Against The Tide

Aung has successfully done what he set out to do- make the first ever film about the Chakma community with a story anyone can relate to. Tamzidur Rahman listens in as the film-maker discusses his filmAung bhai 2-01

Photos: Tamzidur Rahman

Aung Rakhine is an indie filmmaker who recently completed work on his directorial debut My Bicycle. The movie is unique in the sense that it is entirely in the Chakma language and focuses on the lifestyle of the ethnic minority of Bangladesh. The story centres on a man looking to provide for his family through the use of his bicycle and the struggles he faces in order to do so. The onscreen characters are played by men and women who have had almost no experience in the field of acting; however, their performances received praise from everybody who has watched it.

How difficult was it to film in the Chakma language and recruit and work with non-actors?

The process was simple enough. Since this was a passion project, I did not rely on finances. I’ve been planning and writing the script for about a decade. When I officially started working with the actual filming of the film, I had to get the Bangla script translated as it was meant to be in Chakma language. There were certain literary struggles we had to overcome, for instance, there are certain Bangla words or concepts that are entirely non-existent in Chakma. Some lines had to be dropped entirely during the translation process. The actors I worked with had absolutely no experience with acting in front of a camera. Some of them had performed at the local NGO-funded theatre prior to the filming of the film. I trained them for approximately two months before principle photography. The training included physical movement, blocking, expressions, voice projection, etc. Although the first day of shooting was a little difficult, from the second day onwards everyone was a bit more confident and it only went uphill from there. In fact, their overall performance turned out to be so good that many viewers actually praised it saying that it didn’t seem like acting but more like daily interactions.

What did you want people to take away from the movie?

Everyday, Bangladesh is subject to countless film releases yet they are all shot in Bangla even though the country is home to people of different cultures and communities. This phenomenon is almost exclusive to our country. India, for instance, successfully produces films in many of the different languages spoken in their country like Tamil, Bengali, Gujrati, etc. In our current day and time, films are a mass medium of story-telling. They have become so important that certain movies actually resulted in nationwide revolutions. Since My Bicycle is the first ever film about the indigenous people of Bangladesh as well as having been shot in the Chakma language, it is already a very big step up in the film industry. With this movie I want to show to the audience the lifestyle of the Chakma community – their day to day activities, hardships, the influence of major political decisions on their lives, etc. Furthermore, the story I tried to tell through this movie is not only restricted to the Chakma community but one that anybody can relate to. I have used themes like struggle and survival which are shared experiences for people all over the world. I also included a little information about the Kaptai Dam which is very important to me. At the beginning of the film, the main character is on a boat discussing how his house used to be right there on the deep body of water. Hopefully, that scene will pique the audience’s interest enough to investigate the issue further. Over two hundred thousand people lost their homes due to the inception of the Kaptai Dam and to this day, the people who have made such a huge sacrifice have neither been reimbursed; nor have they received the basic utilities like electricity. This was something I wanted to share without making a big deal out of.

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If you could go back and change something, what would it be?

In terms of the story or structure of the movie, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing. However, if I did have the option to go back and reshoot, I’d want to do it with better equipment and props.

What are some of the major challenges you had to face?

One of the major challenges my team and I had to overcome was the proximity of locations. Sometimes the only way to get to a certain place was by a boat. This actually became a routine for the production team and crew. We’d wake up at six in the morning then travel for an hour, then film for three more and then finally spend another hour during the return journey. This experience actually enhanced the team spirit.