22 July 2014 | momtazbh
A powerful, poignant tale about the liberation of Bangladesh by first-time Director Munsur Ali
There was a point that struck me half way through watching Shongram when I wondered why hasn't this film been made before? The Bangladesh liberation war has affected every single Bangladeshi in the world and continues to impact on people today, yet it's a part of history that outside of Bangladesh is largely unacknowledged.
Debut Film Director Munsur Ali created Shongram as an opportunity to share some of the truths of what happened during the nine-month period proceeding Bangladesh's independence in 1971, which was filled with horrific atrocities that saw millions of people killed, tortured and raped.
I could recount the plot, mention the cameos by established actors, hail it as New Wave British Asian cinema or critique it against other war films, but none of that is as relevant as the fact that this was an ambitious project that is also in every sense of the word a fantastic film, so that's what I'm going to concentrate on.
Shongram combines fact with fiction, engaging the viewer through a plot that is captivating and well-paced. What could have turned into blood- bath with violence overtaking the plot (something I was worried about), is in fact a film that presents us with possibilities. Filmed entirely in Bangladesh, with the exception of some scenes shot in the UK to give the story its present day context, Shongram demonstrates the wealth of talent and expertise that exists in contemporary Bangladesh. Munsur has cast Bangladeshi talent in the roles and his crew required the support of locals throughout the filming process. On that merit alone it's hard to fault the film.
Despite the struggles for Bangladesh's independence being largely an untold story, the viewer remains connected to Shongram through Munsur's clever inclusion of all the ingredients that make a memorable movie. There's a good dose of romance, drama, action and melodrama which makes the subject matter more accessible.
The sweetness and innocence of the love story between Hindu girl Asha and Muslim boy Karim juxtaposed against the brutal rape, torture and shootings reminds us that despite the vastness of the situation, there were real individuals living through this period. Shongram is their insight; not a generalised commentary about everything that happened during the war of Bangladesh.
As well as Asha's flawless village girl styling and the gorgeous landscapes, my favourite aspect of Shongram was watching Karim's character grow. An unlikely hero, at the start of the film he's a happy- go-lucky lad without a care in the world. Boyish, lovable and immature, we see how he deals with the simplicity of his village life turn into a fight for justice. As he develops into a Freedom Fighter he is forced to grow up, become an independent thinker and put his life on the line for his fellow countrymen. Little details like his expressions, the way he addresses people and his passions are captured naturally which gives his characterisation depth and a level of authenticity.
Shongram has a timeless lifespan. Worthy in its content and quality of filmmaking, it fulfills more than just a personal quest of Munsur's to make a film about Bangladesh. It sheds light on an era that will provoke a reaction in all who see it. Whether it inspires the viewer to talk openly about their own experiences of independence or gets them to put their hand up and admit they knew nothing about this part of South Asian history, it is a film with positivity and potential that deserves a place in British, Bangladeshi and Bengali film history.