Film Review: Swapner Prithibi (1996)

Set in a contemporary rural Bangladesh, this melodrama film is an accumulation of almost every possible film genre that Dhaliwood — the Bangladeshi film industry — has ever produced. After delivering continuous overflow of emotions and conflicts throughout the whole story, the film ends with the ultimate cessation of zamindar Rayhan Chowdhury (the antagonist) and his dominance by a group of revolting peasants. In the end, the peasant mob charges the zamindar with their bamboo sticks and beats him to death. This film is an allegory that dreams the fall of social stratification and the abolishment of ruthless dictatorship.

The film makes considerable efforts to articulate the central theme through film aesthetics. There is one particular low-angle wide shot of a standoff between the protagonist along with the peasants lined up horizontally and the antagonist with few of his sentinels on horsebacks which illustrates what the film dreams of — a world where everyone will be equal regardless of who they are or what they have. Furthermore, similar patterns of montages for the entry scenes of both the antagonist and the protagonist create similar forms of tension in the narrative, but, at the same time, these montages successfully reveal the extent of differences in their moral traits which dominate their actions and judgement in the story. While the antagonist’s entry scene portrays his lustful and unruly behaviors, the protagonist’s entry scene displays his efforts to blur the boundary between different social classes.

The film integrates the use of costume in this film quite symbolically in relation to its theme of social stratification. The antagonist usually wears a decorated military uniform or royal suits that one can easily find similar to what the nawab (i.e viceroy) or zamindar (i.e. landowner) used to wear during the feudal period in this subcontinent. After the abolishment of the feudal system, both “nawab” or “zamindar” are often used as derogatory terms in Bangladesh. In this film, the antagonist’s outfits become a symbol of his dominance and brutality. When the protagonist, the antagonist’s son, returns home after studying abroad, he also starts wearing similar outfits. But he is despised by the peasants as well as his love interest which makes him realize the true image of his father to the common people. He regrets his choice of outfit and denies the social hierarchy and nobility by throwing away the military uniform. For the rest of the film, he is always seen wearing a common man’s apparels. Even later, the antagonist is falsely accused of rape when the villagers find a set of military uniform that he has withdrawn from his identity previously. I find this idea directly criticizing two phases of politics in Bangladesh. Not only does the film sharply criticize military dictatorship in the 1980s, but it also condemns the notion of nobility or the rise of political dynasties in the name of democracy in 1990s.

The film follows a linear narrative which is mainly revolved around the story of the antagonist’s fall. The narrative is structured on the basis of antagonist’s two phases of life: crime and punishment. The first half of the film explores his sins and all the misdeeds he had committed. The latter half establishes his fate and ultimate punishment. Interestingly, the first half of the narrative prioritizes only the lead characters of this film. As the film moves towards the phase of ultimate punishment, multiple events relating to the life of common people or the peasants appear in the narrative. This shows how the story shifts its interest from the antagonist to the mass people.

I was just a kid when I watched the film for the first time in my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it for the abundance of stardom, action, comedy, and romance. However, my recent watch turned out to be a completely different experience. Even though the film plunges itself into a dreadful mixture of commercial filmic elements, it integrates a Marxist take on the contemporary Bangladeshi politics and envisions a utopian society.