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Interview with Ariq Khan, director of Transit

Saturday 30 January 2021, by Abla Kandalaft

What motivated you to tell this story? Do many people find themselves in this “transit” situation in Bangladesh?

I have always wanted my films to be about the common man, the type of characters whose stories are not as often seen in modern cinema. Blended with that is migration, which I feel is a very important topic in a global context. Every year, thousands of Bangladeshi workers travel to the Middle East, South East Asia, and even to Europe for work. To some people, having that visa to a developed country means a lot. They see it as a means of alleviating themselves from a near impoverished and futureless situation. I felt that this was a story which needed to be told. Secondly, and surprisingly enough, people who go abroad do find themselves in similar situations. First of all, they spend a lot of money to legally get their permit and visa (by even taking loans which they have to pay back). A lot of their families run on the remittance they send back every month. But unfortunately, they spend a big chunk of their time abroad. It’s not like they are able to comeback every year to visit their families either. This is a form of self-exile by choice. I once met a man on a flight who was coming back to Bangladesh from Kuwait after 11 years! It’s not an easy life at all.

How much did you know about the situation? What sort of research did you do?

I would say that being born and brought up in Bangladesh has made me quite observant and aware of many different issues. So in that regard, I did have a sense of the world and the plight that people face in a situation like this. For example, I sort of understood who my character was and what might motivate him, what sort of places would he go to, what would his house look like, etc. A lot of it was also logical guesses. The details were filled in after research. For example, I knew that there were agencies which send thousands of workers abroad – but I didn’t know the exact process and how long it took for them to do so. I also didn’t know whether it was feasible enough for someone of Abdur Rouf’s stature to travel legally to Italy particularly. So these were some of the elements which needed some background work.

How did the casting and shooting process go?

Casting initially was a little tricky. We knew that we had to cast well to capture the realism we were dealing with, particularly for the main character. We had thought of going with someone else right at the beginning, but it didn’t quite work out. Then we had Jahangir (the main actor) come on board who brought life to the story. He worked very hard in really shaping the character and go deep into the narrative. As for the shoot – well, we shot for 4 days in and around Dhaka. Mind you, the locations were all real locations. Even the agency bit was shot in the office of an actual agency. I would say the toughest was the first day, mainly because the crew was new and needed time to work out the chemistry and also there is something called the first day jitters. So it took us a while to get the rapport going. Also – the hardest moment was on the morning of the second day where we really struggled with a scene. I won’t say which one, but we ended up shooting 16 takes of it! It wasn’t working at all and something or the other was going wrong in every take. But I think by the end of it, we were all happy with what we got.

As a filmmaker, what sorts of genres and stories are you interested in working with?

I’ve always been fascinated with very real and human stories from a very early age. Although I don’t want to limit myself to any particular genre, but social-realism and drama is probably my most favourite genre (as you can see from my film as well). I feel I am able to relate with it more. Perhaps because I grew up watching a lot of Satyajit Ray and Kurosawa films, as well as important films from the Italian and Iranian movements. They have had a huge influence in my work. I feel there are beautiful and unique stories to be told out there, which all have a certain universal appeal to it. I wouldn’t mind doing my bit in trying to show them on screen.

I assume this is your graduation film. What do you plan to do now?

Yes, this was my graduation film from London Film School. I am currently working as a director/producer in Bangladesh, as well as developing my first feature film project. It is a little tricky to make films here as the local industry isn’t at the optimum level yet – specially in terms of quality and infrastructure. But there are plenty of positive signs coming forward which makes me quite hopeful about the future.

What do you think the future holds for short films?

I think short films play a very vital role for a filmmaker and are an integral part of your development as a director. But sadly they don’t get the recognition that they deserve – particularly in our part of the world. It is nearly impossible to find producers/distributors for a short here. Which is why I tend to look at shorts as investments and a stepping stone for young directors. Certain aspects might change of course, particularly how and where we are viewing shorts – but that is also part of the game. Thankfully there are festivals like Clermont-Ferrand which do their utmost best to inspire directors and keep the short form alive.

If we were to go back into lockdown, what cultural or artistic delights would you recommend to alleviate our boredom?

There are so many things to do and see out there today! For example, I am always behind on my never-ending list of films to see, in addition to streaming a series or 2 on the TV. But occasionally, I would also like to pick up a book and catch up on my reading. I also happened to catch a bit of theatre on YouTube as well (back in June-July). There are always plenty of things to do for everyone. Also – something that was quite heartening to see during the first few months of the pandemic was the number of people who discovered (or rediscovered) their artistic side. Human beings are by nature quite creative. I’ve seen so many people start painting, cooking, writing poetry, singing, learning an instrument, or even making videos online – it was inspiring to say the least! I do hope that people will continue to practice art and let their creativity flow even when the pandemic is over.

Transit is part of International Competition I5.

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