Young Japanese filmmaker’s debut film on Bengali polymath screened at DIFF 2022

The recently concluded 20th edition of the Dhaka International Film Festival (DIFF) showcased a total of 225 films from 70 countries, and a particular Japanese documentary among these films grabbed the attention of the film enthusiasts for its subject matter: the songs of Rabindranath Tagore.

Mika Sasaki, a 26-years-old Japanese filmmaker, has tremendously portrayed the beautiful relationship between the majestic songs of the first non-Western and the first lyricist Nobel Laureate in Literature, 'Bishwakobi' Rabindranath Tagore - and his ardent admirers in both Bangladesh and India, through the universal language of films.

On January 18, the film was premiered at the Sufia Kamal Auditorium in the National Museum, Shahbagh, in the capital as part of the 'Cinema of the World' category of the DIFF-2022, and earlier on November 6th in 2020, the film had its online premiere by the Embassy of Japan in Bangladesh.

The young-aspiring filmmaker shared the detailed journey behind her special debut project while talking to Dhaka Courier at the DIFF, in her surprisingly clear Bengali accent.

"I explored Rabindranath Tagore and his mesmerizing literary creations while I was majoring in Bengali literature at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. I started learning Hindi, and while I was wondering what to study in Bengali literature, I met 'Tagore Songs' for the first time. I was surprised that was completely different from anything I heard before," Mika told Dhaka Courier about the beginning of her journey towards exploring Rabindranath Tagore and his majestic musical works.

She continued: "In Japan, there is no such culture of songs that can be shared by all ethnic groups across generations. The Tagore Songs that Bengali people love so much, I thought I'd listen to it once, and I actually listened to the songs on YouTube; but honestly, even if I listened to only the melody, I was frustrated at the beginning that I couldn't feel the charm, so I wanted to fill the gap somehow and therefore, I set Tagore Song as my research theme for my graduation thesis."

Although his every write-up and other creations are truly remarkable, I was more hooked by his amazing songs and the unbelievable admiration of his listeners towards those songs in both Bangladesh and India," Mika told DC.

Tagore lived through the turbulence of British colonialism in the subcontinent and became a globetrotter during his age, also explored Japan multiple times in this process. Among all of his majestic creations, he left behind over 2,000 songs through which he discovered many earthly and heavenly aspects of lives; and Mika wanted to make sure that her debut film travels through all the lands where the songs come alive and uncover universal appeal that resonates with her own Japanese culture and longing for the past.

"To capture the cultural significance of his musical creations and the relationship between nature and all of his songs, we filmed in all three countries (Bangladesh-India-Japan); and the response we got was overwhelming. Here in Bangladesh, we interviewed widely revered Tagore-songs exponent Rezwana Choudhury Bannya, filmed in her music school 'Shurer Dhara' and I must say she was very helpful," Mika told DC.

Not only in Bannya's music school, Mika Sasaki in fact travelled to several places in Bangladesh and explored how the songs of Tagore resonated with the lives of common people in Bangladesh. She interviewed Naeem Islam Noyon, an orphan musician and social worker who is currently working for the international NGO Ekmattra Japan. Since 2003, the organization has been working to support the independence of as many as 500,000 children living on the streets of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and Naeem has been one of them whose life got positively impacted through the songs of Tagore. Another young aspiring singer she interviewed was Bangladeshi urban rapper Nizam Rabby, who is also heavily inspired by the philosophical world of Tagore.

Continuing her appreciation for the Tagore-admirers in Kolkata, she added, "The best thing about Tagore and his creations is that it connects so many different people and aspects, no matter where you live. A young urban University student Ananya Bhattacharjee who travelled to Japan to fulfil her curiosity and inquisitiveness as an ardent admirer of Tagore songs and poetry; a lifelong admirer and maestro of Tagore Songs Amitesh Sarkar and his only disciple Pritha Chatterjee, an urban music producer Kunal Biswas and his team under the label of 'Kolkata Videos' and even the random people on the streets in Kolkata - they all have mesmerized my through their admiration on Tagore and his beautiful songs," Mika said with gratitude.

Director Mika Sasaki did not appear in the film, nor did she narrate anything in her voice. The audience just listens to the stories of people who sings Tagore songs including the National Anthems of Bangladesh and India ('Amar Sonar Bangla' and 'Jana Gana Mana'), 'Tomar Khola Haowa,' 'Graam Chhara Oi Ranga Matir Poth,' 'Amra.Shobai Raja,' 'Bhenge Mor Ghorer Chabi,' 'Ami Chitrangada,' 'Tomra Ja Bolo Tai Bolo,' 'Jodi Tor Daak Shune Keu Na Ashe,' 'Tumi Robe Neerobe,' 'Majhe Majhe Tobo Dekha Pai' and more. Representing a wide variety of different age groups and music genres, all the singers talked about why and how Tagore songs allure them. For the audience in Japan like Suzuki Tarita who is born to a Bangladeshi father, figures out Tagore songs are not just songs, which also expresses the philosophy of Tagore.

The DIFF premiere show of the documentary on January 18 was joined by many film enthusiasts and people from all walks of life including Bangladeshi traveller-educator Eliza Binte Elahi, who made 'Hariprabha Takeda: an unsung traveller of Bengal' based on the life and works of Hariprabha Takeda, a Bengali Brahmo woman from Dhaka, Bangladesh in the early 20th century who not only travelled Japan with her Japanese husband as the first-ever Bengali and Bangladeshi woman - but also documented her journey and remarkable experiences during her historically significant timeline, thus became an unforgettable part inside the beautiful friendship between the two Asian countries.

When DC asked Eliza Binte Elahi regarding 'Tagore Songs' and Mika Sasaki, she said, "The documentary 'Tagore Songs' by Japanese young filmmaker Mika Sasaki shows the practice of Rabindra Sangeet in Dhaka and Kolkata, and tried to explore what do contemporary youth think about Rabindranath's songs in these places, how relevant is our Rabindra Sangeet still in the 21st century and other relevant aspects. I was overwhelmed by the work of a young Japanese filmmaker based on the poet's songs. Renowned Bangladeshi scholar Monzurul Huq Sir informed me from Japan about Mika Sasaki's film, and I thank him for this excellent recommendation."

Continuing her love and admiration for Tagore and his remarkable creations, Mika is excited about her upcoming projects: a non-fiction book under the same title of the film is scheduled to be published by the end of February, and her next project is going to be another film with the theme of curry made by South Asian people living in Japan and a short story "Shadow of Misaki" with the theme of Tagore and Yukari Mihara and Misgion. "These are my love letters in the name of Tagore, as I am mesmerized by Tagore Songs," Mika said to DC, expressing her genuine admiration for the Bengali polymath.

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