AANON H SIDDIQUA is a London-based Bangladeshi musician and performer. Formerly with Lokkhi Terra, an Afro-Cuban Bengali jazz band, she has performed worldwide and collaborated with global artistes. Her song from the documentary, The Saints of Sins, was used in the campaign short, Untangling the Politics of Hair, which earned India its first Gold at Cannes Industry Craft Lions 2023. Besides being a trained Indian classical dancer, Aanon has acted in the television series, Bubuner Baba, directed by Morshedul Islam and the short film, Life in Other Words, directed by Abrar Athar. Barir Naam Shahana is her first full-length feature film as a lead actor and co-writer. A qualified intellectual property lawyer, Aanon also recently completed her PhD.
AS A WOMAN, HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCES INFLUENCE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IN BARIR NAAM SHAHANA, WHICH RECEIVED THE GENDER SENSITIVITY AWARD AT THE JIO MAMI MUMBAI FILM FESTIVAL 2023?
The award recognised our efforts of portraying a woman who strives for gender equality and susceptivity, themes that are close to my heart. I co-wrote the film with my director, Leesa Gazi. We drew from our lived experiences for much of the narrative and character backgrounds.
Barir Naam Shahana is based on Gazi’s novella of the same name. For me, it is a celebration of a woman’s fight to stay true to herself. A woman’s life is encapsulated in her varied roles – from girl to daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. These changing phases define the enduring essence of her life’s trajectory. My character Dipa’s journey follows this arc to an evolution of an authentic individual, beyond the boundaries of men and women.
HAVING PLAYED DIPA, A DIVORCED WOMAN IN 90’S BANGLADESH, WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE THE AUDIENCE TAKES AWAY FROM THE FILM?
Gazi provided me with very specific ideas of how and why Dipa encounters certain events and experiences, which were often drawn from real life. I did workshops and rehearsed for a year to build upon and embody Gazi’s notes, along with the characteristics that we came up with for Dipa. I played her with complete honesty.
I hope the audience sees Dipa as a human being and not just as a person who carries tags that are looked down upon or deemed wicked: a woman who is divorced, opinionated, ambitious, and desires the pleasures of life. I hope people rejoice in Dipa’s triumphs, admire her relentless patience, and feel her relief from the exhaustion that resilience brings with it. No matter how exhausting, there is no end to the resilience of a woman who is determined to survive in an environment that limits expressions and ways
BENGALI FOLK IS MY MUSICAL FOCUS, BUT MY REPERTOIRE ALSO INCLUDES RABINDRA SANGEET, NAZRUL SANGEET, AND TRADITIONAL BENGALI SONGS.
HOW DO MUSIC, ACTING, AND DANCE CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR OVERALL CREATIVE EXPRESSION, AND DO THEY INTERSECT?
I am trained in Bharatnatyam and Kathak, and my work on stage started with dance. Bengali folk is my musical focus, but my repertoire also includes Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Sangeet, and traditional Bengali songs. I have worked in plays such as Women of Shakespeare, Demon’s Revenge, and Bonbibi – Daughter of the Forest with London-based production companies Komola Collective, Culturepot Global, and Tara Arts. When I gained confidence as a musician, I began singing and composing for plays alongside dancing.
These experiences solidified my belief in the breathtaking power of combining music, acting, and dance. My ability to sing for my characters and choreograph scenes, if needed, lets me breathe life into stories through the rhythm, flow, and soul of these intertwined art forms.
WHAT ROLE DO FINANCIAL INCENTIVES AND INCREASED FREEDOM PLAY IN ENABLING WOMEN TO CREATE CHARACTERS MORE AUTHENTICALLY ON SCREEN?
Gender representation on and off screen is highly imbalanced even today, especially in our region. Monetary incentives can help, but even women with financial freedom can be caught in a web of societal conditioning, unsure if their desires are truly theirs. Such illusive empowerment may not bring change to the point where women can truly be their authentic selves in society.
The more women start confidently and unapologetically owning their stories, the more the spectrum of real-life female experiences will shine through on screen, as movies mirror our world. Thankfully, we have recently witnessed a surge in narratives featuring representations of diverse and authentic women. It is a necessary and long-overdue shift.
I HOPE PEOPLE REJOICE IN DIPA’S TRIUMPHS, ADMIRE HER RELENTLESS PATIENCE, AND FEEL HER RELIEF FROM THE EXHAUSTION THAT RESILIENCE BRINGS WITH IT.
YOU ARE ALSO AN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAWYER WITH A PHD IN PROTECTION OF MUSIC COPYRIGHT LAW. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE STATE OF MUSIC COPYRIGHT IN BANGLADESH?
While Bangladesh’s copyright legislation is relatively new, music copyright hasn’t seen much progress in the country. We’re still struggling to put the law into practice, from collecting royalties to enforcing basic rights. Copyright law is only useful if you are able to protect it through the rules of contracts.
Identifying which digital and satellite rights you want to retain and making sure that they are clearly mentioned in the terms and conditions of music contracts is crucial. Artistes should read contracts carefully before signing them and unknowingly giving away intellectual property rights. This was true for the analogue era and rings even truer for the digital age, with its rising categories of content formats and distributing platforms.
Photographs: Courtesy of AANON SIDDIQUA