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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Rehana Maryam Noor’s director Abdullah Mohammad Saad: ‘True landscape of my film was Rehana’s face’

Rehana Maryam Noor ran only for four days at theatres in Bangladesh before it was taken down. The movie, however, has been a festival favourite and even earned rave reviews from cinephiles, including Anurag Kashyap.

Written by Debasree Purkayastha | New Delhi |
Updated: October 26, 2021 8:46:20 am
As many as three Bangladeshi movies were screened at the recently concluded Busan International Film Festival, and among them were Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s acclaimed Rehana Maryam Noor starring Azmeri Hoque Badhon in the titular role.Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s acclaimed Rehana Maryam Noor stars Azmeri Hoque Badhon in the lead role. (Photo: Films Boutiques)

As many as three Bangladeshi movies were screened at the recently concluded Busan International Film Festival, and among them was Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s acclaimed Rehana Maryam Noor starring Azmeri Hoque Badhon in the titular role. The movie, which got a standing ovation at the Cannes earlier this year, is now heading to Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. It begins on October 27.

The film essentially revolves around Rehana, a mother, a widow, and an assistant professor of medicine by profession. A character who is obsessed with a cause and like all human beings is imperfect. “It’s not a black and white role, rather quite grey,” the actor explains. Popularly known as Badhon, she is already making a mark in India.

Released in August, she can be seen in Srijit Mukherjis’s Hoichoi original titled ‘Rabindranath Ekhane Kokhono Khete Ashen Ni’ in the lead role. She is currently busy shooting in Delhi with filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj for Netflix’s Khufiya, which stars Tabu, Ali Fazal, Ashish Vidyarthi and Wamiqa Gabbi. She credits her “breakthrough” performance in Rehana Maryam Noor for opening doors for her.

Badhon is excited about the recognition and accolades coming her way, and thanks her director. In fact, she credits the filmmaker’s technique and vision for the success of the film. She said: “We rehearsed for nine months before the shoot. Basically it’s him, he performed through me.” The actor shared that Saad understands women and the internal conflicts “so well” and that’s why the characters comes across raw and real. “Rehana’s frustration with the society and struggles as a woman is very easy to relate to everyone, and I slipped in to the character with ease as I personally have had similar experiences,” she further adds.

While the Bangladesh independent cinema is making waves across film festivals, Badhon insists that in the subcontinent it is “difficult for women to get good roles after 30”. It’s also the usual battle between a commercial and art-house film that “limits the creativity.” She continues, “The geo-political view of how cinema is developing with the reach of internet, but such movies with strong opinions isn’t being backed by most producers.”

However, for the multi-talented filmmaker, it is a matter of pride that the independent cinema movement in Bangladesh is progressing with every film. “The result is obvious because we have been regularly present in the international scene for the last decade,” he points out.

Rehana Maryam Noor ran only for four days at theatres in Bangladesh before it was taken down. The movie however has been a festival favourite and even earned rave reviews from cinephiles, including Anurag Kashyap. We connected with the director-writer-editor of the film Abdullah Mohammad Saad for a quick chat. Here’s the excerpt from the interview:

How did you come up with the character of Rehana, a person who is nuanced and flawed?

As a writer, I have always been drawn to the complexity of human nature. When you write from your close observations and experiences from your life, you know that there is no such thing as pure good or pure evil, there is no black and white.

You said in an interview that “…What stayed with me throughout was really this image of a stubborn woman”. What did you mean?

The reason behind my obsession with Rehana was, unlike me she is this rare person in this apathetic world who doesn’t look away, who doesn’t accept and just moves on. She has this need to react and pursue. That’s what kept me going.

Your style of shooting and directing are very specific, as described by the protagonist of the film. Can you elaborate a little on your process from the inception of the idea to the execution?

I wasn’t exactly sure about turning it into a chamber drama in my earlier drafts. But I always knew that the true landscape of my film is Rehana’s face. So my directing was focused on capturing her behaviour and what she feels even when she is not expressing explicitly. And to bring out that layered performance, we discussed and rehearsed with Badhon for a long time, until she completely transformed into Rehana and gave her extraordinary and electric performance.

Who has been your influence in honing the craft of filmmaking?

There are so many. But I wasn’t really brought up with cinema. It came to my life much later. But as it slowly grew into me, I started watching films. At this moment, I guess I’d say I love Michael Haneke, Edward Yang and Dardenne brothers.

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