It has been a rapid escalation on to the world stage for Abdullah Mohammad Saad, one of the brightest young filmmakers from Bangladesh, with his sophomore effort “Rehana” selected in the Un Certain Regard strand at the Cannes Film Festival.
Saad debuted with the searing “Live From Dhaka” (2016), a portrayal of a man increasingly desperate to get out of Bangladesh’s capital city, which won top prizes at the Singapore International Film Festival and played at Rotterdam and Locarno. Like that film, “Rehana” also takes a close look at contemporary Bangladeshi society, warts and all.
The film follows the titular Rehana (Azmeri Haque Badhon), an assistant professor at a medical college whose life changes when she witnesses an incident.
“I don’t know if I am actively trying to portray my society. I am very character-driven, so when I tried to examine Sazzad (in “Live from Dhaka”) and Rehana as deeper as I could, social context became obviously one of the most important aspects,” Saad told Variety.
“I cannot say for sure where my interests in these themes and narratives originated — perhaps it is because I have always felt a deep connection to complex people who are often judged for the difficult choices they made in their lives,” added Saad.
Saad is profoundly influenced by his three elder sisters and also seeing his young nieces and nephews growing up made him think about several questions which he raises in “Rehana.” “And of course, I have always been very interested in the relationship between men and women, and how we treat each other,” Saad said.
“In the very beginning, I did not have that many exciting ideas — what stayed with me throughout was really this image of a stubborn woman,” added Saad. “I struggled a lot with writing the screenplay and it took me quite a few drafts to finally understand the true nature of my interest in Rehana and her story.”
The resulting film is at Cannes, which Saad described as a “great inspiration.” He is at the vanguard of a burgeoning independent cinema movement in Bangladesh, which is consistently punching above its weight.
“We have a growing number of independent filmmakers who keep making films despite all the obstacles and limited assistance from state bodies,” said Saad. “It is important to note that while ‘Rehana’ may be the first Bangladeshi film in Cannes’ official selection, we have been present regularly in the international scene over the last decade.”
The last film from Bangladesh at Cannes was the late Tareque Masud’s Directors’ Fortnight title “The Clay Bird” in 2002, which won the FIPRESCI award. In 2012, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s “Television” closed Busan and the country’s independent cinema has been consistently lauded internationally since.
Saad is now thinking of a character and taking notes for his next film.