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Under Construction

JPEG - 16.3 ko

Un film de Rubaiyat Hossain (Bangladesh, 2015, 88 min)

Bangladeshi director Rubaiyat Hossain’s feature film “Under Construction” is about, as the title suggests, identities under construction : that of Bangladesh as a society caught between cross-currents of conservative, patriarchal society and modern times ; that of Dhaka, a vibrant city having aspirations of becoming a metropolis of dreams ; and finally that of the protagonist, the theatre actress Roya, who is battling her own demons of aging and a bourgeois life while searching for a more creative outlet to express herself.

Bangladeshi director Rubaiyat Hossain’s feature film “Under Construction” is about, as the title suggests, identities under construction : that of Bangladesh as a society caught between cross-currents of conservative, patriarchal society and modern times ; that of Dhaka, a vibrant city having aspirations of becoming a metropolis of dreams ; and finally that of the protagonist, the theatre actress Roya, who is battling her own demons of aging and a bourgeois life while searching for a more creative outlet to express herself. The film revolves around Roya, with her maid servant playing another principal character : the men being relegated to marginal roles and the film being directed by a woman, the film has often been identified as a ‘feminist’ film, including by the director herself. However, the film is anything but that.

While Hossain’s efforts to make a film not belonging to the mainstream South Asian cinema are admirable, less so is the fact that she herself seems to be confused : too many themes appear in a film that has a running length less than 90 minutes, and her reinterpretation of Tagore’s play “Rakta Karabi” (“Red Oleanders”), in particular that of Tagore’s heroine Nandini, a role that Roya plays repeatedly in the film, is very much questionable. Roya rebels against the strength of Nandini’s character : against a society in which woman is viewed as goddess (remember that Durga is the supreme deity in the Bengali landscape, which has traditionally influenced Bengal, irrespective of religions) and thus superhumanly strong, as someone who is an idol to be looked up to. Roya feels this as itself an oppression, and wants to reinterpret Nandini’s character. The film, however, does not give any clues over how Nandini proposes exactly to do that : it rather gives us a scene from a garment factory, evoking Tagore’s dislike towards a mechanized world and also Bangladesh’s burgeoning garment industry with poor living and working conditions. So instead of answering the central question raised by the film, Hossain simply piles on another theme in the film. And later on, Hossain would even betray Roya’s own rebellion : finally, Roya would also seek approval in the arms of a man (Imtiaz) whom she thinks as her peer. That is also why the film is the very opposite of feminist : it genderizes Roya’s rebellion and finally treats Roya not as an artist, not as a thinker, not as a creative individual, but instead as a woman in need of the “right” man. Thus, finally, Hossain’s film is not so different from the Karan Johar brand of films. By pitching in multiple themes, none of them resolved to satisfaction, and by creating a character like Imtiaz’, the film defeats its own purpose.

Hossain’s understanding of Tagore’s work seems also to need more reflection. Tagore’s original Nandini is very much a metaphorical character : written during the colonial period, Tagore is also depicting India in Nandini, and the Industrial Age unleashed by the Europeans as the setting in which Nandini is trapped. The trapped, weak, feeble king, who is obeyed but can even hardly move, reflects a colonial master’s dilemma : as George Orwell memorably showed in Shooting an Elephant, the coloniser is in fact itself subject to the colonised, for in the wielding of power lies the coloniser’s raison d’être. And then there are those in Tagore’s play who have bought into the ideas brought by the coloniser and have become his slaves : more mental slaves, not merely physical. Nandini resists : not simply as some superhuman, but as did Gandhi and thousands of other Indians. She resists with beauty, joy, absence of hate, even sympathy. In fact, one can say that she does not resist at all ; she simply seeks truth, the original meaning of the word satyagraha (“insistence for truth”), as used by Gandhi. Going beyond the metaphorical layer, to understand Nandini as a woman herself, Hossain would have done better to watch Satyajit Ray’s 1964 film Charulata, based on Tagore’s story Nastaneer. Hossain’s interpretation of Nandini is hardly to be seen in Charulata’s character, but Tagore’s Nandini is again to be seen in Charulata : and yet Charulata also rebels against society and her husband. However, the difference between Roya and Charulata is this : while Roya seeks warm appreciation and a romantic brief interlude with Imtiaz as her balm, Charulata instead uses Amal and her passion for him to break out of society’s dictated mould and to feel her power, just like what the Little Chinese Seamstress does in the French-Chinese 2002 film Xiao cai feng (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”). Hossain’s Roya seeks recognition in a man’s eyes, perpetuating the myth that this is what a woman requires, finally ; given that Hossain herself thinks her film to be a feminist work, it leads to an idea that Hossain’s clarity of thought, or at least the ability to express it on the big screen, is itself currently “under construction".


Autour du film : interviews de Rubaiyat Hossain (réalisatrice) et Shahana Goswami (actrice) ; bande-annonce ; filmographie sur IMDb.

Photographie du film, tous droits réservés.