A study of the history of the documentary film in South Asia, including the advances made after independence in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Seated among the enthralled audience which had paid one rupee apiece for entry was Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar. He became so enamoured of the new art that within a couple of months he had made arrangements to screen shows of his own. He imported a motion picture camera from London for 21 guineas and made two films: one on a wrestling match and another on the training of monkeys by wandering minstrels. The films were sent to London for processing and screened in an open air theatre in Bombay in 1898. These, the first “topicals” or factual films to be shot in India, were the precursors to the documentaries that were to come later.
To Bhatwadekar, or Sawe Dada as he was known, also goes the credit for making the first newsreel of a public event. He filmed a reception held in honour of R.P. Paranjpe, the first Indian to become a Senior Wrangler at Cambridge University. This was followed by a spate of topicals depicting the coronation and installation of various maharajas, the Delhi Durbars, celebrations of festivals and fairs, and so on.
Then, another great moment arrived in 1910 when Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, or Dadasaheb, walked into the America India Picture Palace at Sandhurst Road in Bombay to see The Life of Christ. The film so impressed him that he decided to make one on the life of the divinity Krishna.
Dadasaheb was eminently qualified for the job, having had vast experience in drawing, painting, photography, printing, engraving, lithography, moulding, architecture, music and stage acting. But he had no money, having just quarrelled with his
partner at the Laxmi Art Printing Works. He was all of 40 years and with no source of finance. His friends were of no help, and one even talked of sending Dadasaheb to a lunatic asylum. Finally one friend, Yeshwantrao Nadkarni, agreed to provide the finance if Dadasaheb could prove himself up to the task.
A topical might not be proof enough, thought Phalke, so he decided to make a film centred on a theme. He planted a pea in an earthen pot and waited for it to grow. He recorded its growth over a month and a half with a camera he had imported from England for five pounds. It was a 200-foot film that ran barely for two minutes and was titled simply The Growth of a Pea Plant. When it was shown in an electrical shop, the use of the time-lapse technique dumbfounded the audience and prompted Nadkarni to sign over the money immediately. Thus, out of a pea pod, was born the Indian documentary.
Dadasaheb, of course, went on to lay the foundations of the Indian film industry and made a number of features. But this did not mean he abandoned shorts and documentaries. In 1913, he produced three shorts, among which was A Game of Matchsticks, the first animation film to be made in the country. He also made a documentary, How Films Are Made, to demystify the genre.
Newsreels came next in the development of the documentary. Among the first of these was a short film made by Bombay´s Imperial Film Company on the devastating earthquake that hit Quetta in the mid-1930s. The film had a synchronised running commentary and was used to appeal for relief funds. In 1938, Wadia Movietone and Chicago Radio got together to cover the Haripura Congress session in which Subhash Chandra Bose was elected President. The two-reel film was made for a regular newsreel service that started off with great promise but folded up within a couple of months because of lack of support.
The two persons who made notable contributions to the development of the documentary genre during this period were P.V. Pathy and K.S. Hirlekar. Both had studied cinematography abroad, Pathy in France and Hirlekar in Germany. The latter was behind the first attempt to organise the newsreel service and also tried to get government support for making educational shorts and newsreels.
The real fillip to documentary, however, came with World War II and the British colonial government´s realisation of the propaganda value of film. As the war neared India, the British became desperate for men and material. It was then they set up a Film Advisory Board (FAB), to carry out propaganda.
J.B.H. Wadia of Wadia Movietone, well known for its stunt movies and features, was appointed Chairperson of FAB. Wadia was as firm a patriot as any, but he also had strong anti-Fascist views. At his recommendation Alexander Shaw, a documentary- maker from England, took over as Chief Producer. Between the two of them, Wadia and Shaw managed to produce a string of good documentaries that were not at all connected with the war effort. Shaw later wrote that he got wide support from Indian politicians, journalists, intellectuals and women´s organisations who saw the vast potential the medium offered for the country.
Some time later, in a reorganisation exercise the government wound up FAB and set up two units, Information Films of India (IFI) and Indian News Parade (INP), the latter producing newsreels. As part of its propaganda exercise, the government also invoked the Defence of India Rules requiring exhibitors to include 2000 feet of government-approved films at every show.
An important name during this period was that of Erza Mir, Producer-in-Charge at the IFI. His Whispering Legions and Voice of Satan were well-acclaimed films as was his series, Our Heritage, a visual compendium of India´s cultural wealth. With the coming to power of Nehru´s Interim Government in 1946, IFI was wound up. And so, when the country became independent in 1947, there was no official filmmaker to record the event.
