The sophomore feature of Dhaka-based director Abdullah Mohammad Saad, Rehana Maryam Noor is Bangladesh's own MeToo story, though it is set in the middle of the last decade, years before the movement shook the world.
Bangladesh got itself a seat on the high table of world cinema this month when Rehana Maryam Noor, a feature film in Bengali, was selected for the 74th Cannes film festival. The sophomore feature of Dhaka-based director Abdullah Mohammad Saad, Rehana Maryam Noor is Bangladesh’s own MeToo story, though it is set in the middle of the last decade, years before the movement shook the world. Part of Cannes festival’s Un Certain Regard section that celebrated fresh voices in world cinema, Rehana Maryam Noor tells the story of a medical college teacher who is caught in the cross hairs of patriarchy and societal indifference after witnessing a sexual assault on a student by a senior faculty member. A Bangladesh-Singapore co-production, the film follows Saad’s debut feature, Live From Dhaka, about the struggle of the disabled in Bangladesh. In an email interview, the director told Faizal Khan about the making of the movie and the significance of the Cannes premiere. Edited excerpts:
Your film was the first Bangladeshi film in the official selection of the Cannes film festival in its 74 editions. How big an honour was it for you and Bangladesh?
It’s a huge honour and a great inspiration for me. I feel truly lucky. For my country, it meant a lot too. Especially since it is our 50th year of independence. Everyone back home is so happy and proud. The Bangladeshi film industry is developing fast. There are so many talented independent filmmakers in our country. While Rehana Maryam Noor might be the first Bangladeshi film in Cannes’ Official Selection, our films have been regularly present in the international scene for the last decade.
As with any industry, it takes time to understand the scope and the possibility—I think we are close to the point where independent filmmakers will get a better atmosphere, financially and structurally.
When did you start writing the story for Rehana Maryam Noor? Is the film based on a true story?
I started writing Rehana Maryam Noor in mid-2017. It is not based on a true story, but I always write from my personal experience and what I have been closely observing in my life.
The film is set in the middle of the last decade. Did the brutal killing of Bangladeshi teenager Nusrat Jahan Jafi two years ago for reporting sexual assault have any influence on the film project?
It was very tragic and, of course, it made me think. However, my film is not a political statement nor does it tell the story of a champion.
How has Bangladesh, a country with a large share of women in the workforce, especially in the important garment exports industry, responded to the MeToo movement?
I think the movement made a great impact. Like anywhere in the world, it certainly raised consciousness.
What has been the response of the country’s modern youth to gender inequalities and injustice?
My personal experience is that they are more and more concerned about it, and also talking about it.
Are there stringent laws in the country to protect women from sexual harassment?
I don’t have enough knowledge to make a proper comment on this matter.
You shot the film during the pandemic, completely indoors. What difficulties did you face during the film’s journey?
I actually shot the film before the pandemic started, in late 2019.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer