Bangladeshi feminist drama Rehana is premiering at the BFI London Film Festival under the ‘Debate’ strand.
Previously, it was selected at the “Un Certain Regard” section of the 74th Cannes Film Festival, the first Bangladeshi film to do so and to also receive a standing ovation.
Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s sophomore feature is a nuanced examination of the moral potholes that exist on the road to justice when someone is a witness to a sexual assault.
Rehana (Azmeri Haque Badhon) is a single mother and an assistant professor Dr Arefin (Kazi Sami Hassan) at a medical college who encounters a student named Annie (Afia Tabassum Borno) running away from what has clearly been a sexual assault, carried out by one of her colleagues.
Juggling a demanding job with family life, Rehana is already stretched thin but is determined to bring the accused to justice.
In doing so, she attempts to navigate a complicated path, when everyone except her just wants the incident to be forgotten.
Instantly, Saad sets the scene as a bustling college. The sternness of Rehana Maryam Noor is shown through her disciplined behaviour as she rebukes students talking during a test.
As a filmmaker, he transports the audience to Bangladesh, where a middle-aged woman is also showcased to be balancing her tumultuous life as a mother, daughter and sister.
Through various telephone conversations, we get to know the backstory without any unnecessary flashback scenes. The vision is realistic and gritty. Blue gradient is very aptly chosen as this colour usually denotes positive qualities like trust, knowledge, power, professionalism, cleanliness, calm and focus.
However, here these colours are contrasted with the dark issues like sexual abuse. As such, the topic is handled delicately. Saad steers away from making the movie preachy and through dialogues provide a bleak mirror of truth to society.
A scene when Rehana confronts Dr Arefin, he tells her: “Not all women get raped. Only a few women like you do.” Such responses send shivers down one’s spine as it shows how the deep-rooted misogyny and perils women of today face, just for speaking the truth.
Furthermore, the movie touches on internalised politics within educational institutes how some are compelled to be subservient to patriarchy and succumb to pressures for the sake of ‘honour’ – especially if it’s for financial reasons.
I ironically felt quite suffocated and worried throughout the movie. The long hallways and big medical rooms symbolises how far society is from an egalitarian world and the great lengths Rehana will have to go through to get ‘justice’.
The unhurried pace and shaky camera shots continue to develop the sentiment of uneasiness, leaving audiences to feel suspenseful to what will happen next. Cameras seem to travel with the characters evoking panic and the crisp editing only enhances these emotions.
Just recently, I was in awe of Nimisha Sajayan’s formidable and subtle work in The Great Indian Kitchen, as she stood up to patriarchy.
Similarly, in and as Rehana, Azmeri is outstanding, to say the least. Her eyes are strong and body language exude formidability. The moment she is in front of the camera, Azmeri has this innate talent to own her character and all the shades.
There are very few films which are so near to perfect and Rehana is one of them. Given that this is Abdullah’s first feature film, he tackles a thorny but important issue in such a sensitive way and his cinematic vision leaves a solid impression, paving the way to be a trailblazer in Bangladeshi cinema.
The sad and scary part is that there are so many Rehanas in our society, whose voices go unheard and external pressures subdue their human spirit. This film is a scream for such brave women. Definitely Oscar-worthy!
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (4.5/5 stars)