Compulsory Screening. India´s independence provided a subject for quite a few documentaries. P.V. Pathy persuaded Ambalal J. Patel, a film businessman, to organise two cameras and some sound equipment to record the handing over ceremonies at independence. During the week following 15 August 1947, three documentaries were released by independents in some theatres of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The films were given to cinema proprietors free of cost and were screened at matinee rates. A.K. Chettiar of Madras collected footage from around the world and made Mahatma Gandhi, which Pathy edited. Another film, 15th August 1947, was made jointly by Bombay Talkies and Film Classics of Madras by compiling earlier footage.
Then there was India´s Struggle for National Shipping sponsored by Somati Morarji of the Scindia Steamship Navigation Company and directed by the talented Paul Zils. Zils, a refugee from Hitler´s Germany who had spent the war in a detention camp, emerged as one of India´s leading documentary filmmakers after independence. Not only did he make noteworthy films like the three-reel Ripening Seed, on unwed motherhood, Kurvandi Road, the first Indian-made short to be televised in the US, and the UN-sponsored Mother, Child and Community, but he was also responsible for organising the documentary movement in the country.
The government of free India had not forgotten how the British had made use of the power of films during the war. It also saw the value of films in informing and educating the vast numbers of mostly illiterate citizens. In 1948, it set up the Films Division (FD) under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as the official organ of the Government of India for the production and distribution of information films and newsreels. A lot of personnel from the IFI and the INP were absorbed into the FD.
The Films Division also benefitted from the British rules of compulsory screening, since the newly drafted Cinema Licensing Rules were modelled on the Defence of India Rules used during the war years to exhibit propaganda films. Hence, it became mandatory for every cinema hall to show films made by the Films Division at each and every show and also, as earlier, to pay for it.
During the hiatus before the FD was established, independent filmmakers used to cajole exhibitors into showing their shorts before the intermission in the cinema halls on a consideration that was paid either by the producers or sponsors of the shorts. With the formation of the FD, independent makers felt the need to consolidate their position. Paul Zils was the key motivator in forming a Short Film Guild that sought fruitful collaboration between the FD and independent makers. Zils wrote extensively about the making of documentary films in India, organised documentary film festivals in Bombay and Delhi, and set up the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA).
Zils also provided training to a number of associates and colleagues who went on to become noted filmmakers themselves. Among these was Fali Billimoria, originally a student of medicine, who was brought into the industry by Zils and later became his professional collaborator and partner. His film, A Village in Travancore, won a number of national and international awards, as did his The House That Ananda Built, which was the first Indian documentary to be nominated for the Oscars.
Another brilliant filmmaker of this time was Hari S. Dasgupta, who spent three years learning films in the US and apprenticed under Jean Renoir. After returning to India in 1948, he made a lyrical film on the Chilka Lake in Orissa. He also shot two versions of Konarak in black-and-white, one of them with Claude Renoir on the camera and scored by sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan. Dasgupta´s Panchthupi: A Village in Bengal is considered by many critics as a forerunner to Satyajit Ray´s Pather Panchali. (Incidentally, Ray was a one-time scriptwriter for Dasgupta.) Other noteworthy films by Dasgupta included a touching documentary on rural artisans The Weavers of Maindurgi. Tata Industries commissioned him to make The Story of Steel, shot by Renoir and interspersed with haunting melodies by Ravi Shankar on sitar. Dasgupta also made a moving biographical sketch of the singer Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib.
Despite some very fine productions, private producers got short shrift from the government. It accepted only a very few independent productions for distribution, and so they sought patronage of corporate houses, state governments and some statutory bodies like the Tea and Coffee Board and the Khadi and Village Industries Commission.
Social Conscience. The FD, which had fallen back after an initial creative period, found new bearings in the 1960s when Jean Bhownagary was asked to take over as Chief Adviser at the specific request of Indira Gandhi, who was Minister for Information and Broadcasting. He brought fresh energy into the organisation, lending support to new and experimental efforts and even allowing anti-establishment films to be made.
A number of competent filmmakers like K.S. Chari, S.N.S. Shastry, Pramod Pati, K.K. Kapil and T.A. Abraham came to fore at this time. Their films included the hard-hitting Report on Drought, Pati´s experimental Explorer, Trip and Actual Experiences 1 & 11, and a critical look at family planning programmes. Films on art and culture, biographies and personality films, children´s films, educational and motivational films were churned out by the FD, in addition to the usual newsreels.
