In close-up, the needle of a sewing machine rests on a scarlet cloth as the purring of the device rises. In the medium shot, a young worker appears among other women, vague, but busy like her. In wide shot is revealed an overheated cramped room where are piled up sewing stations adorned with this blood-colored fabric: that of labor, that of exploitation. And the industrial symphony of swelling, swelling … A striking opening than that of the film Made in Bangladesh.
Directed by Rubaiyat Hossain, a native of the place who studied cinema in the United States, Made in Bangladesh draws inspiration from the struggle of Daliya Akhtar Dolly, who struggled to organize the textile factory that employed her. She and the filmmaker co-wrote the script that lingers over the strewn journey of 23-year-old Bangladeshi Shimu. After a fire killed one of her sisters who was interested in the little publicized rights of women workers, Shimu’s mission is to improve their lot by consulting an organization of women unionists.
As you can imagine, everyone – masculine plural – does not look favorably on the steps, the determination and, perhaps above all, the independence of spirit of the young woman. Between a husband who feels his status is threatened, dishonest bosses and officials reluctant to enforce the Labor Code, Shimu has no easy task.
Despite fear, despite prejudice, it nevertheless attracts the solidarity of other workers, whose lives pre-established by tenacious social diktats are evoked through revealing but not didactic dialogues. “Here, you are ruined if you are married, and you are ruined if you are not,” says one. In this regard, the themes of emancipation and the possibility of choosing one’s destiny are central to the film.
Note that the director offers here what is intended to be the second part of a trilogy devoted to the condition of women in present-day Bangladesh after Under Construction, in which a Muslim actress who does not wish to become a mother is exposed to the desire of a traditional family of her husband.
On the side of hope
Certainly, the narrative strings of Made in Bangladesh are sometimes large, and the whole turns out to be relatively predictable, but the electrifying sequences abound, as if fully charged by the urgency of the situation denounced. The outcome is also particularly satisfactory in its way of knowing precisely when to leave.
Claiming social realism, Rubaiyat Hossain refuses all miserabilism and, without watering it down, obviously intends to remain on the side of hope (an approach consistent with the successes of Daliya Akhtar Dolly). Besides, the filmmaker makes an attractive use of color through both light and the traditional outfits of female characters. Driven by unflagging momentum, its staging alternates intimate moments with the protagonist and passages reflecting the gradual expansion of Shimu’s concerns.
In this role forcing him to be in almost every scene, and which by the way is not just a substitute for Norma Rae, Rikita Nandini Shimu is amazing. She composes a heroine full of unsuspected strength that this influx of new convictions somehow releases.
Made in Bangladesh is available in VOD at cinemaduparc.com