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Reviews: Tale of the darkest nights

Daily Star News (Bangladesh) 6 Sept 2002

Documentary: The night that witnessed the genocide
Kawsar Chowdhury’s documentary film “Tale of the Darkest Night” presents eyewitnesses of the holocaust – Saiful Islam

Aforty-five-minute-long documentary film directed by Kawsar Choudhury rained tears and shock at the auditorium of the Russian Cultural Centre in Dhaka during its three day long shows. The audience, of which most were people aged fifteen to twenty five experienced pain and revulsion over the panic and horror, created by the aggressive and brutal Pakistani army, which gunned down hundreds of lives. The Dhaka University had been the centre of many upheavals; it has succeeded till this date to keep its tradition. This university was one of the prioritized targets to the occupation forces during 1971. When the news of the ensuing crackdown reached the campus DU students along with the DU staff and common people barricaded the streets to stop the march of the advancing army. From the then Iqbal Hall the army faced retaliation. Students fought for hours, with whatever they had, with the trained army backed by tanks and heavy machine guns. History has always helped people to survive. Kawsar searched out the witnesses, recorded their words and tears that were suppressed for so long. The film shows the true picture of the brutality of the Pakistani army that killed hundreds of unarmed and innocent university teachers, students, and stuff and their family. An Engineer, Mr. M. M. Hossain, was able to hear the exchange of wireless messages among the Pakistani troops busy in the rampage and massacre around the University of Dhaka. At the end of the blood-laden night, a responsible authority demanded the exact number of the dead, wounded, and taken into prison. ‘ Three hundred killed, over.’ This was the only answer the soldier could make. They killed ruthlessly and mercilessly, regardless of the mounting number of the dead. They killed as if they were facing a serious challenge from the unarmed. Tracers flashed and slashed the dark sky; machine guns and tanks fired innumerable shots. One night witnessed hundreds of murders. On that single night all the resident halls were smeared in thick blood, as the genocide had just begun. It would continue through nine months. The director and the filmmaker Kawsar Chowdhury had to go from one place to the other in search of the victims. Many are old now. But the memory is green. How can a father forget the murder of his daughter? The father and brother were killed before an adolescent. ‘This stairway is holy to me, it was thick with blood that night’ said a witness while feeling the place. Such moving scenes are not few, the short documentary is replete with them. If in one night such a number of people could be killed, the film documented only the carnage in the DU campus, how many more were killed in nine months? This remains the question. Killing-fields are still being discovered in Bangladesh. A clerk sleeping with his family at the Rokeya Hall lost everyone that night. A nineteen-year-old child of his was gunned down. “I wanted to die when I saw my daughter, my son, and my wife soaked in blood”, he could not finish his words, and sobs jammed his throat. Like him the documentary includes many characters who saw their family being gunned down before their eyes. As they have gone there is nothing that can call them back. But one thing could be done. The killers should be brought to justice. The people who miraculously survived that night wonder why they were left when the family and friends were gone. The mother wrapped in widowhood waits for one thing, justice. She saw her husband and son die; she tried to satisfy their unquenchable thirst with a few drops of water. “There were my relatives lying beside my son, they cried ‘water’, I ran from person to person”, said the old woman.

