear of death, create a mesmerizing effect on the audience through out the movie. The cinematography beautifully brings alive the subtle play of emotions, the conflict and power relation between the ship owner/manager and the crew member, the men and the woman in myriad ways. The technical finesse and aesthetic sense of the renowned cinematographer and director of the movie Mejbaur Rahman Sumon is amply on display in this film.
The film abounds with stunning scenes that touch the core of your heart. After killing a number of crew members and driving others crazy enough to commit suicide, the Majhi himself loses the mental balance. Left with nothing to eat, in one scene he is shown eating his pet bird after roasting it on the deck. In an earlier scene, he had set free the bird from the cage but it returned back to the boat (जैसे उड़ि जहाज के पंछी, पुनि जहाज पर आवे) as it had no place to go in the vast expanse of the sea . While thrusting the roasted bird in his mouth, his expression a mixture of tragedy and helplessness, leaves a deep ache in the heart. Along with the rise and fall of the sea waves, the film brings alive the highs and lows of human character, creating sensibilities that only a great work of art can do.
The film has just one song which is breaking the chart in Bangladesh. The Shada-Shada Kala Kala song, which has garnered over 19 million views till August 1 on YouTube, combines the unpolished exuberance of the working class with the deep emotion of love. Indeed, there is a side story about the suffering of the reclusive but genius lyricist and music composer of the song Hashim Mahmud which in itself is the material for a movie.
Not a single actor of the film is wasted or remains underutilized over the two hours of the movie. The tight direction of the movie ensures that each actor has his or her role cut-out. There is never a moment in the film when an actor looks superfluous or not fulfilling some meaningful work in enhancing the appeal of movie. From mending the engine of the boat to fishnet, unfurling the mast to cleaning the fish-scale or serving the food to the crew members, each actor fits exactly in their role for the film.
I regretted not knowing Bangla fully to enjoy the dialogues which were witty and humorous as could be seen by the response of the audience. The film has no element of glamour in the traditional sense, yet it has become a phenomenal success in Bangladesh which assures that there is still hope for quality and aesthetic appreciation at the popular level. I must confess, my debut film in Bangladesh rewarded me with a vast ocean of happiness and hope. It is a world class movie. Go watch it.