By far the most significant filmmaker nurtured by the FD at this time was S. Sukhdev, a former assistant to Paul Zils. Sukhdev was determined to marry art to activism. He made his debut film The Saint and the Peasant in 1958 on the Bhoodan and Sarvodaya movements launched by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Armed with a portable arriflex camera and a Nagra tape-recorder, Sukhdev ventured out into the field, making vigorous political statements with documentaries like After the Eclipse and Miles to Go. As he once wrote, “For an artist who is aware of his social role and responsibilities, it is his duty to use the cinema as a weapon to expose the truth about his society.”
Sukhdev experimented with form, as in India 67, where unconnected shots were put together based on the principle known as ´wheel montage´. But he is best remembered for initiating the investigative, politically-aware documentary. Beyond the fact that he died at the young age of 43, what was tragic was that towards the end Sukhdev was churning out government-sponsored tracts for the FD (see article on pg. 25).
Sukhdev´s protege, Tapan Bose, however, picked up the gauntlet and along with his associate Suhasini Mulay directed An Indian Story. Made with very little money, the film took a searing look at the blinding of prisoners by the police in Bhagalpur, Bihar. The film was banned and the makers had to save it through a court order. Bose and Mulay´s next film, Bhopal: A Genocide, focussed on the Bhopal gas tragedy, presenting a tale of technological development gone awry.
But it was Anand Patwardhan who created the environment which granted respectability to the kind of films made by Bose and Mulay and who moulded this genre into a movement. Patwardhan, a young political activist who had studied cinema in Canada, made his debut in 1974 with Waves of Revolution. It was a film that captured the discontent of the Indian people of the time and spoke for Jayaprakash Narayan´s movement. The film went underground when Mrs Gandhi declared her Emergency in 1975. Prisoners of Conscience, made by Patwardhan during the Emergency, had to be smuggled in bits and pieces for processing overseas.
At the same time, another young filmmaker Utpalendu Chakravorty was pawning his wife´s jewellery to make Mukti Chai. Shot mostly with a hand-held camera, the documentary described how civil liberties had been compromised in the country right from the days of the Rowlett Act under the British to the proclamation of the Emergency. In 1974, Gautam Ghose made Hungry Autumn, probing the causes and repercussions of the famine-like situation prevalent in West Bengal.
Patwardhan, meanwhile, went on to make A Time to Rise and Bombay, My City. The latter was judged the best documentary film of the year by the government, described as “a powerful and lucid essay on the politics of space and structures that have dictated the blueprints of our country´s irrational development”. In its very next act, the government banned the film, and Patwardhan went to court (see interview on pg 28). The court directed the government to telecast it, which it did over Doordarshan at midnight without giving notice. Much wiser, Patwardhan got his next two films, both dealing with communalism, telecast over Doordarshan on prime time through court orders.
In Memory of Friends was based in Punjab when militancy was ascendant. Ram ke Naam was about Ayodhya. In both, Patwardhan interviewed people living in the region of conflict, showing how they were totally non-communal in their outlook and how passions were whipped up by outside interests to suit their own purposes. Father, Son and Holy War, about the role of macho-hood in communalism, rounds off what Patwardhan calls his ´trilogy´.
Reaching out to Viewers. Censorship, problems of financing, limited distribution facilities and government control of the media are problems common to most independent filmmakers in India today. A minute of raw stock alone costs INR 700 to 800, and the cost of post-production facilities tends to be prohibitive. Sponsors are rare to come by, with satellite television and the industrial houses preferring not to be associated with uncomfortable, anti-establishment films. Meanwhile, documentaries continue to be shown to a limited circle of film societies. Although even this could make a difference as the cumulative numbers are not insignificant, the audience remains an elite one.
It is important to reach out to the larger audience, but most filmmakers do not have the resources or energy of Patwardhan to go to court every time to get their films shown. Meanwhile, explains filmmaker Pankaj Butalia, who has made When Hamlet Came to Mizoram, and the award-winning Moksha (on Hindu widows in Benaras), viewers are reluctant to see documentaries that do not have the pace associated with the commercial feature.
Besides, says Butalia, the urban middle class which has the money and clout to dictate trends is usually indifferent to the realistic fare of the documentary. It does not help either that most of these films veer towards a left-of-centre viewpoint. Explains Butalia, “If you are concerned with what is happening in society, it naturally pushes you to left of centre.”
