Bangladesh secures place on high table of world cinema with MeToo story in Cannes

New Delhi : The Cannes film festival has a Bengali language film in the official selection this year. And it is not from India.
‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ by Bangladeshi director Abullah Mohammad Saad created history yesterday when it became the first film from Bangladesh to be screened at the world’s biggest film festival. Part of Cannes festival’s Un Certain Regard section that celebrates fresh voices in world cinema, Saad’s second feature film had its world premiere on the second day of the festival.

The 107-minute film, a Bangladesh-Singapore co-production, tells the story of Rehana Maryam Noor, an assistant professor at a medical college finding herself on the wrong side of the establishment when she exposes sexual harassment by a senior faculty member. Set in the middle of the last decade, years before the MeToo movement exploded globally, the film brings to light the harrowing gender injustice and inequality existing in the Sub-continent.
Supported by the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Cinema Fund and post-production grant from the Doha Film Institute, ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ follows Saad’s debut feature film, ‘Live From Dhaka’, about a disabled man’s struggles within society.

This is the first time a Bangladeshi film is in the official selection of the Cannes festival. In 2002, Bangladeshi filmmaker Tareque Masud’s ‘ Matir Moina’ (The Clay Bird) was screened at the Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel selection of the Cannes festival. Films in Bengali language by Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen had been a regular feature in the main competition section of the Cannes festival in the latter half of last century.

Director Saad was joined by his leading actor Azmeri Haque Badhon, Singaporean co-producer Jeremy Chua and cinematographer Tuhin Tamijul at the world premiere yesterday. Badhon, a graduate of the Bangladesh Medical College in Dhaka and a former beauty pageant winner before she became an actor, will be vying for acting honours at Un Certain Regard Awards with her powerful performance as a whistleblower.

Though women constitute a major share of the working population in Bangladesh, especially in its booming garment exports industry, they regularly face discrimination and harassment in the male-dominated society. Two years ago, the brutal murder of a teenage girl, Nusrat Jahan Jafi, for reporting sexual harassment to the authorities, had shocked the South Asian nation.

“You know what happens to the girls who speak up,” a medical college student tells Noor while begging her not to report sexual harassment by her professor to the college principal in the film that is shot entirely indoors.

“It is extremely special and emotionally important that Saad’s film is in official selection in Cannes,” says Kolkata-born filmmaker Suman Sen, whose Bengali film in development, an India-Bangladesh co-production titled ‘Eka’ (Solo), is among the ten film projects from emerging countries at La Fabrique Cinema mentorship programme of the Cannes film market this year. “It was Saad’s first film, ‘Live From Dhaka’, which had connected me to my Bangladeshi producers Arifur Rahman and Bijon,” adds the Mumbai-based Sen.

“I am really happy for the film’s Singaporean producer Jeremy Chua as well. He is a well-respected producer,” says Sen. “Though I do not think language defines our films, more than anything else, the selection of ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ in Cannes means a lot. It is a huge achievement.”

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