Bhubanmajhi, the first full-length film of director Fakhrul Arefeen Khan was released in 2017. He was praised by critics and viewers for his directorial talent after the release of the movie. Two years later he made another film, Gondi. Two Kolkata actors Parambrata and Sabyasachi starred in Bhubanmajhi and Gondi respectively.
Now, the director has started working on his new film Jean Kay.
In an interview with The Business Standard, he talked about his new project and his career as a filmmaker.
How have you become a filmmaker? Tell us the story.
I grew up in a cinematic atmosphere. My father, uncles, aunts all used to watch movies and listen to music. I'm talking about the eighties. I grew up interested in films because of that atmosphere which never left me in the later period of my life.
When did you realise that you will take filmmaking as a career?
I never thought I would be a filmmaker. When I got admitted to Jahangirnagar University in 1996, my friends and I were always trying to do something creative besides our academic studies. My interest in film intensified at that period as I discovered that film is a language. You can speak your own language if you want. Then I started working as a film activist.
I wanted to work with Zaheer Raihan Chalachchitra Sangsad, a group of film activists on the university campus. But they did not take me in their group because I was not involved with Student Union, a left-wing student organisation. Later I organised a film group myself named Jahangirnagar Student Film Society. There were 124 members in that group. The funny thing was that none of us knew anything about films. But we tried to learn.
Even then, I did not have the thought of directing a movie. Our goal was to screen good movies for people. We believe good movies will change people and create good audiences. After that, I joined the Federation of Film Societies and the anti-obscenity movement. In this way, I was acquainted with all the filmmakers of that time including Morshedul Islam,
Tanvir Mokammel and Tareq Masood. I got all of them as teachers in different workshops. However, a six-month course by Tareq Masood changed my attitude towards film. Now that I look back, I consider that training as a pillar of my film career.
Is that when the longing for filmmaking grew in your heart?
No. Not yet. At that time, I believed in films for everyone. Let me tell you, I have a passion for photography. My family gave me Tk26,000 to buy a camera. I was born and raised in Dhaka. Anyway, one day I was watching the news in ATN Bangla and heard Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mujahid saying there were no war criminals in Bangladesh. I was very shocked to hear that. Instantly I decided to answer the lie. But how? I can't write. I know the language of film. So, I decided to make a documentary and started research with a journalist.
We first found out the history of Mujahid. He was the General Secretary of Al-Badr Force in 1971. The president of that group was none other thanMatiur Rahman Nizami. I did further research and found that the entire Al-Badr force of 1971 later led Jamaat-e-Islam.
I asked many people to help me in making the documentary. I went to many powerful people. But they did not help. I used to work for a company called Rangstel. I got a salary of Tk40,000. Against the salary, I took a loan of Tk4 lakh from BRAC Bank. I also spent the money that my family gave me for buying a camera for the documentary. Prof Abul Barkat gave me Tk1 lakh from Janata Bank after watching my documentary. A friend of my father also gave Tk 1 lakh. The 61-minute documentary cost more than Tk10 lakh. And I had to pay Tk7 lakh to the bank against the loan of Tk4 lakh.
How was the response to the documentary?
The response was overwhelming. The Sommilito Sangskritik Jote screened it all over the country. The Sector Commander also screened it in various places. Fighting broke out in Sherpur and Pabna during the shows. The documentary served as a witness in the special tribunal for the trial of war criminals. There were also threats to my life. Even then I didn't think I would be a filmmaker.
Then I made another documentary called 'The Speech'. This was about the thoughts of people of different professions from 7 March, after Bangabandhu's speech, to 26 March in 1971. There was a good response to this too. Although I made documentaries after these two, I was interested in Lalon Fakir of Kushtia. His graveyard is called 'Haquer Ghor'. There is a syndicate that controls this place for money. But it is supposed to be in the hands of the original Bauls. Montu Shah, a Baul-Fakir, filed a case against the syndicate. He won the case but could not rescue the place fully.
I made a short documentary about that. I named it Haquer Ghor. It will be released next month on our YouTube channel. While working with Bauls, I met a Baul named Nahir Shah. He said he participated in our liberation war. I wanted to know how he went to war as a Baul. Bauls do not kill animals. He told me a story. That's when I think it could be a movie. I wrote down the story on a tissue paper. I submitted the story for the government fund and got it. It was when I felt that I would be a filmmaker. For this reason, the name of the main character of Bhubanmajhi is also Nahir.
Why do we see many Kolkata actors in your films?
I consider an actor for a character who I feel will best fit for that whether he or she is from Kolkata or Dhaka. All directors have a circle. And it is important for artists to have a relationship with the director and the DOPs.
Your first film was based on the liberation war. The third picture is also the same. Surely you have a special weakness on the issue.
Honestly, I always have a weakness for the liberation war. The first movie I watched was titled Sangram. My father took me to Gulistan Cinema Hall and showed me the movie there. That film moved me immensely. The liberation war attracts me for another reason. I watched a film named Agami in 1984 when I was 10 years old. The movie fascinated me.
When and how did the idea for the film Jean Kay come to your mind?
In 2016, a report was published in the daily Prothom Alo. After reading that report, I came to know about an incident of 3 December 1971. A Boeing-720B aircraft of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) named 'City of Comilla' landed at Paris Orly Airport. The plane with 17 passengers and 6 crews was to fly from London to Karachi via Paris, Rome and Cairo. Five of the passengers were to ride the plane from Paris.
Jean Kay, a 28-year-old man, got into the plane after crossing the airport security with them. He took a pistol out of his pocket and ordered the pilot to stop the engine when the plane was ready for the flight. He threatened to blow up the entire airport with a bomb if anyone disobeyed his orders. (Actually, there was no bomb with Jean!) He then snatched the wireless phone and talked with the airport authorities. He asked them to load 20 tons of medicine and medical supplies on the plane. Jean knew from newspapers that around 5 lakh Bangladeshi children had died in the refugee camps in India without any treatment. He was moved by the news. He planned to hijack the plane to send medicine and medical equipment to Bangladeshi refugees.
Meanwhile, the police and army personnel arrived at the airport. They got on the plane while loading medicine and arrested Jean. However, the French government sent medicine and medical equipment with the help of the Red Cross and another voluntary organisation. My film is about this incident. Jean was later sentenced to five years in prison for the incident.
How much of the work for the film has been done?
We have finalised the actors. The shooting will take place in France and Puducherry. After shooting, I want to release the film on 3 December. It is an English language movie. As far as I know, this is going to be the first English language movie about the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Are you thinking about any new film other than this one?
I have many plans and stories for movies based on science fiction and women issues. Let's see how far we can go.