Rubaiyat Hossain is back in her third feature film with an accusation of the textile industry for women in Bangladesh, telling the struggle of women that fight to stand for their rights.
WEEKEND: “Made in Bangladesh” tells the story of the young female factory worker, Shimu, fighting for better conditions. What did inspire you to tell this story?
During my research, I met a woman named Daliya Akhter who’s a factory worker and union leader. She immediately struck me as someone extraordinary in terms of her strength, fearlessness and feminist conscious. I asked her if she would allow me to loosely base my film around the events of her life. She agreed. This was my biggest inspiration.
Your film also addresses female empowerment. How do you think the textile industry is impacting the lives of women in Bangladesh, positively and negatively?
The textile industry has empowered women by bringing them into the workforce. Before the garment factories started operating in Bangladesh there were really no scopes for women’s employment. Women either worked as domestic workers, construction workers or sex workers. The positive side is women have jobs now. They didn’t have to submit to child marriage. Daliya for example was subjected to child marriage, she ran away from her village, came to the city and started working in the factory.
The negative side is definitely the low wages, long working hours, delay in payment for overtime work, maternity leaves, child care, lack of proper transportation to and from the factory. The factory conditions have improved a lot over the last years. The women workers are now unionizing and raising their voices to get their demands heard.
Are women’s rights and the conditions for female factory workers raised as public concerns in Bangladesh?
It certainly is. Social workers, activists, artists all have taken notice of this issue and made an effort to bring this to the attention of larger communities both locally and internationally.
“Made in Bangladesh” is co-produced by Danish BeoFilm. How did you benefit from the Danish collaboration?
Danish co production helped me to do my sound editing, mixing and grading in Copenhagen. Beo Post provided me with really good technical facilities, something I didn’t have in my previous films. This enhanced the quality of my film. I really enjoyed my collaboration with the Danish crew.
You usually prefer to work with women. Can you elaborate on this?
I just don’t want to be the only woman on the set. There’s a huge imbalance in the number of women working in the film industry in Bangladesh and globally in general. I always find myself to be the only woman in the room. This is why I get women to fill some key positions in my crew. This creates a gender balance within the crew and mindset is already changed. There’s a great sense of sisterhood, which is precious to me. The DOP, Sound Engineer, Production Designer, Art Director and Editor were women in Made in Bangladesh. Women were in key creative positions in ‘Made in Bangladesh’ to tell a story about women. Historically, women have mostly been represented in cinema through the masculine gaze. It’s time we tell our stories using our own lens and creative instincts.
“Historically, women have mostly been represented in cinema through the masculine gaze. It’s time we tell our stories using our own lens and creative instincts.”
“Made in Bangladesh” is your third feature film. What did you learn during your previous filmmaking processes that you did in a different way this time?
I certainly learnt to increase the number of women in my crew member. I also learnt from the previous films that this time I must spend a lot more time on the script. This one was a co-production and my producer from France had me work with a script consultant, which I never did before. I also worked longer in rehearsal and pre production for Made in Bangladesh. I prepped a lot, so when I was on the set I had the liberty to improvise.
Which image of Bangladesh and the textile industry would you like the audience to get out of your story? How would you like them to reflect upon it?
Bangladeshi women are a strong brand of women. They are extremely resilient in fighting against patriarchal odds. I want the audience to see how strong and empowered women are in Bangladesh. I want to break the stereotype of the docile Muslim woman who is a victim. The women in Made in Bangladesh are active agents of change. They are fighting to make the textile industry better.
“I want to break the stereotype of the docile Muslim woman who is a victim. The women in Made in Bangladesh are active agents of change.”
What comes next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?
I am working on a film that’s deeply personal and cerebral. It has to do with a women’s sexuality in the urban Muslim culture of Dhaka. The film revolves around only women characters, as most of the film is set inside a beauty salon. ‘Pink Blossom’ is the working title. It’s in development stage now.