Film Review: Jalal's Story

The complexities of Bengali culture captured in a stark trilogy

Posted: 25.07.16

The London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) offers cinephile’s a cornucopia of fresh and exciting non-mainstream films showcasing the rich diversity of Indian cinema in languages from across the subcontinent. The festival which is in its seventh year prides itself in bringing independent films to western audiences, far away from Bollywood's glitz and glamour through highlighting contemporary social issues. One such film was Jalaler's Golpo (Jalal's Story), a Bengali triptych of three short films interwoven together by the central character Jalal who is an unvoiced orphaned village boy abandoned in a large floating pot, on a river.

Through his development in life from a baby to a young man, the film explores the gritty realities of rural life in contemporary Bangladesh. The first film The Arrival focuses on Miraj who overhears the cries of a baby whilst bathing on his portion of the river bank. He takes the child home and the next day the local villagers are astonished at the abundance of fish caught that morning believing that the child has brought luck to the village. Miraj uses Jalal for his own financial exploits, selling water which has touched the baby’s feet as holy water to cure illnesses to the local people. After a series of misfortunes, Jalal is seen as a curse and he is abandoned back to the river where he was found in the floating pot. The second film The Association sees Jalal as a young boy fostered by Karim, a rich landlord who remarries because his previous wife was not able to bear him a child. Questioning his own infertility, Karim invites a fakir to perform various superstitious practices to make his wife pregnant. Jalal is considered to be the cause of the wife’s infertility and he is captured and thrown into the river.

In the final film The Departure Jalal is now a young adult and works for the local gang leader and aspiring politician Sajib. A young village girl is kidnapped for Sajib’s own exploits and an illegitimate baby is a result of this which poses a threat to the up and coming elections. The baby is castaway in the river just as Jalal was found at the start of the film.

Capturing the complexities of Bengali culture the film and manages to explore the multitude of issues facing rural Bangladesh. Jalaler’s Golpo is gritty in its emphasis of exploitative sexual male power and the treatment of women and the role of superstition in a Muslim country. It has many comedic moments and reminds us of the the story of Moses found on the Nile. Any film in Bengali will always draw parallels with Satayjit Ray’s own Apu Trilogy and there are some obvious characteristics between both trilogies.

Bangladesh has a relatively small film industry in comparison with its much larger Indian counterpart. This film is ambitious in documenting social issues but also in the way it tells a much larger story about a country which is still not well known, making Jalaler’s Golpo is a gem for world cinema lovers. 

Lubjana Matin-Scammell

Jalal's Golpo was screened at Crouch End Picture House at The Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival and is now available to watch online on BFI Player.

Bengali with English subtitles Director:Abu Shahed Emon

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