WTF ASIA 131: The Clay Bird (2002)

No, this is not the Vince Vaughn movie.

Available on…Facebook (?) as Matir Moina. The video quality is horrible. Approximately 93-98 minutes.

 

 

 

Anu is a young boy living in East Pakistan. Though his father, Kazi, is a pretty strict Muslim, his Uncle Milon is a bit more progressive. Kazi does not like his brother’s influence on the boy. He blames his wife, Ayesha, for letting Anu go with Milon so much. Ayesha reminds Kazi that Milon is not her younger brother and, thus, not her responsibility. After Milon takes Anu to a Hindu festival, Kazi decides to send his son to a religious school.

Anu’s introduction to the madrasa could have gone better, but it could have been worse. The teachers demand that he be called Anwar. His only friend is Rokon, a small boy who gets bullied a lot for reasons yet to be specified. The headmaster is mean and kind of scary. On the other hand, Rokon is a good friend to him, even if this leads to his isolation from the other boys. And Anu also seems to bond with Ibrahim, a younger teacher who seems more gentle and moderate than the older ones. Anu even asks to visit Ibrahim’s family when the school closes for Eid, but Ibrahim says that Anu should go back to his own family.

Speaking of Anu’s family, Kazi sending him away has a few negative consequences back home. His little daughter, Asma, found herself without her regular playmate and took to just wandering outside until she ended up with a fever. Even though Kazi owns a medicine shop, he has trouble finding a cure for her. He and Ayesha drift a little further apart. Almost immediately after Kazi goes off on a pilgrimage, the maid convinces Ayesha to go to with Asma to a concert by Sufi mystics. This, of course, is something that Kazi would not approve of. The wrong kind of Muslims, those Sufis.

Anu’s leaving, however, also exacerbates issues that had already existed, namely the growing distance between Kazi and Milon. Milon is joining the growing protest movement against the current government, which is currently located on the other side of India in West Pakistan and has been undermining the democratic process.  Kazi sees the growing unrest in East Pakistan as a threat to the country, and is growing closer to supporting martial law. Though Milon visits his brother’s family often, he and Kazi rarely talk to each other.

Anu returns home for Eid. Actually, he goes to a village fair and buys a clay bird for Asma. She loves it, but Kazi immediately confiscates it. Milon takes him to a Sufi concert. Even after all of the religious indoctrination, Anu still prefers to hang out with his uncle than with his father.

 

 

 

 

This movie takes place in the 1960s, during the years leading up to the split between West Pakistan and East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. Yep, this is taking place at around the same time as Raazi. It is a country that is breaking in two. First off, the country was born split in two when it broke from India, and further split in two due to it breaking off from both sides of India. Pakistan was meant to be primarily a Muslim country, but there are still Hindus there. Within the Muslims, there are the Sunnis and the less mainstream Sufis. Within the mainstream, there are the moderates like Milon and Ibrahim, and the the more fundamentalists like Kazi and the headmaster. And there are Anu and Asma, two children just trying to live as children, but with no means to make sense of the ever changing world. They want to stay together, but are separated in more ways than one by forces beyond their control.

It appears that the movie lays much of the blame for the woes of Bangladesh at the feet of West Pakistan. Some of that may be true, but there is the subtle acknowledgement that things would not get that much better after independence. Indeed, they have not. Even today, the country remains violently divided between two hostile political parties and Extremists appear to act with impunity. It had been thirty years since the country achieved independence from a country on the other side of another country; there is only so much that can be blamed on Pakistan at that point. The movie ends before Independence, but it is heavily implied that, given what has happened before and what has been going on, simply becoming Bangladesh would and did not solve some of the more fundamental problems. That this very movie got in trouble with national censors for supposedly insulting Islam is evidence of that, even with Muslim scholars (I think) in the cast.

The West Pakistanis and their government enforcers are left mostly in the background, allowing the audience to view them as an impending force of evil. At the same time, they do have support among the populace, at least among the more conservative elder men such as Kazi. Kazi is, of course, frequently portrayed as being overly strict and in the wrong, but he is neither cruel nor threatening. He honestly believes that these young protesters are tearing apart society and that their placing democracy over religion is the real danger. It is revealed that he was not always so conservative, but something happened to harden his outlook on life. Like a lot of things in this movie, it is left deliberately vague what happened to make him change, but it was probably something involving India or internal political strife. A bit ironic, then, that I managed to find this film streaming on Facebook, eh?

The film shows a struggle for the soul of Islam in East Pakistan. Later in the film, the Headmaster makes a speech about the need for Muslims to live Islam in all aspects of their lives. Ibrahim expresses his concerns about this intrusive form of Islam to an older and conservative staff member, but does not actually confront the Headmaster or speak out publicly. His more moderate stance may have convinced those immediately around him, but he has not reached the masses they way that the Headmaster does. Milon may talk of democracy with his friends, but he would rather take part in demonstrations and fight with the more implacable authorities than try to engage in a conversation with his own brother. So all people see is his anger and provocation of the government. Ayesha may sometimes push back against her husband, but does not have a real voice or power in the relationship. It is implied that Anu will lean towards the mindset of his uncle and Ibrahim when he gets older, but he will be just one man. And given what has happened since the events of this movie, he still has his work cut out for him, provided that he is still alive.

This movie may state a position, but it does not look to provide any answers, just questions and incomplete information. It tells a story of people just trying to live a simple life in a time when nothing can be simple without turning dangerous. As such, it may make for a frustrating watch. However, after some initial disinterest, I found myself highly engaged. This movie is not for everyone, but maybe give it a shot.

 

 

 

 

WTF ASIA 132: Gozu (Japan: 2003, approx. 130 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United States, and maybe a few other countries.

 

WTF ASIA 133: Detective Chinatown (China: 2015, approx. 136 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanada, the United Kingdom, the United States,