There is a scene in Tareque Masud’s 2002 Bengali film ‘Matir Moina’ (The Clay Bird) in which the parents of Asma, a desperately sick child, are each trying to save her. The film is set in the late 1960s, as resistance was building to West Pakistan’s rule over East Pakistan, and it shows a nation in the grip of social, religious and political change.
Kazi, the sick girl’s father, has an unswerving belief in homeopathic medicine whilst Ayesha, the mother, despairs as her daughter’s health deteriorates. As Asma’s fever worsens, Ayesha seeks out Kazi’s younger brother Milon, a politically active opponent of Pakistan’s military rule, who collects medicine secretly from the pharmacy, passing it to Ayesha through the window. Upon discovering this, Kazi is angry, considering the antibiotics to have ruined the effectiveness of his own homeopathic remedies.
In their ways, both parents had hope. Kazi places his hope in the hands of the divine, and in the power of homeopathy. Ayesha has hope in the support of her brother-in-law, and in Western medicines. The latter could have saved their daughter, but it was too late.
This beautiful and sad film can be viewed as a powerful exploration of the different forms of hope, and it shows that hope alone is not enough. In fact, certain forms of hope can be worse than doing nothing.
Set in the context of the mounting conflicts between West and East Pakistan, which would a few years later lead to the War of Independence that saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Awami League declare independence in 1971, Ayesha’s brother Milon despairs at the ways of those like Kazi, telling a boatman ‘Blindly religious people like you are to blame for the mess our country’s in today’.
Milon believes in and eventually dies for his belief in the need for resistance. His brother, Kazi, believes that there is no need to worry about the encroaching armies, believing – despite being given much evidence to the contrary – that the army is here to protect and strengthen Islam.
Caught in the middle of this – between the calls to resistance of her dearly loved brother-in-law (a close friend since childhood) and her husband’s groundless assertion that all will be well – is Ayesha. Ayesha, in a really poignant scene, speaks with Milon. Milon talks of the need to fight and to resist; so motivated by his hope in resistance, he has seemed not to consider the impact on Ayesha, or on her position.
Ayesha and Anu, her son and the main character in the film, are powerless in this situation, strung up between the hopes of others. As women and children, their voices throughout the struggles remain unheard. As Anu is sent to the madrasah in response to Kazi’s fears about his lack of spirituality, he watches powerlessly as his friend, the strange boy Rokon, is victimised.
As the political situation worsens, and as talk bubbles up of the encroaching army shooting randomly and torching nearby villages, Ayesha begs and pleads the eternally optimistic – fatally optimistic – Kazi. The elders and the scholars ruminate as the forces draw near.
The forces arrive. Kazi, still holding on to the belief that no harm will come to them, stays put and prays for protection as Anu and Ayesha are forced to flee.
They return the next day to find their home destroyed. Kazi is alive, though all his possessions, all the books and items of his wisdom are torched.
In the final scene of the film, as the soldiers return to finish what they have started, Anu and Ayesha beg once again for their father to come with them. He holds on to his faith and hope that nothing worse will happen, as he stands in the burnt remains of all he has owned.
Ayesha and Anu leave without him.
2017 is now upon us and many of us, feeling fatigued from 2016, are talking of the importance of hope and optimism. The question we need to consider is thus which kind of hope are we holding onto.
A hope that placates? A hope that discomforts? A hope that deceives? A hope that hurts? A hope that empowers? A hope that changes something?
Interested in the film? The whole film is available on Youtube, here.