Director: Rezwan Shahriar Sumit | 1h 40mins | Drama | Language: Bengali
Deciding to take some time to work on his latest pieces, young artist Rudro (Titas Zia) moves to a remote part of Bengal Delta, joining a small fishing village. Though intended as a calming retreat, it becomes a cultural battle between the modern and the traditional.
Winning the Spike Lee Fellowship, writer/director/producer Rezwan Shahriar Sumit funded his feature length debut that screened at this years BFI London Film Festival. It’s an intriguing, slow burn of a drama centring on an area of Bangladesh unfamiliar to even those who live near. It opens on the mini mystery of ‘whats in the box?’ – a large wooden container Rudro is shipping across the country. He starts by bribing a dock worker to get it on board safely, his journey taking him more rural with every step, usually accompanied by a tip or bribe of sorts. It’s not an issue of morality, but the important of the container to Rudro, also showing us his affluence from his career.
The contents of the box are revealed early showing Rudro’s work and materials – sculptures of people, a topic that the people of the village take issue with, as traditional muslims they object to idols and see Rudro’s artwork as such. It starts his retreat off with an interesting dynamic, the contemporary progressive against the traditional but without stating one having moral high ground over the other. As time passes Rudro becomes more engaged with the village, informing them of the loose connection it has to his father (the reason he chose this place) and his desire to be closer to nature.
Being more progressive than the locals, he’s more affectionate towards the women, creating further tension as the men begin to worry about Rudro sexualising their sisters, daughters, wives. The juxtaposition of a rich contemporary artist quietly battling the traditional fishermen is interesting, but incredibly slow, as much of the runtime is spent having subdued conversations on the beaches, no one raising their true feelings until later on. The fishermen blame Rudro for their poor catch so far this year, saying Allah is punishing them for allowing a man creating idols into their village.
The main source of distress for Rudro is the Chairman of the village, performed excellently by Fazlur Rahman Babu. It’s a very well written role as he doesn’t succumb to an easy caricature of a traditional religious rural leader, instead trying to understand the artist whilst attempting to help his people. In reality, the lack of fish is likely due to global warming affecting the seas, and the fish moving away as the village grows, notions Rudro tries to get across but is less delicate than the elder, seeming more forceful and less understanding.
The Salt In Our Waters is undoubtably beautiful, not a flashy affair but still rich in colour and details. Instead of using sweeping shots across the beachfronts it would rather sit still and observe, allowing the natural beauty to raise to the forefront. Titas Zia as Rudro needs to carry much of the runtime on his shoulders, a weight he manages to take on well but the girl that takes his affections – Tuni – is played by Tasnova Tamanna nearly steals the scenes from him as she balances her feelings of wanting to embrace the modern but at the lost of her family and traditions.
That being said, their relationship is somewhere problematic as we don’t learn of Tuni’s age, but it’s heavily suggest she’s in her early teens, and Rudro is likely in his later 20’s or early 30’s. There isn’t a sexualisation of her, but more of a light romance, though is still an unnecessary and uncomfortable addition.
Well performed and shot, The Salt In Our Waters is a strong debut by Sumit, but suffers from too slow of a pace and lack of depth in the script. There’s plenty of interest culturally, and will likely be enough to carry most through to the end, but we’re looking forward to a more cinematically mature Sumit as his first has it’s issues.