4 months ago

Telling 'our stories' through the lens

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Shaaticup has taken the spotlight by storm. With its vivid portrayal of Rajshahi, its shady underbelly and its raw depiction of the local narcotics trade -- the web series has shown that our local stories and local elements can outshine big-budget, star-studded web series as well.

Shaaticup has gained much recognition from the international arena, and its latest success came from the Asian Academy For Creative Awards, where the director Mohammad Touqir Islam, professionally known as Touqir Shaik, has been awarded the best director award at the national level. The Financial Express has talked to him and listened to his thoughts on telling our own stories.

Shaaticup ventured into water that has never been explored in our media - using local actors and local equipment and keeping the storyline firmly rooted in our everyday life. So, how did the idea of making such a series come to Touqir Shaik's mind?

"I have been trying to utilise our local actors, local crew and local filmmaking style in my works for a while," Touqir Shaik said, "some of the crew in Shaaticup has no prior experience, and they all have a story to tell. I love exploring those stories. While making Shaaticup, I worked with the local artists of Rajshahi because I grew up there. So I can tell their stories, as it is as much theirs as mine."

He added, calling Shaaticup their passion project, "The risk was high, and there was no guarantee that the audience would laud Shaaticup. But, we were not thinking about profit or recognition. We were making it from our hearts, and we loved the journey. We had achieved our goal - completing our passion project."

Shaaticup tested their patience to its limit; their hardships encouraged them to thrive further. Touqir Shaik thinks that it completed their experiences.

In global cinema, two industries are known for their authenticity and accurate portrayal of their society - the South Korean film industry and the Iranian film industry. When we see a South Korean film or an Iranian film, we can easily recognise their stories as distinctly Korean or Iranian; the films have their own watermarks. When asked about what makes a story truly Bangladeshi, Touquir Shaik had his own thoughts.

"Bangladeshi society is the most under-explored society in the world of cinema," he said. "Society has so many untold stories. Even fiction should be rooted in the society it represents; that is my belief. It has to feel its pulse."

Touqir Shaik thinks that attention to detail is essential to tell authentic stories.

"When we want to make a film on a certain community or a certain profession or a particular topic, we should go to the community, the professional, or the experts. You may conjure a story from your imagination, but before fleshing it out, you should cross-check it."

"Otherwise, it may falter in representation, as it relies only on your fantasy. Even if foreign ideas inspire us, the representation should be ours. It should read our pulse, have its roots firmly on our yards," he explained.

The independent film industry of our country has presented us with some of the best cinematic experiences and brought back global recognition and admiration. So, making an indie film is not hard anymore, opined Touqir Shaik.

"I believe that if someone has passion and love for his craft, nothing is tough in this world now. Say you live in Bandarbans, and you want to tell your stories to the world. Do you need to come to Dhaka? No, just film your ideas, upload it on YouTube, and there you have it in front of the world."

Touqir rightly pointed out the fact that many popular makers have come to the mainstream from YouTube. The Viral Fever from India is a big example of it. One only needs purpose and passion; he feels that the sky is the limit then.

We saw a resurgence in Kolkata filmmaking in the 2010s with the likes of Prosenjit, Anirban, and Parambrata at the helm. But in Bangladesh, according to Touqir Shaik, there are no such heroes to helm the new OTT resurgence. Instead, story rules here, and that is why we see series or films with no significant star value have created massive waves across the audience.

Series like Shaaticup may never come mainstream if there were no OTT platforms, and Touqir Shaik admits the role of OTT platforms as well.

"Perhaps I am talking to you now, as the maker of Shaaticup, may not have been possible had it not been backed by Chorki," he said, "OTT has boosted our works, and it is true for all of us. Dedication and perseverance may fall short at times, and then, OTT gives the push."

The OTT platforms have introduced new types of stories and novel ideas in our industry, and they have introduced smart budgeting as well. So, Touqir Shaik thinks that such a unique approach to gaining the audience's attention has revolutionised the industry. And for this, he supports the idea of importing foreign films into our country.

"Films from all around the world should be available in our theatres, even Indian films. Yes, we may fall behind initially, but it will create strong competition in our industry. And then, the actors and makers will give their best efforts for survival. Protectionism relaxes the makers and actors, which is why our film industry slumbers."

The presence of good films and series on OTT platforms is an example of how competition improves the end results. Here, the makers know that they have to compete with makers all across the world, and the audience can just pick and choose. So, they have to give their best efforts.

"The audience is smart now," Touqir Shaik said, "and it is high time we made smart films as well. We need to save the cinema halls, and for that, we need all types of films. There are all types of audiences, and we need to satisfy their needs. No industry can survive on indie films alone."

Touqir Shaik was asked if Shaaticup's success and winning prestigious awards inspire future directors to tell our local stories. He thinks that the success of Shaaticup has created a benchmark in the industry, "We have proven that without a star cast, lavish sets, and a big budget, a story can work if it is our own story. This, I think, will be a benchmark for the future makers."

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