DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
CLAY BIRD, THE (Matir moina) (director/writer: Tareque Masud; screenwriter: Catherine Masud; cinematographer: Sudheer Palsane; editor: Catherine Masud; music: Moushumi Bhowmik; cast: Nurul Islam Bablu (Anu), Russell Farazi (Rokon), Jayanto Chattopadhyay (Kazi), Rokeya Prachy (Ayesha), Soaeb Islam (Milon), Lameesa R. Reemjheem (Asma), Moin Ahmed (Ibrahim); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Catherine Masud; Milestone Films; 2002-France/Pakistan/Bangladesh-in Bengali with English subtitles)

 
"... done with conviction for the long-suffering people of Bangladesh."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A moving portrait of a rural Muslim family going through a personal crisis due to the patriarch's newly found Islamic fundamentalism. It's set on the eve of a bloody revolution in East Pakistan, in the late 1960s, that created the independent state of Bangladesh. Tareque Masud, a former documentary filmmaker from Bangladesh now residing in NYC, directs his first narrative feature film, and co-writes it with his wife Catherine Masud, who is also the editor. The semi-autobiographical work is done with conviction for the long-suffering people of Bangladesh; it reminds one of the intelligent dramas from India's Satyajit Ray. Though it differs from Ray in that it comes with a timely warning about the dangers of religious extremists. The cast consists of mostly nonprofessionals, who do a fine job making things look authentic.

Anu (Nurul Islam Bablu) is the shy son of Kazi (Jayanto Chattopadhyay), an Islamic fundamentalist who practices homeopathic medicine. Anu's sensitive mother Ayesha (Rokeya Prachy) is no longer the same spirited woman who married the then less fanatical Kazi. She's now reduced to subservience to her uncommunicative hubby and only lives for her sweet daughter Asma (Lameesa R. Reemjheem) and fun-loving son Anu. Kazi frets Anu is being badly influenced by his secular politically radicalized brother Milon (Soaeb Islam), a fierce supporter of East Pakistan's autonomy movement, who takes Anu to Hindu festivals and has the kid hanging out with those so-called infidel Hindus. Against his wife's wishes, Kazi sends Anu to a madrasa (an Islamic fundamentalist boarding school). Anu makes friends with the other outcast in the school Rokon (Russell Farazi), someone who is ridiculed for being different. Eventually Anu will be accepted by the other students.

When Asma comes down with a fever, Kazi will only allow the use of his homeopathic medicines and not western antibiotics. The young girl dies, and Ayesha will not forgive her hubby for his stubbornness and rigidity. The personal tragedy is followed by political turmoil in their rural East Pakistan village, as a civil war between East and West Pakistan rages. Their village is invaded by the West Pakistan army, who burn homes and kill randomly. Kazi is perplexed that Muslims kill Muslims, while Ayesha has had it with her hubby's inability to veer from his extreme views and flees for safety in the jungle with Anu leaving her hubby behind for good. 

The film features an academic debate at the school over what is the true Islam religion, as moderates give voice to the Sufis callings for tolerance to win the heart while the militants preach of a jihad (it's still not clear which side has the true prophets in their corner, as there seems to be no definitive answer as to what is the true Islam religion even if the filmmaker voices approval for the moderate stance). From time to time a troupe of Islamic singers, unique to Bangladesh, appear to deliver lyrical lines like, "The clay bird laments: Why did you infuse my heart with longing, if you didn't give my wings the strength to fly?"Also Sudheer Palsane's lush photography, shot on location throughout Bangladesh, catches the full-flavor of the beautiful but impoverished Asian region.

REVIEWED ON 9/2/2006        GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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