Leesa Gazi, a British-Bangladeshi filmmaker, author, and theatre practitioner, is also the co-founder of Komola Collective, a London-based arts company dedicated to telling stories from women’s perspectives.
Her work in Birangona: Women of War, and Rising Silence, centred around sexual abuse survivors in the aftermath of Bangladesh’s Liberation War, has won her widespread acclaim. With Barir Naam Shahana, she redefines the concept of ‘live and let live’. It is a poignant story about a woman who breaks stereotypes.
Dipa, the central character, is artfully played by Aanon Siddiqua, who also co-wrote the film. Dipa opts for divorce in the face of marital abuse. The story is set in Bangladesh in the 1990s, a time when a woman would need to have nerves of steel to deal with the stigma of a broken marriage, especially if she is from a rural community. Being a young divorcee in the 90s herself, Gazi has poured a bit of her soul into the film.
The simple yet gutsy story is made more interesting by the fact that it is based on real events. Raised by a largely unmotivated father and step mother, Dipa relies on her uncle and is controlled by him. One teenage indiscretion later, she is hastily given away in marriage to a widower in London. After suffering marital rape at the hands of her husband far away from home, Dipa returns to her country, Bangladesh, refusing to live a claustrophobic life. She escapes to her family home to pursue an education in medicine.
Dipa is neither a glamorous nor an overtly fiery heroine. Her reactions to her surroundings are quite natural. The film is never for a moment treated as a sob story for a young woman.
Dipa is resilient and hopeful in her youth, funny and forthright in her attitude and dares to live life on her own terms. Her sheer audacity to do so is what sets her apart from a dearth of other women, who silently suffer fate’s cruelty in the form of their abusive partners.
As revealed by Gazi in interviews, she is awed by the courage of ordinary Bangladeshi women who face infamy and injustices but still dare to build their own paths. Dipa is one such woman.
The film also features Lutfur Rahman George, Iresh Zaker, Kazi Ruma, Kamrunnahar Munni, Mugdhota Morshed Wriddhi, Amirul Haque Chowdhury, Naila Azad, Arif Islam, Naimur Rahman Apon, and Jayanto Chattopadhyay in important roles.
In her quest to make her first ever fiction film as authentic as possible, Gazi, as the director, spent a good amount of time looking for the perfect home for Dipa. After finding one in the small town of Kushtia, she worked on creating the apt 90s setting for her story. Some scenes were also shot in a small English town and on-location sounds rendered artificial dubbing unnecessary.
Produced by Komola Collective in association with Goopy Bagha Productions Limited, Barir Naam Shahana has won numerous accolades. Following the Gender Sensitivity Award from the Film Critics Guild of India, where Aditya Srikrishna, Bharti Pradhan, and Stuti Ghosh served as jury members, it was selected for the main competition at the prestigious Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in India.
The film was also featured at the BFI London Indian Film Festival, Birmingham Indian Film Festival, and Yorkshire Indian Film Festival in 2023. Furthermore, it is set to be screened at the Dhaka International Film Festival 2024, which is scheduled to be held from January 20 to 28. These screenings are testimony to the strong themes highlighted in the movie and the powerful resonance of its narrative.