The film Shilalipi is a fictionalized version of the life story of Shahid Selina Parveen, a writer, poet, and magazine editor who was picked up, tortured and killed by collaborators of the occupying Pakistan army during the war of 1971.
Her name therefore shines as one of the Martyrs of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Shilalipi is a film, which captures both the milieu in which the voices of protest were being articulated by the Bengalis of East Pakistan against the ruling military junta of Pakistan as well as the intensely personal life struggles of a woman who was fighting for her individuality. It is therefore a deeply political film attempting to link the personal with the political.
Selina Parveen (screen name: Nasrin) is shown as a middle-class woman separated from her husband and striving hard to eke out an income for herself and her eight-year old son Sumon (screen name: Suborno). In her day to day struggle she takes up proof reading for publishing
firm, takes shelter in a rambling old building in old Dhaka where she and her son receives the fatherly love and care of Asad Bhai, and the intimate mothering of their Muslim and Hindu co-tenants. The gaunt graying stones of the massive house are filled with the sights, sounds and smells of warmth, comfort and good cheer. But the distant thunder rumbles deep forecasting stormy weather. The voices of anti-Ayub protesters spill over the high walls, sometimes lightening the faces of the inhabitants of the house with anticipation and hope, sometimes spreading shadows of doubt and fear of the ominous.
The onset of the Pakistani military crackdown changed the situation almost overnight from the careless breezy gaits of the inhabitants to the measured stealth of their steps and the lowered voices. Ominous changes took place. Some tenants left for safer shelters, others were forced to leave for fear of being identified as 'Indian infiltrators' a nomenclature commonly reserved by the Pakistan state for those not identifying themselves with the defense of the structural integrity of the Pakistan state. Ultimately Nasrin was left alone with her eight old year son, resisting pleas to go elsewhere. On top of it she was sheltering freedom fighters in her house thus putting herself in dangerous position, but having lost a brother in the war, these were her brothers whom she could not forsake. As one tenant after another left the house they left behind their presence in the minds of eight-year old Suborno, a boy who had learnt to bid farewell too early in life.
In an early December morning, the chilling event came that was to tear his mother away from Suborno. Suborno was out in the roof imitating the fighters that was to be seen commonly amidst the blue hazy clouds over Dhaka. The Indians had joined the war against Pakistan and had already taken command over the skies. Pakistani troops were surrendering to the joint command in outlying areas and total surrender of the Pakistan Forces was imminent. It was during this time that bands of collaborators carried out Gestapo-like raids in targeted houses and blindfolded bound and took away noted intellectuals and professionals of the country to camps where they were tortured and then taken to their deaths. Their decomposed bodies=20
were later to be found in the brickfields outlying Dhaka city. But Selina Parveen alias Nasrin had not not thought she had done anything great to warrant her such fate. She had been writing against the Pakistan state in her magazine and had been sheltering young Muktijoddhas (freedom fighters) at great risk, but she took these activities in her stride, thinking it to be her duty to her homeland. Separated from a husband who believed that the Party dictates all, Selina Parveen's personal life was a struggle to attain her own selfhood. She therefore understood the sufferings of a nation experiencing that same pain and humiliation and hence helping it to stand on its own feet was a way in which she was helping herself too. Her sacrifice for the nation was not that she gave up her own life, but that she gave up the very things which had been at the root of her creativity; being a mother to her eight year old son and editing her own journal. The scene in which she was picked up by the collaborators as viewed through the eyes of eight-year old Sumon alias Suborno is therefore spine-chilling. As she is led down the stairs by the collaborators, her son calls out to her. Her only reply is a tense and urgent "Ghorey Jao!" (Go inside). She repeats the phrase as they blindfold her and tie her hands behind her back, but her head held back looking at where her son must be at the top of the stairs, she tries to prolong her 'gaze' through her blindfold as she is finally dragged away. This memory is etched into the hearts of every viewer as it must be in the heart of Sumon .
The whole story is narrated through the eyes of Sumon who has grown into a young man who carries the pain of losing both his father and mother ( he claims that his mother was both to him) at a tender age. His friend encourages him to research and write about his mother. They begin to visit old friends and acquaintances of his mother, exhibitions of 1971, and the story unfurls itself through flashbacks. As an introduction, the real Sumon speaks a few word about his mother and his memories about her and states that this film is way of paying homage to Selina Parveen, who is not only his individual mother but whose life and struggle is part of the creation of Bangladesh. The film ends with Suborno (the fictionalized version of Sumon) and his friend viewing the monument for the martyred intellectuals in the killing fields of Rayer Bazaar, where Selina Parveen's body was found. The foundation stone laid by Projonmo '71 throws up a question to all who visit there: "Tomra ja bolecchiley. bolcchey ki ta Bangladesh? " (Does Bangladesh say what you had said?) The song in the background written by Shamim Akhter and sung and lyricized by Moushumi, accentuates the loss, struggle and the sacrifice of individuals such as Selina Parveen and lends to the visual imagery a grace which can only be compared to that of a flute playing amidst the swaying green rice-field of Bengal. It is a scene whose sights and sounds linger in the memory of a viewer long after the film is over.
The effectiveness of the film lies much in the creative imagination of the director and the sincere and hard work of most of the actors. The film being Shamim Akhter's second (the first being Itihash Konnya: Daughters of History), shows signs of the maturity of the director in laying out her story with ingenuity. Her flashbacks are cleverly interwoven so that they do not jar the viewers' space-time continuum. The pace is slow but retains a tension, which is ever imminent either as a theme, or as an emotion or in the interplay of the characters. It is this tension, which slowly but surely pulls in the viewers' attention to the story being told, to the scenes being unfolded, to the drama being enacted, mostly within the walls of a rambling old house in the old quarters of Dhaka. When words are inadequate to express emotions, Shamim Akhter has quite effectively used the 'silences' to express the inexpressible, for example the scene of the dilapidated building and the incense sticks burning in the verandah after the news of her death was received or her fingers tightly clenching the iron bars of the window as a fellow freedom fighter informs her about her brother's death in battle.
Needless to mention the contribution of actors to the whole film has been immense. The acting of Sara Zaker as Selina Parveen, Asaduzzaman Nur, her friend, Manosh Chowdhury as the grown up version of Sumon and Jishnu Brahmaputra as the young version of Sumon has been exemplary. They have given their all to portray what must have been for them a singular opportunity to give vent to those sublime emotions which goes beyond any rhetorical understanding of 1971. From fear to elation, from outrage to suppressed anger, from pain to the practicality of survival, from courage to sheer desperation, the whole spectrum of emotions have flitted to and fro across the celluloid realities of Shilalipi, therefore making it not only a story of a nation or an individual but rather of the human situation.
Like any human situation, no doubt the film has its share of technical flaws and limitations, but that is not what is topmost in the minds of the viewer after watching the film. As in any work of art it takes one down to the pith of human emotions, while at the same time elevating the soul to a plane where one feels one can see eternity or rather things eternal, like love, pain, beauty and understanding. Shameem Akhter has taken bold and courageous steps in this direction and one looks forward to seeing more of her works in the near future.
(Source: Tears Engraved in Stone by Meghna Guhathakurta, Celluloid - A Quartely Magazine on Creative Cinema, Volume 24, Issue 2, December 30, 2002)