COLOMBO: Pakistan was the lone loser at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Film Festival which concluded here last Saturday. While every other SAARC country won an award, Pakistan did not.

Pakistan had entered Bin Roye directed by Momina Duraid and Shazad Kashmiri) and Mah-e-Mir directed by Anjum Shahzad, both films dealing with complex issues. Both got a good reception from the audience. In fact, Bin Roye starring Humayun Saeed and Mahira Khan (familiar to Sri Lankan audiences thanks to Rais), received claps at the end of the show.

Produced by Hum TV Bin Roye was about a love triangle, a tragic story of regret, remorse and reunion which shows how love can bring out the best and the worst in human beings. The 2015 film was derided by critics as a “sob fest” but struck a chord with the hoi polloi making it a commercial success at home and abroad including India where it was released on a record 81 screens.

Mah-e-Mir had a more challenging theme of a modern day poet who embodies who imagines himself to be Mir Taqi Mir, the great 19th.Century Indian poet. The protagonist’s portrayal of Mir Taqi Mir provides rare glimpses of the latter’ life and times and their relevance to the present day world. The art film, with Sanam Saeed in the female lead, had limited public appeal but received good reviews. Rafay Mahmood of The Express Tribune gave the film 4/5 stars. "Watch the film with your friends and family. It is worth your money and initiates a constructive discourse," he wrote.

But neither Bin Roye nor Mah-e-Mir got an award at the Colombo Fest, while every other country got at least one. Commenting on this, one of the organizers said: “It was unfair. A balance could have been maintained.”

Lankan Success

Sri Lanka bagged three awards. Asoka Handagama (Best Director and Best Feature film- Let Her Cry ). The Best Actor award went to the trio Dasun Pathirana, Jehan Sri Kanth and Yasodha Rasanduni, who appeared in the film Frangipani directed by Visakesa Chandrasekaram.

The Best Actress award went to Aishath Rishmy in the Maldivian film Vishka. The Best Short Film was Water from Afghanistan. The Special Jury and the Best Sound Designer awards went to Pinky (India). The Indian entry Taandav got a Special Jury-Special Mention award. The Best Editor award went to the Nepalese film Dying Candle, the Best Cinematography prize went to the Afghanistan film The Bird Was Not A Bird and the Best Screenplay award went to Tauquir Ahmed for the Bangladeshi film Oggatonama (The Un-named).

Bengali Lead Actor In Lankan Film

Sri Lankan director Asoka Handagama’s Let her Cry (Ega Esa Aga) which was adjudged the Best Feature Film, was hailed by the Jury “for its originality and the overall excellent execution of a complex narrative.” The veteran Lankan film maker’s direction of the film was described as a “creative bridging of script and film in handling a broad range character types.”

Let her Cry had Indian Bengali actor Dhritiman Chatterji and the veteran Sri Lankan actress Swarna Mallawarakchchi in the lead. It is about the impact of an aging Professor’s love affair with a pretty young student, the deleterious impact this has on his loving wife, and the latter’s extraordinary final decision to invite the young par amour to move in and be part of the family.

About the actors Dasun, Jehan and Yasodha, in the other Sri Lankan film Frangipani (Sayapethi Kusuma), the Jurors said that the three actors “conveyed an in-depth portrait of a marginalized group through a delicate ensemble of performances.”

Frangipani presents the story of two young men and a woman entangled in a lustful love triangle tabooed in their remote but rapidly changing village in Sri Lanka, a country governed by old colonial laws that permit imprisonment of gay and lesbian people. The film shows that hiding from these laws, gay and lesbian people exist in sleepy villages as well as in the cities of the island.

Talking to Daily Express, Sri Lankan Director Handagama said: “I have tried to show how dreams are realized in the contemporary world and the complexities created by the generation gap in a realistic context.”

(Rithika Kodithuwakku and Swarna Mallawarachcchi in Let her Cry)

Let Her Cry is Handagama’s first entry into the SAARC Film Festival. About Bengali actor Dhritiman Chatterji, he said: “ Being an experienced man and an intellectual, Dhritiman contributed useful ideas in the process of making of the film.”


