7, No. 1 April 2003
(The Clay Bird)
 Matir Moina
("The Clay Bird"), directed by Tareque Masud, recently won the critic's prize
for best film at Cannes, and received the best screenplay award at the
Marrakech Film Festival. The film masterfully incorporates unexpected reserves
of drama and emotional disquiet, as it tells the story of a young boy, Anu, in
the late 1960's, set against the backdrop of the political crisis in
Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).
His younger brother, an easy-going leftish intellectual, introduces Anu to
sensuous folk rituals. As a punishment for his participation, Anu's father
sends Anu to a strict Muslim school, where he adopts a new Muslim identity.
Along with this family drama the film also contrasts the political turmoil
with some wonderful depictions of rural Bangladesh. Scenes of rural fairs with
huge crowds and folk songs increase the visual attraction of the film.
 The director clearly
expresses that the film is made for a Western audience, and its production was
funded through the prestigious
Fonds Sud Grant, given by the French Government. This was a timely funding
award, since the Western world is
currently taking pains to understand Islam. The movie makes some hints that
madrasas are teaching pupils to use force for religion if necessary, or at
least to combat anti-religious forces (in the movie, the communists). This
part will certainly support Western stereotypes about Islam.
 The real objective
of the film, it seems, is to depict the ignorance and misunderstanding about
the real cause of the struggle for freedom in then-East Pakistan, just before
war of liberation. The film is about the mentality of the Bengali Muslims and
their feeling about Pakistan, which largely arises from their apprehensions
about the fate of Islam in the new country (i.e., Bangladesh). For many at the
time, it was difficult to separate Islam from Pakistan, and so the rise of a
new nation seemed to be a threat to Islam. However, the film sometimes
establishes Islam and clerics as the source of evil and violence, as blind
faith seems to be equated with social injustice. At the end of the film, one
character says, "your Muslim brothers have killed them," a phrase that may sum
up some of the objectives of the filmmaker. The depiction of some Muslims as
ignorant may even be a ploy on the filmmaker's part to make the "other"
acceptable to Western viewers. Nonetheless, several viewpoints are depicted,
and Islam is seen in a broad, critical light.
 The film ably
displays the struggle for a collective imagination, especially seen in the
conflict between Muslims, who express their own notion of modernity, and the
so-called educated intellectuals, who also participate in the collective
imagination but without ever trying to analyze its roots. In this way, the
director is able to bring out many of the real reasons for the freedom
fighting that led to the new nation.
 There was a time
when Western filmmakers used to make films to show what they imagined about
Muslims in third world countries. Now some of us have become smart enough to
present ourselves according to the Western imagination, and to continue
receiving sentimental attention from the western audience.