Bangladeshi film director may face legal consequences for making a film against radical Islam

Vijaya Laxmi Tripura

Bangladesh Film Censor Board (BFCB) has banned screening of a controversial short film titled ‘Shonibaar Bikel’ [Saturday Afternoon] in Bangladesh and abroad.

The title of the film translates to “Saturday Afternoon” and dramatises the July 2016 attack on an upmarket cafe by militants who killed 22 of their hostages, including 18 foreigners. Bangladesh’s censor board said the film – a Bangladesh-German co-production – could incite religious fervor in the Muslim-majority nation of 165 million.

Bangladesh has suffered from homegrown extremism for decades, but the Holey Artisan Cafe attack was the worst in years and seen as a major blow to the country’s image as a moderate Muslim nation.

The government has always denied the five young men who seized the cafe for hours before killing many hostages and dying themselves were linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist outfit although ISIS had uploaded photographs and video of the attack claiming responsibility.

Commenting on the decision of the BFCB, internationally acclaimed anti-militancy journalist, counterterrorism expert and editor of Blitz, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury said, “Although Mostofa Sarwar Farooki is no new name in the film circle, he definitely does not have adequate knowledge on such extremely sensitive issues like radical Islamic militancy and jihadist outfits. He should have consulted with individuals have knowledge in this field before finalizing the script of this film. Any wrong interpretation in a film would greatly damage the image of Bangladesh internationally especially when it is connected to notorious militancy outfits like ISIS.”

He said, “Governments in Bangladesh always are sensitive to issues like militancy. This was even worst during the rule of BNP-Jamaat government during 2001-2006, when they falsely charged me with sedition, treason and blasphemy for my investigative reports on Qawmi madrassas being the breeding grounds of jihadist. Though I do not have any know details about the script of Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s ‘Shonibaar Bikel’, what I believe, members of BFCB must have identified some specific points in it which they felt would be damaging to the image of the country.”

Asked if the film really is based on the story related to jihadist attack in Dhaka, Mr. Choudhury said, “I am not sure. May be this is just a publicity stunt of the director. Even I don’t know if Mostofa Sarwar Farooki has adequate knowledge on radical Islam and jihad.”

Critics of Mostofa Sarwar Farooki believe, the director is extremely inclined in inviting criticism as he has done in the past with the goal of getting media exposure. His previous film starring Irrfan Khan in ‘Doob’ had also been made controversial although on release the film embraced flop.

“It’s just another publicity stunt of Mostofa Sarwar Farooki”, commented a senior film director when asked about the ban on Farooki’s latest film.

Following the ban on the film, releasing posters photosets and trailers of Shonibaar Bikel would be considered as illegal and authorities may bring charges against Mostofa Sarwar Farooki and the producer of the film, in case they circulate any such material. Defying the decision of BFCB, publicity materials of this film have already been circulated on the YouTube and social media.

Shonibaar Bikel, a work of fiction, is loosely inspired from the Holy Artisan attack in Dhaka. Starring Parambrata Chatterjee, Zahid Hasan and Nusrat Imrose Tisha among others, the film is produced by Jaaz Multimedia and Chabial. Anna Katchko of Tandem Productions (Germany) serves as the co-producer.

Members of the censor board have watched the film twice. Even though they praised the film upon the first viewing, certain concerns were brought to light when they watched it for the second time. “We think that the running time of the film, which is an hour and twenty minutes, is more suitable for film festivals than a theatrical release,” informs censor board member Nassiruddin Dilu. He added that the film will damage the country’s reputation. Furthermore, Iftekhar Uddin Naushad, another member of the censor board, claimed that this decision was made because the film will be unfavorable to the global image of Bangladesh.

Many online groups on social media are criticizing the film, citing that the first look gives out a wrong picture of religion.

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