Whatever the difficulties they face, films that question, probe, and raise consciousness are here to stay. Among these are films on environmental and developmental issues. Ranjan Palit and Vasudha Joshi´s Voices from Baliapal effectively tells the story of ethnic communities opposing government plans for a military base in their midst. There is Patwardhan and Simantini Dhuru´s A Narmada Diary, on the movement against the Sardar Sarovar Project. Anwar Jamal´s Bhagirathi Ki Pukar tells of the havoc that can be wreaked with the construction of the Tehri Dam.
Of course, over and beyond the activist film there are also documentaries of different genres being made, in ever-more variety. Some remarkable ones include Nandan Kudhyani´s Rasyatra on Mallikarjun Mansur, the doyen of Indian classical music, a masterful evocation of the man and his art. Reena Mohan´s Kamla Bai is a warm and respectful portrait of a remarkable old lady who was also India´s first screen actress. The late Sudhanshu Mitra´s The Disappearing Poem documents the slow but sure march towards extinction of the Agharia tribals of Madhya Pradesh.
Women to the Fore. Yet another dimension has been added to the activist-documentary movement by the participation of women filmmakers. Starting with Meera Dewan´s powerful Gift of Love (1982) on the premeditated murder of a dowry victim, women filmmakers have introduced an additional dimension and depth not only to films dealing with the condition of women, but to other burning issues of the day. Says critic Maithili Rao, women have always been custodians of India´s rich oral traditions which has made them carriers of culture and honed their story-telling skills. “Modern technology has given them new tools to tell their stories, making the personal into the political in the very process of purposeful story telling,” she says.
Deepa Dhanraj´s films cover a wide range with a strong feminist point of view. Molkarin is on the unionisation of women workers in Pune; Yeh Sirf Kahani Nahin Hai (This Is Not Just a Story) is on domestic violence; Sudesha is the story of women activists of the Chipko movement; Something Like a War takes a look at the bias of family planning programmes against women; and Kya Hua Is Shaher Ko (What Happened to This City) probes the bloody communal riots in Hyderabad (Deccan).
Madhushree Dutta´s I Live In Behrampada looks closely at the caste and class relationships in a particular Bombay neighbourhood which led to the communal carnage during the riots of 1992. Suma Josson´s Bombay Blood Yatra, on the same riots, exposes the failure of the administration.
The list of spirited women who make documentaries can go on and on: Manjira Dutta´s The Sacrifice of Babulal Bhuiyan, on the death of a colliery worker; Sumitra Bhave´s Bai and Chakori, on marginalised women´s fight to retain dignity; Sagari Chhabra´s incisive Now I Will Speak on the plight of rape victims; and Nilita Vachani´s Eyes of Stone, which probes into the psyche of a woman given to fits of demonic possession.
Feature Documentaries. It is the feature filmmakers who have crafted some of the finest documentaries in India. Much before Anand Patwardhan arrived in the scene, Shyam Benegal made his first documentary, A Child of the Street (1967). It is the story of a nine-year-old juvenile´s vagrancy which ends in the safe haven of a rehabilitation centre. Benegal´s Indian Youth: An Exploration and Horoscope for a Child again reflected his concern about India´s young, the latter showing a fair degree of investigative flair.
Among other cinematographers, Kumar Shahani produced a notable film on spastic children, A Certain Childhood. His Fire in the Belly is a strong critique of the man-made Maharashtra famine of 1971. Mani Kaul made two intensely subjective films: Dhrupad, on the most ancient form of Hindustani classical and vocal music and Siddheshwari on the classical vocalist of the same name. He also made the lively Nomad Puppeteers of Rajasthan and the sombre Arrival, on the influx of migrant labour to Bombay. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a big name in Bollywood today, made the moving An Encounter with Faces on abandoned and homeless children. The film won him many prizes as well as an Oscar nomination.
Satyajit Ray himself made many important contributions to the documentary genre. He preferred to make films on personalities which appealed to him, and they included Rabindra Nath Tagore, Bharat Natyam dancer Balasaraswati, painter Binod Bihari Mukherjee, and Ray´s own father Sukumar Ray. Ray was not averse to using dramatisation, and in fact he sought to reinterpret Grierson´s definition of the documentary as a “creative interpretation of reality”. To him, reality was not confined to the tangible aspects of everyday existence.
In the eyes of Ray, the ´cinema verite´ and the ´face to face´ technique were both suspect as he believed no human being would behave normally when faced with a camera and microphone. Believing thus, he wrote, “It is the sensitive artist´s subjective approach to reality that ultimately matters and that is true as much of documentaries as of fiction films.”