About the Bangladeshi film Oggatonama (The Unnamed) on the woes of workers who go abroad for petty jobs, which won the award for the Best Screenplay, the jury said: “It creates a very humanistic and coherent story combining a strong range of characters and complex interplay of moods.”

Reacting to the award, the only Bengali film to get one, Director Tauquir Ahmed said: “I am honored. Films from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan were very good and therefore, the contest was tough. I am glad to have won this prize against stiff competition.”

“I was able to connect with the audience through the film which dealt with some disturbing issues faced by Bangladeshi labor migrating to the Middle East and other countries to eke out a living. The workers are exploited and abused, even sexually. There are no human rights as far these people are concerned. I wanted to bring these things out through cinema and I believe I have been effective. Some in the audience at the showing here were in tears.”

At the end of the show, the audience clapped in appreciation. The film had clearly struck a chord among the Sri Lankan audience because Sri Lanka also sends lakhs of workers both men and women to the Middle East, Italy and Korea.

In Sri Lanka it is not unusual to get back body bags from these places. Some workers come back with body parts missing. Agents who are but racketeers squeeze these poor rural folk dry and the overseas employers hold on to wages for months if not years.

Oggatonama is the story of an un-named dead body of a worker which arrives in a Bangladeshi village from another country. The story revolves round a human trafficker Ramjan and a corrupt local policeman Farhad. The duo get entangled in the mystery of a dead body and the rest of the film is about their travails in disposing off the body which nobody claims.

Ramjan had sent a young man called Asir abroad faking his identity. Against this background the dead body of a worker arrives in Asir’s village. Ramjan, the local recruiting agent, tries to foist it on Asir’s father forcing him to own the body as his son’s. The father refuses to fake his own identity and take the body. The police too try to foist it on somebody and wash their hands off of the morbid case. Moreover, the body is not even that of a Muslim (not having been circumcised) for a Muslim to accept. Ramjan bribes the police to hush the case up.

(In the film Oggatonama, villagers are shocked to see a stranger's body in the coffin sent to them by the government to own up and bury)

However, Asir’s father, Ramjan and Farhad feel it is their bounden duty to find out the whereabouts of the dead man’s family and handing over the body to it. The trio goes from one government agency to another to locate the family but in vain. Finally, the father says that he will give it a decent burial whether it is his own son’s or somebody else’s son, whether it is the body of a Muslim, Hindu or a Christian, from Bangladesh, Kerala or Sri Lanka.

The film shows how even in the midst of corruption, illegal activities and avariciousness, human instincts and the goodness in men survive and surface from time to time, Ahmed said.

Travails Of An Art Film Maker

What set Ahmed thinking about the theme of a returned dead body was an incident related to him by his domestic help. A dead body had been sent to her village but it did not belong to any family there. She couldn’t remember what happened after that. That set him researching on the theme for six years. Eventually he produced a play entitled Oggatonama.

“ When the play proved to be a success I wanted more people to see it and started working on a film script. But nobody wanted to finance a film based on a morbid subject like this,” Ahmed recalled.

“Eventually, I decided to work on a small budget and using an ordinary camera. The cast were drawn from my friends in Bengali theatre,” he said.

There was another hurdles to be crossed. Not being a typical commercial film, Oggatonama was released in only 10 theaters in Bangladesh. But when it attracted a crowd, the number of screens increased to 15.

“But my happiness was short lived. It was taken off in a week!” he recalled.

In the meanwhile, somebody had pirated the film and put it up YouTube. This got a million viewers. Then his producers put it legally on the YouTube and the viewership rose to 10 million.

“A film rejected locally turned out to be an international hit! Subsequently the film got viewed in 20 film festivals abroad including the Kolkata film festival, and has bagged 10 awards,” Ahmed said.

(Cover photo: Mahira Khan in Bin Roye)