The Department of English and Humanities invited Dr. Fahmida Akhter, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Drama and Dramatics at Jahangirnagar University, to give a talk titled “Fragmented Memory, Incomplete History: Women and Nation in the War Films of Bangladesh.” The talk was held in the Campus B Seminar Room on November 30, 2017 at 11.oo am. The talk was attended by Dr. Kaiser Haq of DEH, Dr. Din Mohammad Sumon Rahman of MSJ, Dr. Somdatta Mondal of Bishwabharati University, Kolkata, with other faculty and students of various departments as well as faculty from other universities.
The talk focused on the most important and celebrated chapter in the history of Bangladesh is its nine-month long Liberation War (Muktijuddho in Bengali) of 1971. Dr. Akhtar’s research explores the ways in which memories and histories of the war are shaped by the gender dynamics of nationalism in different periods through examining war-themed films of Bangladesh. By covering both mainstream and alternative war films produced just before, during and after the war, from 1970 to 2011, Dr. Akhtar traces the various ways in which men and women are represented in war films and construct the idea of nation. She also unpacks the politics and aesthetics of war films, contextualizing them as they intersect with the socio-historical contexts. Employing textual and visual analyses with using solid theoretical scholarship, both from the East and the West, concerning cinematic representation of the past, women and nation, she argues that the different power structures of men and women constructed in war films are in accordance with the dominant ideology of the society. The Liberation War was a people’s war, involving manifold participation of both men and women from different classes, religions and localities. Despite this reality, cinematic representations of the War have always portrayed the combat experience as an exclusively masculine enterprise. By contrast, women have been constructed in the films as passive victims or in subordinate roles. Woman is valorized in one instance, in her idealized portrayal as the ‘mother-nation’; this iconic projection of woman, however, highlights men’s heroic defence of their motherland. On the other hand, female rape victims in the war are framed as shame or dishonour for the nation and are offered a customary exclusion by suicide, death or occasionally by some other means at the end of the war films. Dr. Akhtar has argued that war films exclude the raped women from the narratives in order to maintain a perceived purity of the nationalist discourse, following the national politics, culture and historiography of Bangladesh.
The talk was followed by a lively question-answer and discussion session between members of the audience and the speaker.