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Year: 2011
Language: Bengali
Director: Tareque Masud
Screenplay: Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud
Cast: Fazlul Haque, Rabeya Akta-Moni, Ali Ahsan, Nazmul Huda Bachchu, Nasrin Akter
Runtime: 90 min
Trailer: on YouTube
Film’s official website: Runway

Seen at a screening at the ICA as part of the London Indian Film Festival. The film also recently screened at London’s East End Film Festival.

Tareque Masud’s final feature film – the director tragically died in a car accident last year – opens with thematic shots, introducing viewers, before any words are uttered, to a number of key subjects in Rāna’ōẏē. The poverty that the main family of Rāna’ōẏē lives in is immediately obvious, their shabby little hut by the side of the Dhaka airport heavily shaking as the first plane takes off before the sun has yet risen, interrupting the morning peace with thunderous noise. Soon after, Rahima (Rabeya Akta-Moni), the mother, tends to the family cow whose milk earns them some money, and Fatima, the daughter (Nasrin Akter), sets off to work in a garment factory – the two women are the breadwinners of the family. And then there is an old man, the grandfather (Nazmul Huda Bachchu), who lowers his head in devout respect to Allah as he performs his morning prayers, hinting at the role of religion in the film. Only the son, Ruhul (Fazlul Haque), has no real part to play, he is unemployed and without having completed his education has lost any hope in finding a job.

With little to do, Ruhul spends his mornings in an internet café belonging to his uncle. When the websites he is accessing do not load properly, another regular visitor to the place, Arif (Ali Ahsan) by name, helps him out, the two befriending one another. Arif, however, is not quite what he seems, hiding extremist beliefs behind his eerily calm and gentle demeanour. He quickly taps into Ruhul’s boredom and the teen’s wish, like that of any good Muslim, to follow the “path of God”. With the promise of a job, Arif takes Ruhul to meet acquaintances, gradually pulling him into religious fanaticism and jihadism.

Ruhul’s turn to militancy is unsettling to observe, both in terms of the individual attention lavished on his person in order to indoctrinate him as well as because of the fact that he does not start off with extremist beliefs. While Arif might fit Western stereotypes of the jihadi – visually, with beard and form of dress, and psychologically, in terms of his hardcore convictions – Ruhul is an ordinary and rather undistinguished member of society. He is not recruited from any place we might presume (a madrassa for example), but from a secular and symbolically progressive space (an internet café) and although the people in his family believe in God, their views are moderate, the grandfather’s daily prayers being devout but harmless. Ruhul’s unassuming background raises difficult questions, particularly in terms of “Who/what is to blame?” as one is unable to resort to any easy answers and factors such as unemployment and class divisions in Bangladeshi society have to be considered (Ruhul is mistreated by some upper class men).

Worlds apart.

Equally, the target of the extremists is not what we might presume. Although the west is condemned and blamed for social depravity, it is Bangladeshi people that the militant group deems ‘god-disrespecting’ that they aim at: one’s own family (Arif has completely cut off his, while Ruhul prohibits his sister to watch too morally corrupt TV programmes), ordinary citizens that attend a Bollywood flick (“Action Girl”) and government members that pass ‘too Western’ laws.

While most synopses for the film seem to suggest that Rāna’ōẏē is the story of Ruhul, this is not so. It is just as much the story of his family, with plenty of social commentary being offered. The absence of the father throughout the film is significant. The head of the family has gone to the Middle East in the search of a more lucrative job, his sacrifice indicative of the lack of adequate employment opportunities in Bangladesh. With no word from him since his departure and Ruhul’s fall into extremism, it is left to the women to hold things together and the grandfather to keep the faith. Fortunately, both mother and daughter are hard-working and well aware that they cannot partake in behaviour as irresponsible and selfish as Ruhul’s, who has no regard as to how his own family might be affected and simply disappears for a few days. It’s a striking contrast between the men and the women, between the supposedly strong (males, young people) and the weak (females, the elderly), that provokes harsh questions.

Rāna’ōẏē can be somewhat uneven, some scenes – such as the police raid on the jihadis’ office with a distinct CSI vibe or Ruhul’s pangs of conscience in a cinematic moment that seems too experimental within the context of the rest of the film – feel out of place. The appearance of Arif’s soon-to-be ex-wife is so brief that despite providing an intriguing glimpse into his personal life it is unsubstantial and becomes a scene that is wasted. A lot is also left open in the film’s conclusion. While Ruhul’s future is signalled fairly clearly (on a visual and symbolic level, rather than by explicit statement), his change feels too quick (the sudden shock of staring death in the face is insufficient explanation) and therefore not quite compelling. However, with Tareque Masud having been unable to polish the film to perfection himself I do not want to be too critical. The fact that Rāna’ōẏē is rough around the edges does not change its relevance as a voice that needs to be heard in the global sphere.

By the runway: shiny planes, shabby huts.

Overall Verdict: In a way, Rāna’ōẏē is modest in scope and impact. It tells a small story of a single family, wider interpretations being left in the air. And yet, it matters: it matters as a Bangladeshi and Muslim voice in a too limited and too Western-dominated post 9-11 conversation.

Rating: 7.5/10

Bonus Bits:

  • Rāna’ōẏē is Tareque Masud’s final film as the director passed away in 2011 in a roadside accident in Bangladesh when location scouting for a new film project – কাগজের ফুল (Kagojer Phool/The Paper Flower). At the time, Rāna’ōẏē was not yet quite completed, and it was left to his wife, American-born film producer and editor Catherine Masud, who was also seriously injured in the accident, to finish it. I don’t normally post anything on filmmakers’ personal lives, but I think it is fitting to link an article in this case. The Masuds seem like a rare kind of couple, both in their commitment to making socio-political films and in their cross-cultural marriage, which I am sure is not such a common thing in Bangladesh. Tareque Masud’s premature death doesn’t just mean the loss of an outstanding South Asian filmmaker, but is deeply tragic on a personal level – he had an only 15-month old son.

The late director, Tareque Masud, and his wife Catherine Masud.

  • Masud’s internationally best known film is the 2002 মাটির ময়না (Matir Moina/The Clay Bird), which won him the International Critics Award as well as the FIPRESCI Prize for the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Matir Moina was also the first Bangladeshi film to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

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