Teller of untold stories

Aung Rakhine, a filmmaker from the Rakhine community of Bangladesh has made it his mission to make films about different overlooked Bangladeshi minority groups…writes Farhat Afzal

icn1The film industry in Bangladesh has been through various stages of ups and downs. Despite producing some masterpieces in the 1960s and 1970s, the industry had been deteriorating since the 1990s and onwards. In recent times, however, there has been a slow and silent attempt at rejuvenating the quality of the cinematic content, both by independent as well as mainstream filmmakers. While most filmmakers make films to cater for the audiences’ taste, very few do it to send a message. Aung Rakhine is one such filmmaker. A filmmaker from the Rakhine community in Bangladesh, he made a feature film ‘My Bicycle’ about another ethnic minority group, the Chakma, in their native language.
Born in the Harbang village of Chakariya Upazila in Cox’s Bazaar, the 34-year-old spent much of his childhood in various regions in the southern part of the country, including Rangamati and Bandarban. In 2002, he enrolled at the Charukala Institute in Narayanganj. Finally, he finished his education in Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Development Alternative in 2010.
Growing up in the Rakhine community, he was always surrounded by musical programmes and other traditional cultural events. He always had interests in various mediums like writing, art, music, theatre and painting. His target shifted towards filmmaking after he had an epiphany. ‘I felt that filmmaking was a much easier process than painting,’ he says.
His first interest in filmmaking took shape when he attended a film direction course in 2007. It was a workshop organised by National Institute of Mass Communication (NIMC), a department under the Ministry of Information. It was at NIMC where he co-directed a documentary film on the Sunderbans as well as a production of an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Shasti’.
His first full length feature film took 10 years in making. Being incredibly self-reliant, he did most of the work for the film on his own starting from scriptwriting to selecting the background score. He first started writing the story for ‘My Bicycle’ in 2002. For the subject matter, he chose the Chakma community, rather than his own Rakhine people. ‘Chakma is the largest ethnic group among the indigenous people. They have struggled more than any other indigenous groups of the country. So I felt that more than anyone else, theirs is a story that must be told,’ he says.
Rakhine faced some trouble with funding for the film. While he did manage to find producers, there was skepticism surrounding the project since a film about the indigenous people was a new concept. Finally, he went ahead with his venture by crowdfunding the project with the help of his family and friends. ‘In Bangladesh, filmmaking is very much still dependent on funding. However, I never stopped my work because of the struggles related to funding. Hence, I call it a “No Budget” film,’ Rakhine says. He considers himself lucky because he thinks the project would not have taken place if it were not for the support he got from his family and friends.
When it came to casting, Rakhine chose non-professional actors, who were all members of the Chakma community. ‘Their performances were completely natural. It was beyond just acting or reading lines for the camera. I gave them full freedom to portray their characters in their own ways,’ the director says.
All that hard work and dedication paid off. ‘My Bicycle’, alternatively known as ‘Maw Theng Gaari’, was showcased at the 13th International Short and Independent Film Festival in Dhaka in December 2014. Additionally, the film has also been premiered in some major international festivals, notably at the Tallinn Black Night Film Festival in Estonia and the Göteberg Film Festival in Sweden. In 2015, the film won the best screenplay award at the International Festival of National and Ethnic Cinema ‘Silver Akbuzat’ in Russia.
Even though the film was premiered as a work-in-progress at the International Short and Independent Film Festival in Dhaka, the completed full version of the film has been blocked by the Bangladesh Film Censor Board for about a year now. So, despite being premiered at international film festivals, the film is still awaiting the green signal for commercial release in Bangladesh.
When asked about the necessity of formal training in filmmaking, he says that a film academy is needed not for the filmmakers, but rather for the sound engineers, light technicians and others involved in the technical parts of filmmaking. ‘You do not need to study literature to be a poet, or have a degree in art to be an artist. Being a filmmaker is similar to that,’ he says. However, he admits that it is difficult to make a living from the profession, unless you are making big budget commercial films for mainstream audiences. ‘An independent filmmaker must have an alternate career option,’ Rakhine believes. Apart from working on his own film projects at Khona Talkies, a film production company, Rakhine is currently working as an executive producer at Bengal Creations.
Rakhine laments that the reason why Bangladeshi films have such low demands is because they have no proper distribution circuits. ‘There are no proper multiplexes in regions outside of Dhaka. Constructing multiplexes outside Dhaka will create more opportunities for the audience. If you denote separate halls for different category of films, everyone’s demands will be fulfilled,’ he says.
As for the industry itself, Rakhine admits that independent films have no demand in Bangladesh. However international audience and critics welcome Bangladeshi films, as he had witnessed during his visit to the various European film festivals. ‘They know that we have the potential to make good quality films, but we just have not been able to deliver,’ Rakhine says. Hence, he believes independent filmmakers must keep the international viewers and festivals as their target audience.
Rakhine does not want to make countless films. ‘I want to make four more films in my lifetime. They will all be about the different indigenous communities of Bangladesh,’ he says. Currently, he is working on a film about the Rakhine community. It is based on a personal story and is titled ‘The Wrath of God’. Rakhine believes he has learned a lot from his past mistakes and wishes to leave no stone unturned for his next film. ‘To create something artistic that will leave a lasting impression, you do not need to make a thousand art pieces,’ he believes. Thus, as a member of the indigenous community, he believes it is his responsibility to tell their stories in masterfully crafted ways. l

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