Marking the third anniversary of the “Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day,” the Liberation War Museum produced a documentary that provides a glimpse into the life inside refugee camps
In August 2017, Myanmar government launched the fiercest of its series of military offensives against Rohingya people living in the Rakhine state, leading to the largest human exodus in Asia since the Vietnam war.
Since then, about one million Rohingya people have been living in the sprawling refugee camps in Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh.
Marking the third anniversary of the "Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day", a documentary film titled "A Mandolin in Exile" was premiered online on August 27.
Written and directed by Rafiqul Anowar Russell and produced by the Liberation War Museum, the 57-minute feature documentary provides a glimpse into the life inside the refugee camps while holding the spotlight on a refugee named Mohammad Hossain, a passionate musician who plays mandolin.
The songs composed by Hossain reflect the past sufferings of his people, present reality, and the community's yearning for the lost homeland. He also sings to raise awareness on different issues.
Accompanied by landscape shots in different weather and mandolin playing in the background, the story is woven with free-flowing conversations with a number of refugee men, women, and children, all in the presence of Hossain, who essentially played a pivotal role in the film.
The director beautifully covered many aspects of camp-life without moving the spotlight away from the mandolin man. One thing that might astonish a viewer is the invincible spirit of Rohingya people that is manifested throughout the film.
The makers of "A Mandolin in Exile" apparently took extra care in presenting the conflict between music and generally perceived notions of it in Islamic code and culture, as well as how Mohammad Hossain negotiates between the two.
The makers did this by placing contrasting scenes side by side. As the "azan" (call for prayer) is made from the nearby mosque, a man is seen performing ablution. In the next shot, Mohammad Hossain takes his Mandolin to perform a small musical show. After a shot of his team playing music, a bunch of children are seen reciting the Quran in a madrassa.
For a moment it felt that the film had found the harmony between religious recitations and "earthly" music, but a following narration by Mohammad describing how a religious man had wanted to instil his own religious understanding into Mohammad's mind confirmed that the contrast between the two was in focus here. The director makes it even clearer in the media release.
Mohammad, however, beautifully puts in words how he bridges music and his understanding of religion, and emphasises that he, without his mandolin, is like a rich man who has disappeared in dust after having lost his life.
But then, the documentary film does one important thing - it shows the religious diversity in the camps. Scenes showing Puja festival celebrated by Hindu Rohingyas deal a blow to the Islamophobic interpretation of the conflict, which tries to portray Rohingya people as belonging to a single religious identity - radicalised followers of Islam.
The filmmakers apparently did not pay much attention to the instruments used in filming the documentary. Shots taken at low light are grainy, and in many hand-held shaky shots, the absence of a basic gimbal is felt strongly. Even the panning of the camera is not smooth in some sequences.
Despite the lack of high-end equipment and care in filming, "Mandolin in Exile" does what it intends to do just fine - portray the plight of the people living in the world's largest refugee camp, and how hope survives in such a desperate situation.