Monday, February 23, 2009

Ekushey Celebrations and Slumdog Millionaire

February 21 is an important day for Bengalis - we mark this day in celebration of our language and the Language Movement. The UN also celebrates this day in honor of Bangla as International Mother Language Day [source]. Bengalis have a deep pride in their language and February 21 is often marked with passionate events about language, culture and 1971.

In Toronto, the Bangladeshi community is very strong and mostly educated. I attended one event "Liberation 1971" in Scarborough on Friday. Bengali readers of this blog know I have a soft spot for university Bangladesh student associations and usually attend their cultural shows. This show was held by Bangladeshi Students Association-Scarborough (BSAS) and focused on Bangladeshi's struggle for independence.
[Photo Credit:Shahryer Ahmed]

The skits were fabulous. The whole show was mind blowing. The actress pictured above played a mother who receives a letter from her son who went to fight the war. She starts reading the letter, and starts to break down into tears as she reads on. At the end of her skit, she falls down to the ground in tears, and there was not a dry eye in the audience. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant acting.
[Photo Credit:Sharihan Bhuiyan]

There were songs, all brilliantly placed and sung. These are revolutionary songs and evoke strong emotions, and the participants who sang the songs, particularly the singer pictured above, did full justice. Again, they were just superb and the show was fully worth a lot more than the $5 admission they charged.

The Oscars often inaugurate the cultural show season by the BSAs here in the Greater Toronto Area, and this year the bar has been set very high by the BSAS. The downtown St. George BSA usually has the best show, but they would be highly challenged to surpass BSAS's content and performance this year.

There was another event at the Danforth (the hub of the Bengali community here) and they even had their own Shohid Minar!
[Photo Credit:Spriha]

Again, there was singing, dancing, and all-in-all a good celebration of Bangla. The real Shohid Minar is of course in Dhaka.

All this celebration of Bangla underlines the fact how important our language, culture and music is to us! I in fact know of couples where the girl was non-Bengali and the first questions people ask the guy is "Does she know Bengali? Will she learn? Make sure she learns!" Not your "what does her father do?" or "how did you guys meet?" for us! You will find in Bangladesh even religious people send their daughters off to classes for music and singing. Preserving the Bengali identity is a very big thing.
* * *

Speaking of the Oscars, yesterday was perhaps the first Oscar I watched almost, almost, in its entirety. And no, it was not for Hugh Jackman as some girls seem to be doing!

I was cheering for Slumdog Millionaire and it won big time, especially Best Director and Best Picture awards. It truly is a good movie. I attended this movie long before it was released widely and long before it became a "big thing" so in some sense (strange, I know!) I have a special fondness for this movie and am glad to see it do so well. And of course, a Muslim brown man winning TWO awards for music AND invoking God on Hollywood's big stage was just a bonus!

It's actually funny (not to mention strange) to see some Indians' reactions to this movie.

On one hand are all those proud of the movie and glad that "they" made it. Well, it's not an Indian movie! It's made by a British director, written by a British writer, and produced by a Hollywood studio. Granted it has some Indian actors (even the leads are British) and set in India but in the end - it's a Hollywood movie. But, you know, I am happy for them and understand their pride.

And then there are the other Indians who hate the movie and think it promotes cliches and doesn't show the "real" India. That's a stupid debate and this movie not only shows how MOST Indians live but raises poverty on the big screen - a subject many Indians would rather not talk about.

In the end, it's best not to take it so seriously and just enjoy it as a good tale and yarn. It may also be the first time a movie that has cricket in it (the children playing in the airport and one of the questions on the game show) as Best Picture at the Oscars so that's something!

JAI HO!

22 comments:

'liya said...

We were totally cheering for Slumdog as well! We watched it early too and loved it and after watching I was begging my students to go watch it!

"And of course, a Muslim brown man winning TWO awards for music AND invoking God on Hollywood's big stage was just a bonus!" - so true :D

mezba said...

Liya: Slumdog this year was the perfect package. Who in times of recession doesn't want a good feelgood tale?

Although one comment I heard really tickled my funny bone - "We outsourced our awards too!"

Azlin said...

Globalization rules!

A Spanish woman won.
An English woman won.
An Indian man won 2 awards
An Aussie won.
An actor potraying gay man won.
A British team won all sort of awards.
A movie about India won.

When will Canadian win something? :P


Only in America/West that recognition is given base on performance and hard work, and not race/colour/citizenship/religion. Well, at least it is practise widely.

Anonymous said...

there can be any reasons for taking pride. E.g. indians for this movie even though it is a british movie.
Or muslims from Pak or Bangladesh for Indian A R Rahman.

Farah said...

Your Ekushey celebrations - it looked like a colorful bunch! I had no idea there was such shows going on around town. I mean I heard of the annual downtown BSA show which I go to regularly, but if I had heard of the Scarborough show I would have gone - it looks like they didn't do as good a job of marketing as they did with the show!

Yes, it's right we Bengalis love our language. I remember growing up here and my mom would force us to Bangla lessons after school!

Sarkar (on Danforth) actually built a Shaheed Minar outside the store, did you see that?

As for Slumdog Millionaire, I am glad it got the recognition instead of those boring movies (like Reader) that no one notices.

