SHOMA A. CHATTERJI | 29 DECEMBER, 2018
Statement After My Poet Husband’s Death
Tasmiah Afrin’s short film
Tasmiah Afrin, 35, is a Bangladeshi filmmaker-producer known for her debut short film Statement after My Poet Husband’s Death (November, 2016). Before this, she made a handful of documentaries of which Tokai (2012) received the Award for Best Short Documentary at Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival, China in 2014. She was born in in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She did her Honours and Masters’ in Political Science from the University of Dhaka. She is also a writer. She was a Jury member at the 1st International Film Festival of Nepal (IFFON) in 2017 and Siliguri International Short and Documentary film Festival in 2018. Statement after My Poet Husband’s Death has bagged awards at six film festivals in India and Bangladesh and nominated for screening at 16 National and International Film Festivals.
Excerpts from an interview:
What is this short film of 15 minutes all about?
This film is about a psychological journey of a woman named Rubi who once loved her husband .deeply. But over time, when the husband dies suddenly, she feels no grief. Sitting beside her husband’s body, she feels nothing. The film takes us back to a life filled with love followed by humiliation, insult, neglect and even violence which strips her of the love she felt for him. When she tries to analyse why this is happening to her, she realises that this was a man who, for her, died long ago so there cannot be grief for a husband long gone Rubi is no self-claiming feminist but her surroundings and her struggle has made her a strong and bold woman.
Is the film inspired from a real life incident? If not, what was your inspiration?
This is based on a short story by me titled, Kobi Shamir Mrityur Pawr Amar Joban Bondi (Statement after My Poet Husband’s Death) which was published in my short story collection Baksha Bondi in 2015. Some time back, a friend of mine lost her husband. I did not call her or visit her to offer condolences. The thought that nagged me was – how was she feeling sitting beside her husband’s body? How is her mind reacting to this loss? While these questions keep dogging me, other thoughts such as relationships I was surrounded by, the masks that peeled off faces that pretended to be very modern but could not get over their feudal mindsets seeped into this particular story. Though the treatment differed from my original thoughts, the root story remains the same in this film – my friend’s reaction to her husband’s death.
You have chosen Black-and-White as your cinematographic language. Will you kindly explain.
I had to convince myself and my entire team about why this film had to be in Black-and-White and two things emerged out of this. The first reason is that there is no colour in the life of my young protagonist Rubi. I intended to bring out some Black-and-White slices of her colourless life and in order to go in rhythm with her mental state at that time, I felt Black-and-White should be the choice. The second reason is that the film is basically a celluloid portrait of Rubi in a given time and under different circumstances. My belief as a filmmaker tells me that Black-and-White would express the feelings of this person ideally.
There are several layers to the story - one of intellectual arrogance, one about the titling power equation after marriage between the famous husband and his "simple" and ordinary wife. The third is the concept of lack of grief in a young woman who has just lost her young husband. What is your response?
The social realities that sustain in Bangladesh today triggered the logic behind each of the above elements you have talked about. I wished to talk about a loveless situation between a married couple where the death comes through the death of love itself. This complete lack of love for the partner actually reflects the very existence of the person you once loved. Therefore, the partner’s physical death does not create any new space for grief because the death of Rubi’s relationship with her husband has already registered his ‘death’ for Rubi much before he actually died. I also wished to state that the people we label as progressive, are in actuality, filled with a lot of artifice, double standards and lack of empathy which the poet husband defines a microcosm of in my film.
How did you do the casting for the film?
I was looking for a plain-looking, ordinary girl to play Rubi whose appearance would not have an iota of glamour. We took many auditions for the right look though Doel who plays Rubi in the film is quite a beauty. But I could not reject her because I saw that look f sadness that drew me to her. To keep the image glamour-free, I did not use any make-up for her. I had also told her not to pluck her eyebrows at least from a month before shooting began. For the child Rubi, I was looking for someone who bore some resemblance with Doel and I found this in Maria. There are some similarities between the two and both have dimples. For Rubi’s husband, I was looking for a young man better looking than Rubi, whose eyes were cold that would not express his mindset. I found this in Ali during the audition.
The main story is narrated in a female voice-over while actual dialogue has been kept to a minimum specially for Rub.. Why?
Rubi is mainly talking to herself. She is trying to justify her behaviour to herself. Not mourning through crying and weeping on the husband’s death, or, behaving quite normally does not seem “normal” for ‘civil’ society. So, her thoughts remain silent and are not uttered in the presence of those who have come to pay their condolences. She refuses to argue about these too. She is not a feminist at all in the popular notion of what ‘feminist’ means. Struggling constantly and fighting silent wars in her life, its surrounding ambience and the people, every ordinary woman like Rubi gains the power that adds to the strength of her spine, like these have done for Rubi. That is why she hardly speaks right through the film but in the end, she looks into the camera directly and tells the audience of her real feelings. It is just one sentence, “I have dusty allergy” and she throws away the wilted flowers her husband gave her out of the window. They have turned to dust.
As director, how much of creative freedom do you allow to your artists and your technical crew?
My cast and crew do not have much opportunity to express their views. Because discussions during pre-production with the entire cast and crew give us a clear picture of what the finished film will look like. As producer, script writer and director of the film, I would discuss and argue around every minute detail with my cinematographer, art director and production designer which reveals the final look the film will have. My actors decide how they will enact their roles during rehearsals. During the shoot, if they offer suggestions, I feel works with the film, I accept them. But during the edit, I interact with my editor to finally deal with creative freedom. For this film, my sound designer had complete freedom with designing the sound effects for the film. The exception is my music composer whose creative freedom I finally decide upon when I am sure that he/she is in complete symphony with my conceptions on the music track of my film.
Were you given the chance to make this film again, what would you have preferred to add or leave out and why?
I do not think about what I would have added had I made the film again because in my opinion, it would have been a different film altogether.