What is remarkable is that the feature films made by these great cinematographers of India were all firmly rooted in reality. Some even had elements of the documentary in them. For their unwavering attention to real-life situations, the move from documentary filmmaking to producing acclaimed features seems to have been but a natural progression.
Pakistani Movement of Two
When Pakistan became independent in 1947, it had very few facilities to make films as most of the industry and infrastructure had remained with India. The government set up the official Department of Films and Publication (DFP) in 1948 for canning archival footage about the creation of Pakistan and producing newsreels. The first films had to be sent abroad for processing.
Soon enough, however, the DFP was churning out its quota of propaganda films. As in India, Pakistan adopted the colonial government´s regulations for compulsory screening of such films in theatres. These regulations are still in force. Although the DFP obviously does not encourage the critical, investigative documentary, it has made some good films.
Of these, the most frequently mentioned is Boat Bridges, shot in Sind and interspersed with recitation of Ghulam Farid´s poems in the resonant voice of Asad Amanat Ali.Sri
Started in 1964, Pakistan Television (PTV) has played a key role in keeping the documentary alive in the country. The station experienced a creative period in the 1980s, producing a string of fine productions including: A Ball Named Tango, on the manufacture of footballs; Zahir Bhatti´s Silhouettes of Fortune, on water buffaloes; Thar-Land and the People, on the Thar desert and its inhabitants; Life in Stone, on stone sculptures depicting the life of the Buddha; and Threadline Pakistan, a history of weaving in the country. PTV also spawned the talents of Shirin Pasha, who debuted with Cholistan in 1980, which was a touching film on the search for water by desert dwellers. Pasha is considered one of the most competent documentary makers in the country today.
The National Film Development Corporation (NAFDEC) is a government body with a brief to produce documentaries, but its contribution over two decades of existence has been negligible – no more than four films. NAFDEC´s track records only goes to prove the old truism, that government bodies will always tread warily when it comes to backing documentary projects and they would rather tie their hands in embarrassment than support critical, consciousness-raising films.
Amidst all the government-sponsored filmmakers of Pakistan, one man stands out for addressing social concerns starkly and without compromise. Mushtaq Gazdar is an independent producer based in Karachi, where he runs his own production unit, Films D´Art. Gazdar has addressed feminist themes as in the award-winning Noorie, about the dilemmas facing a middle-class girl. His Girl Child Not Wanted explores women´s secondary status in Pakistani society. Gazdar has also made a film on drug addiction (The Killer), another contrasting the lives of rich and poor children with the ironic recitation of a prayer as accompaniment (Prayer), and one on the influx of the Sind peasantry into Karachi (The Concert on the Footpath).
The films of Pasha and Gazdar have both faced censorship problems. Gazdar´s films have never been exhibited in the cinema, and he has had to rely on festivals abroad for an audience. There is little or no sponsorship from the private sector. Besides Pasha and Gazdar, there doesn´t seem to be a documentary “movement” as such in the country.
Italians in Lanka
Like its subcontinental neighbours, upon independence Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) too decided to set up a Government Film Unit (GFU), in 1948. The difference was that it invited two Italians – Guilo Petroni and Frederico Serra – to help in the task. Initially, the GFU owned only two 35mm cameras salvaged from the surplus stock of the British army. The GFU films, which had to be processed in Madras, were distributed in theatres and schools throughout the country.
Even with the limitations of equipment, Petroni and Serra made some very fine films. Both filmmakers were influenced by the neo-realism movement in Italian cinema and they brought elements of it into their Sri Lankan films. Significant among these were Petroni´s Hill Capital, on the hill city of Kandy, and New Horizons, on the government´s land reclamation and settlement schemes. In the latter, the stark depiction of the lives of poverty-stricken villagers in the arid zone earned Petroni many plaudits. Before long, he was deported by the government on suspicion of being a communist.
Serra started out as a sound engineer, but proved his abilities as a filmmaker with Royal Mail, a delightful treatise on the country´s postal service. Ralph Keene was another significant filmmaker in the GFU, whose Heritage of Lanka and Nelugama, depicting the life of a fishing community, are regarded as highlights of Sri Lankan filmmaking.
One of Sri Lanka´s best-known documentarists was Lester James Peries, whose Conquest of the Dry Zone, on the fight against malaria, won a special mention at the Venice Film Festival. George Wickramasinghe, too, won a string of awards for his works, including Kandy Perahera on the colourful annual festival. Irwin Dassanayake made The Living Wild on the abundant wildlife in the island, which won an honourable mention at the Vancouver Film Festival back in 1959. Pragnasoma Hetiaracchchi´s Rhythms of the People, a lyrical treatment of folk arts of southern Sri Lanka, also won a certificate of merit at Vancouver film festival. Hetiaracchchi is also acclaimed for his film Makers, Motifs and Materials, on Sri Lanka´s traditional crafts.
