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|October 8, 2001||
My Migrant Soul goes places
The Bangladeshi entry My Migrant Soul has won the best documentary award at the Film South Asia festival of non-fiction films here.
Directed by Yasmin Kabir, the film was chosen for its sensitive presentation of the fate of Bangladeshi immigrants in Malaysia at Kathmandu's biennial film festival.
Titled Speak up for the documentary the festival featured 50 films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, all of them reflecting a common spirit of resilience in times of angst.
The jury chose My Migrant Soul for the best documentary award because, as chief judge Shyam Benegal put it, "it is a film that is a representation of a broader problem in this age of globalisation."
Kabir is director, producer, cameraperson and editor of the film that will now travel to 40 cities around the world.
The 35-minute long film reveals the aspirations and following fate of one such individual, Shahjahan Babu.
Opening with black and white profiles of individuals, the film immediately presents an insight through expressions on silent faces.
The well-researched documentary begins with the revelation that 24,4506 such faces had migrated to Malaysia in 1993. Shahjahan Babu is one of them.
"I'll get money and we'll be able to afford two steel almirahs and two fans," says our protagonist to his mother. Slight as these ambitions sounds, they were huge symbols of wealth. Allusions that motivated Shahjahan's family to invest all their meagre finances towards a job in Malaysia, offered by a placement agency.
Of course, Shahjahan was a real person and the interviews, with his mother and sister that thread this story together are proof of that.
All one sees of him though is a photograph and words from his letters. His story comes to us through images shot in Bangladesh and Malaysia, from letters sent to his family and through the anguish of members of that family. Later, audiotapes substantiate his writings.
Shahjahan lands in Malaysia only to discover that the hotel work he was promised is really no more than labour at a construction site. The next realisation is that his passport is illegal and he now has to steer clear of police harassment as well. "Living near toilets and dustbins with a piece of plastic as a pillow."
Slowly comes a new yearning -- to go home. A poorer Shahjahan, stripped of pride, wishes to return but cannot. He is trapped without hope of help or justice -- an illegal immigrant in a foreign land.
While this might conjure up familiar images for the people across South Asia, Yasmin Kabir must be applauded for her sensitivity of the subject.
Even as you feel the depth of his despair, a feeling that is representative of illegal migrants from across South Asia, she refrains from sounding like a propagandist.
And it would have been easy to lapse into sentimentality considering that the chief sources are a mother and sister sitting in Bangladesh with minds full of memories. "He spoke like an angel," recalls his wistful sister.
There is a final glimmer of hope as his family hears of his return through the grapevine. But, waiting at the airport for her son's arrival, all his mother meets at the end is his lifeless body.
Shahjahan may be in the film posthumously but words from his among his last letters echo still. "This migrant soul of mine, no one can recognise. I sail from port to port but do not find the golden boat."
Film South Asia is about non-fiction films that portray the consciousness of the region they belong too.
Indo-Asian News Service
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