The Clay Bird is a genuine story of its kind, full of warmth and charm, of exquisite symbolism, of ripping tensions of politics, adeptly told by Late Tareq Masud, a rave combination of content and craft from the cinematic landscape of Bangladesh. It's one of the finest films Bangladesh has ever produced with credited picturesque cinematography and technical soundness. Winner of a Cannes accolade and the first-ever official entry of Bangladesh to Academy Awards (in 2002), it deserves an engaging watch as it offers you more than what it contains on its gritty surface of celluloid.
Placed in the time line of liberation war of Bangladesh, the movie begins with the idyllic life a common, everyday family in a village in Bangladesh. Anu, the juvenile protagonist, goes through the turbulent time of transformation taking place in the political scenario of the then East Pakistan and the coming crises of liberation war. The director offers you a look into the reality through the eye of a juvenile who wants to make sense of things at odds.
The best part of the movie is its symbolism, projections of materials and scenes, which parallel a bunch of deeper meanings. The clay bird itself is a symbol of a Sufi treat, the urge to get emancipation from the earthly desires, the urge of liberation of human soul from earthly vessel of clay to the divine. The Sufi connotations are also present in the songs, such as: 'Pakhita Bondy ache deher khachay' ('The bird is caged in the shackles of body'). The girl sings the song in folk song battle. The clay bird does also symbolize the urge of making religion sane, making it proper and free, more human, more divine, more realistic than only the shackles of laws and regulations, rigid conducts and senseless allegiance. It also signifies the tension of society to accommodate the contesting rivals, aesthetics and belief.
This is symbolically true representation of the then clergy over the mass, the tendency of controlling the every business even just a trivial toy of a child. In metaphysical level, the bird also symbolizes the society, which is judged, controlled, and authored by the superior forces often without the sensibility to its human nature.
In this movie, Masud places songs trickily, in to the contexts, suggesting deeper aesthetic meanings, manifesting the ironies, or scratching questions to the intellect of audience's mind. Most of the songs are rare collection of folk songs, traditional baul songs (songs practiced by the homeless saints) or puthi (a kind of recitation of poetry with proper pace depicting the stories, sometimes religious issues, such as, the fatal battle of Karbala or Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael (as Muslims believe). Bauls are secular in nature and the song sides with the common, grounded perspective, the true secular nature of common people of Bangladesh. The puthi (recitation of poetry) manifests a tension of father's choice and mother's dilemma, the matriarchal nature of Bengali society is echoed through Bibi Hazera's (Hager, mother of Ishmael) concern over her son rather than the patriarchal chivalry of first son's sacrifice to God. The song about Ali and Fatema is interesting too as we see the song glorifying the spiritual greatness of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) daughter Fatima (pbuh) over her husband Ali (pbuh). We see an elderly woman is rubbing the red vermilion off her head. Red vermilion is symbol of marriage to Hindu woman and the elderly woman is doing in fear of Pakistani occupational army lest the girls not be raped. The song ends with this scene connoting the complete contrast of celebrity of femininity and its disrespect.
The movie paints an authentic tension of a society in search of its identity and political allegiance. Anu's father, Kazi Saheb, as an example, is a pro- Pakistan, pro-Islam person who believes in the unity of Pakistan. In contrast, we find Anu's young uncle, Milon, engaged in talk of Marxism, a pro- progressive guy who hopes high for liberation from autocratic rule of Pakistani militia. In the same family, two generations are in odds with their views. The Boatman's perspectives are also sarcastic, a bit pragmatic, and down-to-earth. His conversation to Anu's uncle, Milon, is quite true in the context of present Bangladesh. Indeed, the country is free from Pakistan in 71, but the political freedom of common man is still a far away thing.
Anu's friend's illness is quite interesting. First Maulovi (Boro Huzur) thinks he is possessed by Jinns (demons) and treated in a voodoo manner. His illness parallels with the condition of the country and how it is mistreated. Anu's sister, Asma, also dies. She has been treated with homeopathic medicine (a common trend back then). Anu's father, Kazi Saheb, fails to cure her and she dies. His rigidity ends up with a fatal blow, death of his daughter, with an awakened realization of the reality of failure of his faith over old ways. He may be honest and simple but fails to feel the pulse of an ailing society with crisis he has never met before, someone caught into the vicious cycle of stagnation, of rigidity of faith, of endless loop of old solutions to coming crises.
Masud, intelligently, places himself as an observer, someone who is bringing a slice of 70's Bangladesh, how it looked back then, how people have gone through the formation of essential elements of coming liberation, the ripping tension between the old and new. As if, what he offers is nothing but the truth, and only truth reported from a perspective of a man, a boy or an entity which is trying to figure out the world at odds without judging what is good or bad, innocent or evil. It offers a nice representation of rural Bangladesh back then in '71 with every authenticity you can imagine, a piece of art devoid of chauvinistic chivalry of patriotism or melodrama of social romance.
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