'Jalal's Story': Busan Review
Bangladeshi filmmaker Abu Shahed Emon’s quasi-triptych debut is as languid as the river it’s set on
Be it one boy or three, the story is the same for too many like the one in Abu Shahed Emon’s debut, Jalal’s Story, a rambling three part chronicle of life as a voiceless orphan in rural, mercenary Bangladesh. Though ceaselessly downbeat, writer-director Emon tackles issues ranging from women’s rights or lack thereof to the enduring hold superstitions have on some parts of modern Bangladesh. The current subject matter and the country’s relatively small film industry will demand some attention internationally, but this is firmly festival fare.
Told in three parts, Jalal’s Story chronicles the life a child by that name, as fate literally carries him down the river from one unwelcoming home to the next. Part 1 begins with Jalal the 20 year-old-budding gangster (Arafat Rahman), adopted by Sajib (Mosharraf Karim) as an orphan boy. He’s learning how to strong-arm Sajib’s rivals and anyone who gets in the way of his political aspirations. Sajib kidnaps a young woman, Shila (Moushumi Hamid, who brings some much need fire to her performance early on), and keeps her as a sexual hostage (why is never quite clear) and when she inevitably gets pregnant, her value to him drops and he orders the baby disappeared. The infant is set adrift on the river, with Jalal trying his best to rescue him despite his inability to swim. Part 2 picks up when Miraj (Nur A Alam Nayon) and Marium take the baby into their home when he comes ashore near their house. A series of fortunate coincidences has the villagers convinced he’s blessed by Allah — an idea Miraj exploits for profit. But a jealous neighbor stirs up trouble and the baby, named Jalal, is abandoned to the river again. The final chapter takes place in another aspiring politician and landlord’s home, Karim (Tauquir Ahmed), who rescued the baby, kept the name but has little to do with him as an eight-year-old (Mohammod Emon). His latest wife, Rahima (Shormi Mala), takes a shine to Jalal, but when a skeevy shaman is summoned to solve the couple’s infertility problems, Jalal is branded a demon and set on the river once again.
Are we to believe the boy abandoned in the last segment is, by some narrative temporal slip, the dispirited young gangster of the first? Or is he just one of many kids like him, left alone and destined for an unsavory existence he can’t avoid? Despite it’s gratuitous length (the film could easily stand to lose 20, perhaps, 30 minutes) it is oddly compelling and Emon has plenty on his mind. In addition to gender inequality and lingering traditionalism, Emon points an unsubtle finger at political corruption at the community level and the contemporary penchant for placing material wealth ahead of humanism. The cast is strong across the board, with Rahman in particular leaving an impression as the 20-year-old Jalal, effectively reduced to a cog in the wheel of his own life rather than an actor with any agency.
Production company: Impress Telefilm Limited
Cast: Mosharraf Karim, Arafat Rahman, Moushumi Hamid, Tauquir Ahmed, Shormi Mala, Nur A Alam Nayon, Mitai Das
Director: Abu Shahed Emon
Screenwriter: Abu Shahed Emon
Producer: Faridur Reza Sagar, Ibne Hasan Khan
Executive producer: Mostafa Sarwar Farooki
Director of photography: Barkat Hossain Polash
Production designer: Kazi Rakib
Editor: Abu Shahed Emon
Casting director: Tahrima Khan
World sales: Impress Telefilm Limited
No rating, 121 minutes