Suroor said...

I still haven't watched the movie. I hope so soon.

mezba said...

Azlin: Truly the Oscars have been outsourced. I remember reading an old Agatha Christie book (Murder on the Orient Express) and it says a household with one Italian, German, African, Spanish etc.) can only exist in America.

I think there were some Canadians who were in the Oscar winners list (many of the entertainers in Hollywood are dual citizens of America and Canada).

Only in America/West that recognition is given base on performance and hard work, and not race/colour/citizenship/religion. Well, at least it is practise widely.

Well, mostly I agree with you. Although I think they favour homosexuality, Holocaust and non-summer blockbusters movies more than the rest in Oscars. How can Ironman not get a nod?

Anon: Well I think on the whole no one sees Slumdog as a Muslim thing. I just mentioned AR Rahman because the next time someone says Islam is not compatible with music just point to AR Rahman!

Farah: Thank God someone mentioned Ekushey! I just put Slumdog in the post .. coz.. it had to be done, you know!

Ya, we love our language and I think culture, music and Bengali is the reason why Bangladesh didn't end up like a failed state unlike Pakistan, where extremism has taken over culture. To a large extent you can thank the sufi influence of Bangladesh as well as our communal harmony.

Suroor: you must soon!

mezba said...

I wanted to add one comment. I cannot understand why some Indians hate Slumdog. I have to explore this more. It's quite fascinating.

Farah said...

Haha I only commented coz no one else did or else I would have commented on Slumdog! lol.

I think Bangladesh and Pakistan cannot be compared they are very different. Pakistan has the Middle East influence (tight dictatorial regimes, very fundamentalist) whereas Bangladesh has the Eastern influence (think zen!).

Anonymous said...

"Well I think on the whole no one sees Slumdog as a Muslim thing. I just mentioned AR Rahman because the next time someone says Islam is not compatible with music just point to AR Rahman!
"

The only people who harp on islam being incompatible with music are muslims themselves. Just point to Ayotollah Komeni, Taliban and numerous mullahs from our Pakistan who issue fa(r)twa that music is haraam.

To them what ARR is doing haraam.

Anonymous said...

I totally cheered too for slumdog, it was the underdog of all movies and it finally broke through all the barriers. I remember it premiered during the TFF and read about it. My indian friend is actually upset because she said they don't truly depict the *true* India. Didn't they do some of the scenes at the indian slums?? I don't get it. If it showed the true problems and how people live under poverty, wouldn't it(the movie) maybe bring in Aids and also make the indian government do something to help its people?? I still haven't watched the movie though :(
sf

Anonymous said...

Anon @2.42

I am a Hindu and I am amused (to say the least) that some indians are furious over the movie for its portrayal of hindus as muslim killers (as one of the characters is shown).

For god sake this is a fiction, not a fact.

Azlin said...

Yes, Mezba. Please explore why the Indians dislike this movie. Is it because it is not typical bollywood movie? Is it because it is about Muslims? Is it because Amitabh Batchan was critical towards this movie? Is it because there's no gorgeous actors?

Most Malaysian Indians are oblivious towards Slumdog.

I had a small peak into Bangladesh history when I got "A Golden Age" from a friend.

Anonymous said...

azlin, It is because they felt that it showed hindus negatively. Cinema is a powerful medium and even fictions are unpalatable sometimes. Do you remember how frequently muslims get offended with Hollywood movies like Executive Decision, True Lies.

Bengali Muslimah said...

21st Feb is something else in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Won't say it's fun, but pretty exciting.

But what happened there recently is really sad. Did you hear?

mezba said...

Farah: I agree with you. The differences between the two countries could not be more extreme. Given the recent trouble in Bangladesh, it could be said the Pakistan army would have resolved the situation quite differently.

Anon (12.23): There will always be such people.

Sf: I think this movie depicted the true India in many ways. For sure Bollywood where the protagonists are rich people partying in Switzerland is not the "real" India.

Anon (9.38): true. There was also Gujarat which many people seemed to have forgotten.

Azlin: I think I will have to do that post. Perhaps tomorrow iA.

Anon (10.35): true that some Muslims get upset over Hollywood movies but India is no paradise for Muslims either.

Bengali Muslimah: welcome to the blog. Yes, I did hear. It was so sad.

Bengali Muslimah said...

Thanks. I just created a blog recently [need feedback, =]]. It's pretty cool and I think its more productive than facebook. lol

mezba said...

Bengali Muslimah: will take a look soon iA.

Anonymous said...

The actress pictured above played a mother who receives a letter from her son who went to fight the war. She starts reading the letter, and starts to break down into tears as she reads on. At the end of her skit, she falls down to the ground in tears, and there was not a dry eye in the audience. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant acting.

ami likhsi chithita xD tobe i missed the show :( shame.

Audity

mezba said...

Audity: IT WAS very well written.

Audity said...

thanks :D i had no idea she had such good acting skills! she keeps denying it though... i saw some other skits put together by BASC and they were AMAZING!!! do you attend all the events put together by the bengali students?

mezba said...

Usually if I have time and know of it in advance. Univ of Toronto - for sure.