The Clay Bird
Matir moina
review by Elias Savada, 4 June 2004

The Clay Bird (Matir Moina), the first Bangladeshi film (technically it's a French-Bangladeshi-Indian co-production) commercially released in the United States, is a poignant tale set in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) of a family ripped apart by their country's political upheaval in the late 1960s. The husband and wife team of Tareque and Catherine Masudóboth writing (their first fictional feature), he directing (his first), she producing (ditto) -- have been involved with numerous documentaries for nearly a decade. The story, based on Tareque's childhood experiences in Faridpur (Catherine is a native Chicagoan), centers on a charming boy, Anu (Nurul Islam Bablu), whose father, Kazi (Jayanto Chattopadhyay), a stubbornly zealous Muslim fundamentalist, too weak to opt for change, is the disintegrating core of their lower-middle-class family. Kazi's independently-minded wife, Ayesha (Rokeya Prachy) is kept under a too watchful eye of her husband (which catches her participating in an anti-dictatorship rally) and his steadfast ways. Their son, accused of celebrating too many colorful Hindu festivals, is sent off to a madrasa, a fiercely Islamic school, where he is to be indoctrinated more to the liking of his father. Shorn of his hair and chastised by one of his teacher for not having a truly Muslin name, Anu finds solace in Rokon (Russell Farazi), a fish-hating classmate, who frees himself of the oppressive structure by playing with an invisible ball. A friendship is born when Anu tosses the ball back.

The film crosses back and forth between the growing friendship between the two boys and the remaining family back home in Faridpur, who suffer under Kazi's intimidating rule, an isolating and ultimately unnecessarily tragic situation for Ayesha and Anu's younger sister Asma (Lameesa R. Reemjheem), This despite the behind-Kazi's-back help of Milon (Soaeb Islam), Kazi's younger brother, a liberal humanist-activist concerned about the growing unrest that seems closer to home with each passing day.

Anu's gift of a bright blue clay bird to Asma is a metaphor for the hope of freedom from the tyranny that has imprisoned their family, of the anticipation that freedom and democracy, however painful, however many lives may be lost in its expectation, may bring a better understanding and acceptance of the people, community, nation, and world in which we live. That extremism is a painful master. Among the many folk songs performed in the film (and music does play an important role in The Clay Bird), included amongst those by the riverside singers that travel from village to village is Pakhita Bondi Ache, a ballad which further reflects on the theme of hopelessness: "The clay bird laments: 'Why did you infuse my heart with longing, if you didn't give my wings the strength to fly?'"

The film, finished in 2002 and shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2002, where it won the International Critics' Prize for best film in the Directors' Fortnight program, still had trouble, initially, finding its footing on its native land. Bangladesh censors banned the film, believing it could "hurt the religious sentiment of one section of society." Perhaps someone thought that Kazi's character shouldn't have been cast in such a disparaging light. That ban, battled by the country's press and through the Internet, was overturned by an appeal board and the film smashed box office records when it premiered in Dhaka in mid-October 2002.

As enlightened as our American society can be (and its far from perfect on its part of the globe), The Clay Bird provides a personal glimpse at a very common occurrence in the Muslim/Hindu corner of the world, encapsulating the conflict and contradiction that has made parts of our world a hostile place for freedom. It's something we all, even in the United States, need to learn from. Tareque Masud has crafted an emotionally powerful, sadly poignant, and tragically melancholy story as seen through the eyes of a child trying to understand the inhumanity attacking him from all sides. The Clay Bird is a incredibly humbling experience that you'd be a fool to miss.

Directed by:
Tareque Masud

Starring:
Nurul Islam Bablu
Russell Farazi
Jayanto Chattopadhyay
Rokeya Prachy
Soaeb Islam
Lameesa R. Reemjheem
Moin Ahmed
Shah Alam Dewan
Md. Moslemuddin

Written by:
Tareque Masud
Catherine Masud

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate for
children.

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