“Pension” is “the reality of broken-dreams”. This film shows very rare artistry and smartness in the context of so-called “Bangla-Cinema” that you can watch it again and again. It is a bold, truthful, easy-to-read film and as a matter of fact it was banned by the-then government of 1984. It has more political awareness and insightful look at our past than most other “Bangladeshi-Film” I have seen.
“Pension” is directed by Rafiqul Bari Chowdhury. He also produced the film with Fajle Lohani. Rafiqul Bari Chowdhury served as a cinematographer on films like “Ekhani Shamay”,“Jonmo Theke Jwalchi”, “Beder Meye Josna”, “Golapi Ekhon Trainey”, “Bhat De”, “Shareng Bou” and “Joyjatra”. He also directed “Tanshen”, “Bhul Jakhan Vanglo”, “Chandidash o Rajakini”. You can sense the work of a master if you study frames of “Pension”. As a passionate lover of this film I can easily praise the film with so many bulky adjective; but let me just say that- Pension is a criterion and it deserves more acknowledgment. This film has a well-built melodramatic plotline and Rafiqul Bari Chowdhury has successfully created an important film out of it. We can talk about “Pension” alongside of those early works by Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa and Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra. You may laugh at me because of saying that but if you consider that “Pension” was released just after 13 years of 1971 and re-evaluate early films by those directors you may figure out why I am saying that.
Pension is a tell of aftermath of 1971 and its consequence in “Bengali-Middle-Class”. It centers on the family of government employee Maqbul Mia and his struggle to get his pension. Maqbul Mia is another devoted, honest, average, oppressed “Bengali-Father” who has to fight constantly against corrupted political circumstances and twisted socio-economic condition. His life is on run from the very beginning. He has tension of his daughter’s dowry; he has to comfort his wife that their “Khoka” and “Khuki” won’t do anything wrong. He has to remember that he is a mere retired government employee and his elder son is the only earning member. So, he also needs to face all those greedy, sugar-loving “Bouma” and “Jamai”. And, after all those “Typical MIDDLE CLASS AGONY” he is not relieved. He must adapt to those “USUAL OPEN-SECRETS and CUSTOMS OF SOCIETY”. The problem with Maqbul Mia and his family is they are not smart enough to take everything PRACTICALLY as being MODERN, PRACTICAL, ELEGANT people. How can they? Maqbul Mia is just another people who can’t grasp the neck of MODERN TIMES. His “Khuki” is another girl who believes in pure love. His elder son wants but can’t manage to save his father from “Bouma”’s humiliation always .His “Khoka” is another dazed and confused revolutionary. His wife is another “Bangla-Ma”. Maqbul Mia is not ready to give bribes, take bribes. So, he hasn’t any chance to have his pension and pay off the debts of grocery shop and house maid. He just can pay the debts of system by DYING and that’s his pension.
Yes, “Pension” gives you this dark, satirical rage. At one surface it is another depiction of “THE BENGALI MIDDLE CLASS”. It may remind you more about “Nandito Narake” on the surface of dilemma of family drama. But, it is not only another “Nandito Narake”. It clearly works as a novel or touchy, honest, truthful and tear-jerking films like “Meghe Dhaka Tara”. But it also works as powerfully as a raging political film like “Pratidwandi” or “Calcutta-71” did. Yes, sometimes there are loud acting and too much watery dialogue but that doesn’t make the film any less important. It has a strong intention to give you facts and message but it doesn’t look weird to me. It has a self-contained novelty for sure. What make this film important are its bold political statements.
This film has so many powerful sequences that you can treasure it with avid respect. Consider the scene where Shohel Rana [playing “Khoka” in the film] starts the argument with local “Mastans” as they have ripped of revolutionary poster. He asks them why they did that and then one of the “Mastans” teases him as “Idol son of Idol father” and he instantly slapped the “Mastan”. Then the “Mastan” get furious and asked “Khoka’ that if “Khoka” can give the “Mastan”’s father a job? “Mastan”’s mothers medical care or save “Mastan”’s sister from teasing? And, the “Mastan” also declare that a revolutionary like “Khoka” can’t!
There are some wonderful and unique uses of cinematic language and montage theory to define death, frustration, vicious circle of system and human-instinct. I almost clapped when I saw the montage of Maqbul Mia’s frustration of sending numerous letters to government office. It just shows you Maqbul Mia writing a letter, a wall clock, a letter-box and as soundtrack a sigh from Maqbul. Like that most of the scenes have expressive lighting, character placement in frame and praise worthy shot composition. Most of the frame is tight and suits well with the story of a middle class family.
Anwar Hossain is as perfect as Maqbul Mia as Takashi Simura was in “Ikiru”. He has given as an unforgettable experience of watching him playing Maqbul Mia. I think, Suchanda,Babita,Sohel Rana,Minu Rahman,Rawsan Jamil,Kayes,Shuja Khandakar,Bulbul Ahmed,Amir Hosen Babu,A.T.M. Shamsuzzaman,Faqrul Hasan Bairagi, Abul Khayer these names are interesting enough for any Bengali People to watch the film. Portrayal of women in this films also gives you chance of analysis and synthesis. One of the unforgettable characters is “Khoka”’s revolutionary friend. Though there are some formula dominated comical reliefs and sweet-songs but they fit well in the film. Specially, the song between Grandpa and Grandson is very touchy and I just can’t forget Shuja Khandakar’s “Sylhety” Accent.
“Pension” deserves more recognition from cinema lovers of our country and it should go through passionate and critical analysis from us. It should be watched with as enthusiasm and interest we have for watching early works of Master Directors. I love this film and have the respect for saying that “Pension” is a gem of Bangla Cinema.