1996. The Unknown Bard – Achin Pakhi

The Unknown Bard – Achin Pakhi

Script and Direction : Tanvir Mokammel
Camera : Anwar Hossain
Sound : Shuvabrata Halder
Editing : Mahadeb Shi
Lalon singers : Farida Parveen, Krishnadas Baul, Arundhati Choudhury, Arati Mukherjee, Prahlad Brahmachari, Nityagopal Das, Sandhyarami Das
Puppetry : Puppet Group of Nadia
Production : Kino-Eye Films, Dhaka
Country of Origin : Bangladesh, 1996
Running Time : 67 mins
Sales : We are licensed to sell VHS videos of this film in Australia and New Zealand, and in Asian countries with the exception of India, Bangladesh and Japan.

This visually remarkable documentary, filmed along the rivers of Bangladesh by a leading Dhaka-based left-wing activist and social commentator, Tanvir Mokammel, addresses the issue of the divisions between Hindus and Muslims by examining the teachings and living tradition of Lalon Fakir, a Baul singer, who lived in 19th century Bengal and whose songs and music influenced the songs composed by the great Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore. Baul singers are religious singers found in both Bangladesh and in West Bengal. Frequently itinerant, their unconventional lives are devoted to singing and to mystical verse. The music of Baul singers is often exquisitely melodious and has a quality of freedom and spontaneity.

Fundamental to the beliefs of Lalon was the view that the increasing gap between Hindu and Muslim beliefs (and communities) occurring during his life time were untenable, and so one purpose of Mokammel’s film is to bring to the public eye this unusual position, at a time of increasingly fundamentalist positions being adopted by some Hindu and Muslim groups in South Asia and elsewhere. Early in the film we are told of how Lalon became by chance alienated from his own Hindu community and was adopted as a young man by a community of Muslim weavers.

The Unknown Bard then goes on to examine the beliefs and teachings of Lalon, showing some of his followers, contemporary bards, interacting with their communities, minor religious sects in Bangladesh. Bauls can be Hindus (usually followers of Vishnu) or Muslims (usually Sufis) and see an affinity between religions, so a strong emphasis is placed on overlapping elements of Hindu and Muslim religions. The film shows this Bardic tradition as having a strong component of questioning-the bards interviewed are anti-patriarchal and resist many traditional dogmas, highlighting many of the contradictions in the practice of dominant religions. The beliefs advocated in the film include the view that God is found in the human body, mystical views of human sexuality, and also elaborate arguments as to why women are stronger than men.