This week Deptford Film Club is on holiday in Bangladesh, but we’re not shirking in our duty to seek out new films.
We are in a roasting hot movie hall in small town Sylhet, watching Mon Chui Chee Mon (“Heart to Heart”, the cinema manager tells us). It’s an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, set in modern day Dhaka.
Our hero – dressed in dark glasses and a white suit – hangs around with his mates getting into rumbles with a rival gang whose leader looks like Nelix from Star Trek Voyager. The fights are kung fu style; each punch and kick sends its recipient (THWACK!) somersaulting backwards through the air.
When the film first cuts to Juliet – all liquid eyeliner and floaty fabric – the audience clap and shout out at the screen. Juliet’s a stunner for sure, and you can tell she’s got attitude. But when Romeo steps in to help when she’s getting hassle from Nelix, love hits them both (crash! extreme close up!) so hard that:
- tears of uncontrolled emotion roll down Romeo’s face.
- Juliet, stunned by love, faints into the movie’s first musical dream sequence.
In the auditorium, mobile phones start recording; the song and dance numbers will be on YouTube within minutes of the cinema emptying. An usher charges up the aisle and flashes his torch at these pirates (plus other miscreants: smokers, seat-changers).
Back into the narrative and we meet Juliet’s father, a man with such a paint-black and villainous moustache/wig combo he ought to be tying a maiden to railway tracks. He talks for some time about something. (We understand barely a word of Bangla and are piecing this story together mostly by guesswork.)
And we meet Romeo’s poor girlfriend who, discovering she has been replaced by Juliet, gives a magnificently morose musical performance. The bedraggled hair, tear-flooded mascara and lipstick-gouged mouth tell us all we need to know about heartbreak: “I gave my heart to you,” she seems to sing, “but you ripped it out and threw it on the ground. I want to hate you, you bastard, but I love you still.”
And from here on, the emotions run high until the very last reel. Romeo, overcome with love, is almost permanently weeping – interrupted only by the need for some thwacky fighting.
But when Juliet is locked up at home to prevent her seeing her Romeo, she doesn’t wallow or wilt: she delivers such a furious, fist-shaking tirade against her father that his moustache might start to quiver and fall. She smashes up the glass coffee table and plunges a triangular shard into her chest. Woe oh woe, what blood there is, spread red on her outstretched palms and breast!
And here, where Shakespeare’s version ends in tears, our modern Dhaka pair survive, thanks to a blood transfusion from Romeo (in a scene reminiscent of Thirst). When Juliet awakes from her hospital bed, the final musical moment strikes up… and the audience walk out before there can be any more singing (or crying).
Mon Chui Chee Mon is the first film we’ve seen from Dhallywood (Dhaka’s homegrown Hollywood).
As with Nigeria’s Nollywood, Dhallywood makes films with low budgets and fast turnarounds. The film stock is foggy and overexposed, the sound quality is rubbish and the shots are filmed on the hoof (in friend’s houses or on the street).
But from what we’ve seen tonight, the films have an emotional immediacy that just isn’t there in mainstream Bollywood and Hollywood films. The passions here are right on the surface.