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Bangladesh’s ‘Nona Pani’ to be screened at 29th KIFF - GetBengal story

29 November, 2023 10:40:22
Bangladesh’s ‘Nona Pani’ to be screened at 29th KIFF - GetBengal story

The 29th KIFF is knocking at the doors for every movie buff of Bengal, India and worldwide to be a part of this unique festival. There are six Asian films competing in the category of NETPAC (Asian Select) at the Kolkata International Film Festival. The list includes the film “Nona Pani” (Barren Waters) directed by the independent film director of Bangladesh, Syeda Neegar Banu.

A still from the movie ‘Nona Pani'

The narrative of 'Nona Pani' intricately weaves the story of life in Khulna, the southern region of Bangladesh, depicting the profound impact of Cyclone Aila on the lives of its inhabitants. The aftermath of this natural disaster has not only induced significant climate changes but has also catalyzed shifts in professions and emotional trauma, presenting formidable challenges for the local populace. The film was shot in different villages of Khulna. Most people involved in the making of the film are locals of Khulna. Botkhali village, which is on the banks of river Bhadra near Khulna’s Sundarbans is represented by 3 characters - Romba, Dashpai and Krishna. All these characters are very simple, so much so that they do not have any story to tell. The three characters Romba, Dashpai and Krishna are linked to each other through their loneliness, helplessness, stubbornness and struggle for survival. There is a longing in them to reconnect with their roots, a yearning to fight back and a determination to liberate themselves from the pervasive grip of helplessness.

Director, Syeda Neegar Banu, Bangladesh

Syeda Neegar Banu says: “The story of Nona Pani struck me at the end of the year 2012. In 2003, two of my stories were published in a little magazine. The main protagonists of the two stories are also used in Nona Pani. The writing of the screenplay was completed in 2013. Coincidentally, I came across an advertisement calling for submissions of a screenplay by Bengal Creations Limited. A total of 125 screenplays were submitted and Nona Pani was among the 5 selected from those entries. During the pandemic, the production company was facing financial trouble which is why the post production was suspended. After a few years, the production company completed the film.”

Syeda Neegar Banu was not ready to let a decade’s work go in vain. She advised that since the film is mainly focused on the people of the Khulna region, it should be promoted there. If the film is screened in the cinema halls of Khulna, then it could attract the local audience and contribute to the film's financial success. Accordingly, Nona Pani premiered on 3rd February, 2023, at the Shilpakala Academy Auditorium in Khulna District. This created history as it was the first film to be premiered outside the capital city of Dhaka. 

In both Bengals, societal barriers persistently impede women from venturing into the realm of cinema and Syeda Neegar Banu's journey was not alien to it as well. Despite a childhood steeped in television and cinematic experiences, Banu's pursuit of film education in London was a self-driven initiative. She helped in revitalizing the Parallel Cine Movement (PCM) and reformed it in Khulna. At this moment, PCM is working on 3 issues – training, construction and demonstration. Banu staunchly advocates for a mass movement in filmmaking. She said, “We have to tell our own stories to avoid distortion or suppression. The film is one such medium of art that is money-driven and profit-centric. The film industry's prevalent profit-driven nature necessitates a shift toward an anti-establishment doctrine, liberating cinema from being solely profit-centric and fostering its essence as an artistic medium.”

Syeda Nigar Banu holds a Masters in Video Production and Film Studies from the University of West London. She has produced more than twenty films as a director and screenwriter. The 2 hours and 5 minutes film mainly stars Bangladeshi theatre workers, like Bilkis Banu, Kazi Rakibul Haque Ripon, Jayita Mahalanobis, etc. The director said, “I didn't want to tell the audience a tense and exciting story centered around a so-called character. I actually don't really want to tell any story because people's lives are not like stories, but people's lives are bigger than stories."

In 'Nona Pani,' a pivotal character named Dashpai, aged forty, grapples with societal perceptions regarding gender identity, a struggle that persists in the village community even today. Gendered identity has caused Dashpai to face marginalization. The director said, “Family, society, and the state play a large role in shaping interpersonal relationships. But we never accept people of the third gender as humans. This in turn results in distorted perceptions and a lack of genuine understanding of them. In the movie, people like Dashpai are not singled out, and avoid sensationalizing them. I have presented them within the societal context to observe how others interact with individuals of the third gender. This nuanced approach seeks to foster a genuine exploration of human connections and challenge preconceived notions surrounding gender identity.”

Nehal Qureshi skillfully handled the cinematography, capturing the visual essence of the narrative, while Iqbal Kabir Jewel lent his editing expertise to shape the final product. The music direction was entrusted to Shabab Ali Arzu. Nona Pani is the first full-length film directed by Syeda Neegar Qureshi. 

The 29th Kolkata International Film Festival's NETPAC (Asian Select) awards lineup includes a diverse array of films from different countries. Alongside 'Nona Pani,' the selection features notable works such as Kyrgyzstan's “God's Gift”, “Broken Dreams Stories from the Myanmar Cop” of Myanmar, “Walker” of Philippines, India's “Nanda School of Tradition” and the collaborative effort of Nepal and South Korea in “No Winter Holiday.”

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