Independent (Dhaka) 7 Sept 2002

That horrifying night – Sohel Islam

March 25, 1971 is a night when the then Pakistani occupied forces tried to suppress and destroy the voices of the unarmed innocent Bengalees and thereby to impose their jungle rule on East Pakistan for good. As we all know, they carried out the notorious Operation Search Light in order to implement their evil design. Numerous Benaglee men and women including intellectuals had to embrace death on that fateful night. This operation was centred around Razarbag Police Line, former EPR Barracks of Pilkana, Bongsal, Dhamondi, Mohammadpur and Dhaka University. Those who were brutally killed on March 25 left their loved ones, relatives and acquaintances to bear the scar and pain of colossal loses. The deadly night has been characterised from different dimensions in books, photographs and movies. Since our liberation in 1971, many tales of Pak Army’s savagery have been unfolded through these different media. A lot of facts relating to March 25 are yet to be uncovered owing to multiple constraints. Besides, many victims do not want to speak of their agonies; rather want to dwell upon these silently. Recently, a documentary based on the genocide on the night titled Shei Rater Kotha Boltey Asheychy, directed by Kawsar Chowdhury, was screened at the Russian Cultural Centre in Dhaka. This film vividly depicts some of the untold episodes of sufferings, perpetrated by the occupation army in a planned way. Referring to the idea behind naming the film, Kawsar Chowdhury said, “During my visit to Shaheed Minar on March 25, I was interviewing the people who gathered there to pay homage to the martyrs of 1971. Among the crowd, Nazia Jabin, a victim of 1971 along with her child was approaching the Shaheed Minar. During the conversation, she uttered, Shei Rater Kotha Boltey Aseychy (I have come to tell the story of that night). From this conversation, this name of the film has been picked.” This film has presented a wide range of individuals who witnessed the killings of the defenceless citizens of the then East Pakistan and some of them fortunately escaped the attack with minor injuries. They narrate their appalling experiences in the film. A good number of teachers of Dhaka University (DU) were attacked and killed by the Pakistani forces. Dr Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta was on the list of those meeting death. Meghna Guha Thakurta, his daughter, describes, “The heart-wrenching wailing and imploring did not stop the blood-thirsty Pakistan armed forces. Sadly enough, before shooting my father, they inquired about the religion. Because of a different religion, they shot my father with incessant bullets.” Meghna, also a teacher of the DU, shows some pieces of used bullets which presumably hit her father’s body. Like other interviewees, Meghna demands indictment of killers of her father as well as others killed that night. Interestingly enough, M M Hussein, a Bengalee engineer recorded the army wireless messages while tuning the BBC Bangla service on March 25, 1971. The recorded cassettes are preserved in our Liberation War Museum and are subtlety incorporated in the film with the help of the Bangladesh Army. The way the messages are inserted into the film seems to be an endeavour that has consolidated the objective of highlighting the dark episode of the genocide that preceded our independence. The director of the film said, “The harrowing tale of that deadly night cannot be confined to a single film. The dark episode that took place 31 years ago still has its wounds in the mind of the people. Thus, each day is a journey towards the road to freedom. Layers of rust smear the pages of history. The younger generation seems to be oblivious of the past. An unseen and hidden wall separates the youth from the facts and ordeals of 1971. This film is an endeavour which offers a window to history for the young.” |

