‘Distributors here are very afraid of taking risks’

Young director Amit Ashraf has been acclaimed for his Bengali feature film ‘Udhao’ that debuted in 2013 at the Goteburg Film Festival in Sweden. Ashraf graduated from NYU Film School in 2009. He made the Tarantino-esque action packed thriller focuses on a rickshaw puller turned bounty hunter who hunts the men that leave their families behind for new lives. 

Ashraf tells Namira Hossain why new directors and filmmakers are often discouraged from engaging in innovative filmmaking in Bangladesh

Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

SONY RAMANY

SONY RAMANY

I started developing ‘Udhao’ after I returned from the States. It was inspired by my grandmother’s maid whose husband had left her. That got me thinking. The rest of the story is all story-telling of course. I was sitting in Roll-Xpress one day, when I decided to do this. My life changed after that night. It was written very quickly.

When did you have the first screening of Udhao?
It was at the Goteburg Film Festival. After I started developing the story, I got together with my producer, we raised funds locally and started work. We ran out of funds again and I also had to go back to the States for personal reasons, where I did a lot of editing (the sound was added in LA) and I added in more to the story. Then I sent it to Goteburg who granted me funds for production, after which we completed it.

Did you show the film in many places abroad? How did the audiences react?
I did a festival run all over the world, showing it in places in the States such as the Bangla Mela in Washington DC. Bangladeshis do not often watch desi films abroad but those who did really enjoyed it. They love to see Bangladesh represented in a foreign land.

Did you show it in theatres here?
I did show it in 4 theatres here – Cineplex, Balaka, Blockbuster and one in Khulna. Audience reaction was good, but it was hard selling tickets. Marketing is very important.

Did you try to show it in other theatres?
Yes I did. But distributors here are very afraid of taking risks. They want the same formula for all their movies – they think that unless all the movies are three hours long, with songs and dances and Shakib Khan, the movies will not do well. They are still stuck in that mindset and do not understand that the people now want to see something new.

Did you show it to your grandmother’s maid who inspired the story? What did she think?
She thoroughly enjoyed it. I also showed it to many garment factory workers who also told me how much they enjoyed it. Everybody thinks that because their lives are so hard, they want their movies to represent fantasy more than real life. But now people have internet and exposure to many things. They are grittier and want characters and stories that are relatable.

What attitudes need to change here for there to be a paradigm shift towards making these kind of movies that are different from the tried and tested formula?
Distributors need to change their mind-set. Kolkata is very innovative and experimental – they are making these kinds of movies all the time. Look to them as an example, or a case-study. Also, the halls here are terrible.

Can movies be a potential sector for investment in the future?
If done right, if the stories are well structured and thought out and if an international audience is targeted, it can definitely be a good business because it is very cheap to make movies here.

Any advice for young directors in Bangladesh?
Just make, make and make. Do not get stuck in the planning process.=