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Letters from Lockdown #6: Sadia Khalid

Though mourning the loss of the physical experience of festivals, a successful year for South Asian cinema brings a touch of optimism to Sadia's missive from Bangladesh...

Hello beautiful souls!

As most of you are enjoying the holiday season, a short-lived winter has showered in Bangladesh a much-needed relief from the ten months of scorching sun. Like Maja, I’m also in the middle of moving; a little less drastic than shifting to a different continent, but that doesn’t deter the agony of packing and unpacking, a pain I had masochistically longed for, but felt little of this year since the pandemic crushed all my travel plans. Every festival I judged in 2020 was online, a modest and mechanical substitute for the warm congregations of cineastes in the pre-pandemic era. Even more wretched was teaching online classes where everyone is a two-dimensional one by two-inch box on mute. 

Our little adventures at Berlinale thus take the cake for being the highlight of my year. Apart from the films we saw together, First Cow and Undine were two movies we discussed in length. I’ll echo Rodrigo and Debbie’s impeccable observation- Savina’s admiration for Undine is highly contagious; it should come with a warning. I ended up watching the film and falling under its spell, like Undine had fallen for Johannes or Christoph for Undine. The film haunts romantics and cynics alike, just as the ethereal oversized catfish lingers at the side of the etched turbine. Although The Woman Who Ran is the only film from the festival which I mentioned in my list, Rizi also had a profound effect on me. I often marvel at how unapologetically minimalistic they were, yet the long takes of the stationary cameras in both films had the uncanny precision of a seasoned painter’s bold brush strokes. 

Sitting at home for months on end, a few characters and their absurd shenanigans felt perilously relatable, like a novice doctor in The Unknown Saint, who arrives in a small town only to discover he has nothing better to do than to prescribe paracetamols, nudging him to take up an illegal hobby just to survive the boredom. The withering filmmakers of Sudanese Film Club trying to revive their glorious olden days in the documentary Talking About Trees also resonated with our yearning to return to a time where we had a wealth of embraces to mine comfort from each day. Even the five strangers crammed in a small house, sheltered from invaders during the Lebanese War in All This Victory evoked a deeper sense of claustrophobia and dread on a second viewing during lockdown. 

On the optimistic front, this was a good year for South Asian cinema. India’s official entry at the Oscars, Jallikattu,and the other movie stirring pots from the subcontinent, Eeb Allay Ooo, both feature animals at the core, yet the humans manage to rise to the occasion as the real beasts. Bengali film, Debris of Desire accomplished the impossible task of striking a balance between local and international audiences, sketching the complicated choices lovers make grappling with poverty on the fringes of society. As your eyes and ears from this part of the globe, I’ll also mention in passing that the streaming platforms here are experiencing a boom like never before, destitution breathing life into these stories.

Having missed most major festivals this year, my list feels somewhat ancient and incomplete. Just watching the trailer of some films like Nomadland, which rightfully made its way into some of your lists, I’m morose for not being able to see it yet. Who knows when full-blown film festivals will recommence? Until we can meet again and share a big hug, emojis will have to do in the meantime. :) 

Warmest wishes,

Sadia