A film telling the story of a downtrodden community and their exodus from their own habitat must look as realistic as possible, while also satisfying the dramatic aspects of it: a combination quite difficult to achieve through conventional means of filmmaking. But a touch of finesse and grasping the right opportune moments does the job.
Syed Wahiduzzaman Diamond achieved just that wit his latest film 'Rohingya' that came out last month. The national award winning filmmaker, who won the award for his 2009 film 'Gangajatra', has always focused on issues in his films that often get swept under the rug. The recent one is no exception.
"Love for my country and my people have always been the focal point of my films. In 'Nacholer Rani' (2006) I showed Ila Mitra's cause of standing up for the indigenous Shawtal tribe in the 1950s' Nachol Bidraha. Through 'Gangajatra' (2009) I showed the neglect prostitutes in our society go through. 'Antordhan' (2013) was about how the Farakka dam killed our glorious Padma river and what that did to those who depended on the river for their livelihood," The filmmaker told The Business Standard.
Diamond says that this year's 'Rohingya' film is a continuation of his work. The director began writing the screenplay for the film in 2012 and originally wanted to shoot it in Rakhine. But that never came to fruition for obvious reasons.
Diamond initially considered whether to turn the film into a pure documentary.
"I was keeping an eye out for the development of the Rohingya issue and looking for an opportune moment to start shooting. My script wash divided into two halves. I thought about whether to make it a feature film or a documentary," he said.
Just before the mass Rohingya exodus in 2017 began, the director took his crew and travelled to Teknaf, Hariakhali and then to Shah Porir Dwip to start shooting.
The making of 'Rohingya'
Following deadly attacks in Rakhine, Rohingya finally began to move over to Bangladesh en masse. On 11 September 2017, the Rohingya were let in.
"Luckily, I have been on the standby already and was waiting for when they would be let inside our borders and I would shoot those moments on camera," he said.
Diamond and his team then began the rather complicated process of capturing these scenes and then also shooting the acted part of the film. The challenge for the crew was to capture the Rohingya fleeing frantically while installing the actors in the frame. The idea was to merge drama and live footage.
The team had to move between different locations to do the shoots.
These scenes where the Rohingya are scattered, running for their lives and looking for shelter would have been extremely difficult to recreate. But Diamond was lucky to be able to shoot the actual incidents as part of the film.
With many national and international news outlets present during the mass movement, the filming of the harrowing scenes did not stand out or was seen as inappropriate.
Even though Diamond finished filming during that year, he waited the next five years before finally releasing the film last month.
"I was actually waiting to find out if the Rohingyas would be rehabilitated back in their own country. If they were to return, it would have changed my narrative a second time. I had to wait," the director said about his decision to wait so long before release.
The filming of 'Rohingya' was full of danger and adventure. Diamond had to shoot a scene that depicts the sinking of a trawler carrying Rohingya refugees.
The film crew also faced dangerous situations like facing attacks.
"We were almost attacked by local goons while shooting in a remote valley. Luckily, we had the police by our side," said the director.
Uncut version approved
Luckily for the film, Bangladesh's censorship authorities found nothing objectionable in the film and approved the original version submitted.
"When I finally submitted the film to the Censor Board, I was asked if I was determined to name the film as is: 'Rohingya'. I said yes, I will maintain the name since they are known as Rohingya across the world," said the director.
But the submission was quickly turned around in just two days. It was a great relief.
"I remember I submitted the film to the board on a Thursday and on Sunday evening it passed the censor board!" the director told TBS.
A few members of the board even called Diamond to congratulate him.
"They told me that the uncut version of the film was passed. I was in disbelief!" he said.