Review Special: Haldaa হালদা (2017 Tauquir Ahmed)

This film has only had a limited release but has been showing at special screenings across Australia.

Language: Bengali (narrated in local Chittagonian dialect) – with English subtitles

haldaa

This film is a powerful tragi-romance about the struggle between power and love, a metaphor for life and death on the river Halda in southeast Bangladesh. The river is the only breeding field for the ‘pure’ Indian carp in the country and possibly the whole of South Asia. It is a major source of economy, particularly for the numerous fishing villages that rely on the river and its associations to long-held traditions and protocols of respect. But in recent decades on-going industrial pollution is having a detrimental effect on the fisheries. The film Haldaa is a timely cinematographic narrative about the struggle between corporate greed and corruption that is allowing the river to be polluted and the many fishing families whose livelihoods are under threat as a result. A large part of the film is centred on an interrupted romance and an economically coerced marriage, which serves as a metaphor for the river itself: a struggle between power over the river and love of the river; between greed and community livelihoods and tradition.

The film has a slow but steady pace, as the narrative meanders along. But it’s never dull. The opening 15 minutes makes an unmistakable message: the river is being polluted, the fisheries are affected, fishing families are under threat; and the same corporate interests that pollute the river exert political influence through obvious bribery. There are gangs of thugs keeping people in line also.

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Much of the cinematography is beautiful, but at times it is uneven, with some long shots not quite in focus. It varies from stunning close ups to video-cam crowd scenes. The sound, however is excellent and very atmospheric. Scenes shot in the rain are numerous and well done, and there is good use of landscape and muted colour shots of polluted areas and scenes of death. The musical score is very good, and there is an especially good scene of a village poetry-duel set to music. The cast are excellent too. The lead Hasu, played by Tisha (known in Bangladesh by her first name only) is amazing, as is her abusive husband (corporate boss and all-round bad guy) Nader Chowdhury (played by Zahid Hasan). Hasu’s love interest Bodi (Mosharraf Karim) is understated, but I liked that; he is a mostly powerless hero. That’s right, he is a love interest from outside a marriage, which no doubt would have required the Bangladeshi censors to approve. They did, which just goes to show that things are not so repressive in these parts of the world nowadays.

Also, I loved the inclusion in the subtitles whenever someone had a cigarette or alcohol. A tiny message would appear in the bottom corner of the screen to say it was bad for your health – nice to see that a film promoting a ‘clean’ and healthy lifestyle without completely censoring what happens in reality 😊.

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There are plenty of metaphors in this film, only some of which I picked up on. One of the main ones is its critique of violence towards, and power over, women in marriage. This is very clear throughout. It also appears that the lead Nasu (i.e. a woman) is aligned with the fertility of the river – the giver of life, and is therefore worthy of respect.

It is a long film at 2 hours 30 minutes, and some editing might have sharpened it up a bit, but overall it is very good; well acted, and contains an important, interesting narrative.

Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 3/5

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