In later years, the GFU went into decline as each government of the day insisted on using it as an instrument for political propaganda. On the other hand, neither have independent filmmakers been able to make significant contributions, although there are a few notable exceptions. Among these are Sangadasa´s Towards a Desert, on increasing deforestation, and Dharmasiri Bandaranaike´s A Dream of the Desert.
The civil war which has so embedded itself in the psyche of the nation has produced few searching documentaries. And though social concerns are visible in the documentaries that are made, it can be said, like in most parts of South Asia, in Sri Lanka, too, there appears to be as yet little sign of a “movement” for the making and appreciation of documentary films.
Workshop in Dhaka
The 1971 liberation has been a recurring leitmotif in Bangladeshi films. Before the country emerged independent in 1971, Zahir Raihan made Jibsin Thekay Naya (Glimpses of Life) depicting the rise of nationalism in the then East Pakistan. During the liberation war, Raihan made two other documentaries, Stop Genocide, a strong statement against the Pakistani army´s mass killings, and A State Is Born, recording the country´s bloody birth.
These, along with Babulal Chowdhry´s Innocent Millions and Alamgir Kabir´s Liberation Fighters, are films which have touched many a Bangladeshi´s heart. The latest film on this theme is the well-received Muktir Gaan (Song of Freedom), made in 1995, superbly put together from archival footage by Catherine and Tareque Masud. Muktir Gaan has the distinction of being probably the most-watched documentary film in South Asian history, running to full houses in commercial cinema halls and to overflowing crowds in makeshift rural screenings (see cover image of this issue of Himal).
After independence in 1971, Bangladesh too set up its own Department of Film and Publication (DFP), which, along with Bangladesh Television (BTV), went on as expected to produce propaganda shorts. It was only in 1984 that independent filmmakers moved in to make meaningful documentaries.
It began with Morshedul Islam´s Agami (Towards) and Tanvir Mokammel´s Hooliya (Wanted). The audience was provided by the politically and socially aware middle classes looking for something more than the escapist fare of commercial cinema. The connoisseur public´s growing interest in this variety of alternative cinema has been nudging this trend into a nascent movement.
Documentaries received a significant fillip through several film workshops which were organised in Dhaka over the course of the 1980s. One such, conducted by the German documentarist Christof Huebner, led to the production of two important films in 1986. These were Dhaka Tokai, depicting the travails of child labourers, and Dhaka Rickshaw, on the role of pedal-power in the life of the metropolis.
In 1991, another workshop produced the landmark Starring Rosy, which portrayed the life and struggle of a junior artiste in Bangladesh´s commercial cinema. Huebner and the Goethe Institute in Dhaka helped organise yet another exercise that ended with the screening of One Day in Krishannagar in 1993, on a fisherfolk´s village of that name.
A defining moment came in 1990, when young, committed filmmakers interested in producing quality films at low cost banded together to form the Protishabda Alternative Communication Centre (PACC). The films produced by PACC have tended to focus on investigative political coverage on the one hand, and feminist themes on the other. Child labour, too, has been of special concern to Bangladeshi documentarists. Shahanshah Alam Tutul´s Ananya Pathey (The Path Not Taken) is considered an important contribution.
PACC´s maiden production Michiler Mukh (Face in the Millions) is a stirring report on the national political crisis of 1990 and the movement towards democracy. The film was scripted and directed by Zakir Hossain Raju, also the Founding President of PACC. Raju´s second film Durer Jatra (Miles to Go) takes a close look at the 1991 election and draws the conclusion that a free election does not necessarily mean power to the people. With Ekjon Bulur Aakhyan (Tale of a Woman), Raju recounts a woman´s release from a failed marriage. His next film, Beloved Wife, describes atrocities committed against women.
The difficulties in Bangladesh are the same as elsewhere. When the PACC found the 35mm and 16mm film out of reach, it resorted to using the video camcorder. But they hardly have access to sophisticated equipment and technology available in the country, confined as it is basically to the DFP, BTV and 10 or so NGOs. Says critic Ziaul Haq Swapan, “The handful of enthusiasts engaged here in the ´creative treatment of reality´ are fighting in two ways – towards democratising politics as well as the art form they are engaged in.”