Daily Star (Dhaka) 21 Dec 2002
Cinema: Tales of valour and victory: Liberation War Museum’s three-day long observation of Victory Day – Harun ur Rashid
Just ahead of the official victory in the nine-month’s armed struggle against the then West Pakistan military forces, Bangladesh had to make its final sacrifice on 14 December 1971. A whole generation of the country’s most brilliant sons and daughters, who would have shaped the new born nation in an enlightened spirit, were most brutally assassinated in a heinous pre-planned drive carried out by the Pakistan army with the help of the traitor Razakaar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams activists. Academics, intellectuals, doctors, journalists and litterateurs were picked up from their residences and killed at various killing fields. To commemorate this supreme sacrifice of those sacred martyrs, and to celebrate 32 years of the Victory in the War of Independence, the Liberation War Museum held a three-day celebration from December 14 to December 16. As part of this celebration two short films–Shilalipi and Shei Raat-er Katha Boltey Eshechhi–were screened at the Museum premises. Among the innumerable known and unknown martyrs of 14 December 1971 was a woman named Selina Parvin who was also a poet. Shamim Akhter’s film Shilalipi, screened on December 14 evening, commemorates Selina’s sacrifice through the character of Nasrin, the protagonist of the film. The word ‘shilalipi’ carries a strong sense of history, especially in terms of discovering and preserving it. Meaning ‘stone inscription’ in Bangla, the word also conveys the idea of passing that history through generations ahead. And this creates the central resonance in the film Shilalipi. The word does not occur much in the film except for referring a few times to a literature magazine. But the central character’s connection with that magazine, her love for it, her sacrifice, and finally the discovery of these by two youths–all have turned out to be an indelible inscription of patriotism through Shamim’s camera. The tale of Nasrin, a poet and a divorced mother of a boy, is revealed through recollections of Subarno–the boy, now grown up as a rather passive youth, and through those of an artist called Reza. The film begins with a scene of a photography exhibition on the Liberation War of Bangladesh, where Subarno and his girlfriend Samina come as visitors. The photographs bring back memories of those horrible days in Subarno’s mind. He can still hear his mother’s last words–‘Subarno, get in!’–when a few Pakistan military personnel were taking his mother away, after which she never returned. At Samina’s inspiration and insistence, Subarno comes to Reza– who is now a celebrated artist and was a colleague and a very good friend of Nasrin– to hear about his mother. The flashbacks by both Subarno and Reza unfold Nasrin’s struggling life; she always wanted to live her own way but had to face many problems, particularly regarding her single parenthood, until she found a caring shelter at a former leftist politician Asad’s house. Nasrin earned her living by working for a literature magazine named Shilalipi. Working for Shilalipi brought her near Reza, who also worked there as an illustrator. When the war broke out in the city, Reza planned to leave Dhaka for a training camp in order to join the war against Pakistan. He also wanted Nasrin to go with him for a safe shelter; but Nasrin declined. She remained with Asad alone in the large house and began helping the freedom fighters. One day, on that fateful day of December 14, a few Pakistan army officers came and arrested Nasrin. Her arrest left horrible impression on her child son’s mind. When Nasrin was being taken away, a puzzled and terrified Subarno was asking Nasrin why they had blindfolded her and why they had tied her hands behind. Reza also unfolds before Subarno and Samina what he saw in Nasrin: the talent and the passion as a poet, the inherent desire for freedom as a sensible human being, and the love she bore as a mother and a friend. Kawsar Chowdhury’s 43-minute long documentary Shei Raat-er Katha Boltey Eshechhi (Tale of the Darkest Night) also has tremendous historic significance like Shilalipi. For no other night in the history of Bangladesh could be equalled to that most tragic one–the night of 25 March 1971 when the Pakistan army brought on the sleeping country the most terrible slaughter in the history. In his film Kawsar upholds before the nation the tales of some unsung heroes, their suppressed anguish. Some of these people acted most valiantly on the night of March 25. Some of them had to sacrifice the most precious treasures of their lives. The tale of Idu Mia, a bookseller, who rescued several wounded victims on the morning of March 26, the tale of the worker of Rokeya Hall who lost his whole family on that night, the tale of the mother who cannot still forget after all these thirty years the death of her son, the tale of the daughter who has inherited some bullets which were shot at her father on that night–all these tales give a very small glimpse of the brutal assassination carried out by Pakistan military on the night of March 25. Small because Kawsar documents incidents only around the Dhaka University campus. The real measure of that brutality all over the country can be then easily ima- gined. Victory, in the history of Bangladesh, has always been stained with blood of hundreds of thousands lives. Whenever we celebrate that victory we also feel the sad vacuum created by the absence of those brave martyrs, we find ourselves ungrateful that we have not paid the due recognition to those whose suffering brought us that victory. The two films screened at the Liberation War Museum’s celebration of the 32nd Victory Day surely re-enkindled that feeling.

www.himalassociation.org
Curtain falls on Film South Asia ’03 Kathmandu, 28 September, 2003

Film South Asia ’03, the fourth edition of the festival of South Asian non-fiction films, ended here today, with a film on human atrocities on elephants by an Indian filmmaker bagging the Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film. . . . This is the first time that a South Indian film has won an award at the festival. Tale of the Darkest Night, a film about the attack by Pakistan army on Dhaka University in 1971, directed by Kawsar Chawdhary, won the Second Best Film Award.

The Hindu 26 Oct 2003
CINEMA Sharing South Asian angst Film
South Asia, (FSA) 2003 provided a melting pot of images from that region, tackling diverse issues like loss of livelihood and growth of fundamentalism, writes NUPUR BASU. . . . The films from Bangladesh showed once again that the freedom struggle of the 1970s still forms a major driving force for the documentary filmmakers. “Shei Rater Kotha Bolte Eshechi (Tale of the Darkest Night) by Kawsar Chowdhury recreates the horror of the massacre by the Pakistani army in Dhaka University. Similarly Indian filmmaker Supriyo Sen portrays the angst of the partition of Bengal in “Aaabar Ashibo Phire” (“Way Back Home”) in which the filmmaker journeys with his old parents to their lost homeland in Bangladesh.

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