Once upon a time in Dacca — back to basics
If it’s not obvious from my writing, I like movies. I don’t think there is any movie on 1971 that one can call a classic. And there isn’t a single movie that captures the war element of 1971.
Inspired by a lot of Tarantino, Leone and the like, back in 2009 I thought about a storyline to redress this. After the whole Meherjaan fiasco, I am now going back to the drawing board.
No, I am not doing so because I was imagining some complicated and implausible ‘counter-narrative’ that would make me a target of overzealous Bangla bloggers. Rather, as Naeem Mohaiemen points out, Meherjaan packs many subplots: the closeted possible lesbian, the last Muslim quasi-feudal, the feisty coquette, the leftist radical — it seemed as if Rubaiyat Hossain wanted to have everything she read/heard/thought on the subject in the two hours. And it occurs to me that I have been guilty of precisely the same sin.
Set in Major Khaled Mosharraf’s make shift head quarters in Melaghar, this sort-of prologue shows the Mukti Bahini commander and his deputy, Major ATM Hyder, drawing up plans to hit the Pakistani authorities in the heart of occupied Dhaka. Going through the list of potential targets and guerilla teams, they stop at a particular name — Babul Chowdhury.
Babul Chowdhury is loosely based on a character of the same name in Sunil Gangopadhyaya’s Purba Paschim. Mr Chowdhury is a young and charismatic teacher in Dhaka University. He is also a radical Maoist, and is shown to have argued even in March 1971 that while the Yahya’s martial law regime and the religious fundamentalism entwined in the idea of Pakistan couldn’t be supported, Awami League’s narrow nationalism and agressive Bengali chauvinism were to be equally deplored. We are then shown how Mr Chowdhury is shocked, but not awed, by the brutality of Operation Searchlight, which he obviously survives to make it to Melaghar.
Much of this is to be in flash back.
We begin in Dhaka cantonment, where senior Pakistani generals and Razakar / Al Badr commanders are discussing what can be done to capture the guerilla network that had been hitting high value targets at will in the previous weeks. While some propose even harsher and more repressive measures, Major Amjad Khan of Clandestine Unit for Tracking Intelligence Activities (C-U-T-I-A — based on a pun in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children) is assigned for some detective work.
We then see Major Amjad talking to his network among the city’s leftists, Islamists, criminals, and other collaborators. The idea is not a whodunnit type blow-by-blow gathering of clues. Rather, it is to show various threads of collaborators.
And oh, Major Amjad is portrayed very much in a Raymond Chandler Noir anti-hero mode (think Bogert in Maltese Falcon).
A full blown action scene. Could be an actual operation such as the bombing in Hotel Intercontinental or the USIS office. Or could be an imaginary amalgam of a few. Could involve a chase scene, though recreating 1971 Dhaka streets would be logisitically difficult.
Various guerilla units have been captured. We see their relatives trying to find some news about their loved ones, and if possible, free them. Drawing heavily on the relevant sections of Jahanara Imam’s Ekatturer Dinguli and Tahmima Anam’s A golden age.
The Mukti Bahini unit of Babul Chowdhury arrives in Dhaka individually. Contacts are made with local safe houses, arms suppliers and other stakeholders. Reconnoissance activities are done. There are false starts. Tension builds as the day of reckoning looms.
The chapter is very much in the style of classic Cold War or World War II thrillers.
A sort-of an epilogue. Major Hyder arrives in a liberated Dhaka and makes a TV announcement on 17 December. The actual footage should be available in the BTV archives.