The Dilemma of No Man’s Land
Matir Moina depicts the anxieties of the people of Bangladesh during the turbulent period preceding the War of Liberation
Souzeina Mushtaq Delhi
In the dimly lit, open air, Lodi, the Garden restaurant, people poured in, to watch the screening of an award winning Bangladeshi film, Matir Moina or The clay bird.
The film screening was organized by No Man’s Land, a New Delhi based dialogue and design studio to provide a space for South-Asian design, dialogue and culture. The date is significant for it was on February 21, 1952 that the indigenous people of East Bengal started the ‘Bhasha Andolan’.
In 1952, the students of the University of Dhaka and other political activists defied the law, which stated Urdu as the official language of Pakistan, including East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Since East Pakistan had a majority who spoke Bengali, they expressed their discontent and organized a protest against this new law. The uprising saw many demonstrators getting killed at the hands of police, which provoked widespread civil unrest led by the Awami League. After many years of conflict, the government finally granted an official status to Bengali language in 1952. As a tribute to the Language Movement and the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world, UNESCO, in the year 1999, declared February 21, as International Mother Language Day.
The film, Matir Moina is set against the backdrop of unrest in East Pakistan in the late 1960s leading up to the Bangladesh War of Liberation. Partly based on director Tariq Masud’s own childhood, the film narrates the story of Anu, a young country boy who is sent to a Madrassah (Islamic school) by his deeply religious father, Kazi. Away from his family, in the strict surroundings of the Madrassah, young Anu befriends an eccentric boy, Rokon who is forced by the teachers to undergo an exorcism by ducking in the freezing river to cure himself. The film focuses on the transition of Anu’s life from a festive pagan village life to a strict Madrassah life in the wake of political divisions in the country.
Anu’s father Kazi used to be a “modern liberal who dressed like Englishmen” when he got married to Ayesha Bibi, Anu’s mother. Ayesha was just fourteen when he married Kazi who was much older than her. She used to play with Milon, Kazi’s brother and spend her day. Then suddenly things changed as Kazi bid an adieu to his former Englishman life and became a deeply religious man ‘who grew a beard and wore a skullcap’.
Torn between his religious duties and his family’s Hindu practice, Kazi risks his own daughter’s life, who falls ill and dies because of Kazi's refusal to use conventional medicine. In this setting, this family comes to grips with its culture, its faith, and the brutal political changes entering its small-town world.
Director Tariq handles the childhood of Anu with considerable skill and emotion, partly because it depicts his own childhood in the changing political times in East Pakistan. Audience can relate to the misery of the child who tries to adapt to the ideology of his religious father, the firm Madrassah Moulvis and the political development in his country.