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Inspired By History

Tanvir Mokammel, the renowned Bangladeshi film-maker, discovered a book, titled ‘Major Genocides of the 20th Century‘, at a London bookstore. While turning the pages, he noticed that the author discussed the history of various genocides, including the brutal attack on Jews during the Second World War, in detail. However, there was no chapter on genocide taken place during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh in that publication.

At that moment, Mokammel decided to make a documentary film on genocide in Bangladesh committed by the Pakistani Armed Forces on the basis of a thorough research. Hence, he made the documentary ‘Focus on Bangladesh‘, portraying the real image of the Liberation War that was triggered by the Pakistani (mis)rule and brutality.

During a discussion with Australian author John W Hood who penned Major Genocides of the 20th Century, Mokammel recently said that the inevitable reality of the documentary was his real capital as a film-maker. The subject of the film is 12 documents, prepared by Hood from 1991 to 2017 and selected by Mokammel. As Mokammel’s life is closely connected with the changing history of Bangladesh, his films portray the actual events that took place in the past.

Mokammel was born on March 8, 1955 in Khulna. The Partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 has always influenced his creations. His films deal with various issues, like communal riots, Pakistani rule, Bengali nationalism, Liberation War, State Power, Communist Movement, alternative films, mass education, the future of Bengali nation, etc.

On the 50th Anniversary of Liberation War (of Bangladesh), Mokammel reportedly said that “Pakistan was a totally artificial country with no roots among the people and society“. He stressed that East Bengal (now Bangladesh) was never a poor country. However, the colonial British rulers, and later Pakistan, made it poor. Meanwhile, Mokammel described his documentary as a befitting tribute to have Bangladesh as an Independent Nation.

When asked how relevant 1971 was for him, Mokammel once said: “The events of 1971, I reckon, had such a tremendous effect on my psyche that you can call 1971 to be the year of my life. I was a teenager then, an age when the sensibilities of a person are most receptive. I witnessed all those horrifying mass killings, torture of women, inhuman cruelties perpetrated by the Pakistani Army and their local Islamic collaborators, the sufferings of distressed refugees, and at the same time heroic patriotism and sacrifices by the freedom fighters. All this had such an impact on my tender mind that even today whenever I think of making a new film, an incident or memory of 1971 crops up inside me.

The film-maker went on to say: “I guess, this is true not only for myself, but also for a whole generation of Bangladeshi film-makers, artists and litterateurs, for whom the year 1971 has remained the most significant year in their lives. The year 1971, in our lives, can be best described by the well-known sentence of Charles Dickens: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!’”

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