Until recently, the Ekushey Book Fair was the only literature festival of note taking place annually in Bangladesh. With the advent of the Dhaka Literature Festival though, DLF for short, that can be said to have changed definitively.
Thanks to the international flavour of DLF, Dhaka can now lay claim to hosting a literature extravaganza on a par with anywhere else in the region.
This year DLF marks the 8th anniversary of the internationally acclaimed literature festival which was originally launched as the ‘Hay Literature Festival’, a gathering where authors, poets and media personas from both home and abroad exchange views, debate, and rejoice in the core belief of a modern society with an avid contribution from the spectators.
Having kicked off on Thursday, several crucial figures of world and Bangladesh literature and art will cram into the premises of Bangla Academy till November 10, including names like Adam Johnson, Mohammad Hanif, Nandita Das, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Imdadul Haq Milon, Selina Hossain and more.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson confronted UNB and exchanged his views shortly after the inauguration.
“To me it’s just a great honour as this is my first time in Bangladesh and it fascinates me to see such a world class literature-based event being held in Dhaka,” he said. He also had a message for emerging Bangladeshi writers, saying, “Your voices matter. You’re empowered to let the world hear your voice through such international-grade festivals.”
UNB also ran into noted Bangladeshi actress Bannya Mirza, who briefly expressed her plans for the event.
“I’ll be speaking about #metoo movement in Bangladesh in my session,” she said.
Some 20 sessions were held on the first day across several locations of the sprawling Bangla Academy premises with a noticeably young crowd milling about all over, a crowd that is expected to grow in numbers over the weekend.
Minister of Cultural Affairs and celebrated actor Asaduzzaman Noor partook in an inspiring dialogue session titled ‘Somoyer Gaan, Osomoyer Kobita’ with noted author Imdadul Haq Milon that was moderated by Shamim Reza at the Abdul Karim Shahittya Bisharad Auditorium, where they ruminated on the history of Bangladeshi media and literature.
Talking to UNB afterwards, the minister lauded the event and its purpose saying that he feels “encouraged by such a gathering of people interested in the arts.” The minister termed literature and art as the ‘life force’ of the nation and said such festivals should be encouraged to build a secular Bangladesh.
“The gathering of such art and literature-loving crowd and their interaction with foreign speakers, authors and poets would surely break the false image that has been propagated against Bangladesh in past decades,” the minister added.
Eminent author Imdadul Haq Milon also contributed to the conversation, adding that our youth are keener on foreign literature than Bangla, hence events with such international dimension are necessary to make them appreciate our literature.
Of all the events held on the first day, the one which stole the spotlight was the premier of ‘Manto’, a film based on the enigmatic Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto directed by the award-winning Indian actress and director, Nandita Das.
The film premiered to an overwhelming reception at the Abdul Karim Shahittya Bisharad Auditorium, with Nandita Das claimed that this was the first public screening of the much-anticipated film outside film festivals.
After enjoying the dark yet frank take on Manto’s life, the audience enjoyed a thoughtful dialogue between director Das and Indian author Annie Zaidi, that examined several aspects of the film.
Annie termed the film as ‘particularly timely’ stating that, to her the experience was often self-contradictory yet comforting. She also lauded the film for being visually beautiful and said the struggles depicted in the artist’s life have been ever-present in the subcontinent.
Nandita remarked that current world affairs forced her to choose the life of Manto as the subject of her second film. “So much of what he fought for resonated with my own experiences,” she said.
Both the speakers lauded Manto as a writer whose work ‘transcended borders’. It was a fitting showpiece for an event where the large portion of visitors roaming the Bangla Academy grounds clearly held little regard for borders, stopping at the numerous stalls that contained books of both Bangladeshi and World literature.