a research blog by Lotte Hoek
In August, bloodstained banners and posters appear across Bangladesh. When the Awami League is in power, the 15th of August is a day of national mourning. This ‘Shoukh Dibosh’ commemorates the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, metaphoric father of the nation and biological father to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hasina’s Awami League covers cities and towns in red, black and white posters that draw attention to the massacre of her entire family on August 15th, 1975.
The Shoukh Dibosh posters are striking in their blood-splattered quality. Rivulets, drops and stains of bright red are superimposed on texts and images of Sheikh Mujib and black and white photos of his family. This computer-generated blood forms a separate layer in the image plane, often appearing autonomous. It adds the effervescence of the crimson to a powerful political narrative.
Striking as they may be, the Shoukh Dibosh posters are not the only blood stained posters to feature on the walls of alleyways and streets in Bangladesh. There are many displays of violently spilled blood in the public space of Bangladesh.
The contemporary Bangladeshi cinema is stained red by the enthusiastic use of fake blood that erupts from bodies pictured in fist fights, gun battles and sword attacks. The action film posters that are pasted throughout cities and towns, forming backdrops to tea stalls and bus stations, centrally feature bloodstains. Emanating from cuts on the arms and faces of heroes, dripping of swords and knifes and staining the clothes of slain villains, popular cinema posters are drenched in blood. The broken bodies, swaddled heads, abandoned sandals and bloody limbs resulting from a political culture of confrontation are also mass reproduced and circulated through the medium of the poster. Such posters bring the image of the blood stained body into circulation to support the political sentiments that are articulated textually on the posters in calls for revenge and justice. Similarly, the covers of VCDs telling ‘true’ stories from the contemporary countryside are illustrated with blood stains to draw attention to lurid stories such as ‘Brother Murdered by Brother’s Hand’.
This imaginary of violently spilled blood to tell contemporary stories draws liberally on the figuration of the Liberation War of 1971. From Shamsur Rahman’s poetry and Gaffar Choudhury’s ‘Amar bhai-er rokto rangano’ (coloured by my brother’s blood…) to the cinematic imaginations of the Liberation War (see Roktakto Bangla (‘Blood Splattered Bengal, 1972) by Amjad Ali), the image of bright red blood spilt on, and for, the verdant green of Bengal is a central trope in the imagination of the war.
I would like to suggest that as a register that heightens the emotions, spilled blood has become a central means through which Bangladeshi politics has become publically mediated. The image of violently spilled blood is publically available to articulate political claims and analyses effectively. It gives force to political claims by different groups and parties through its vibrant and bodily presence, instantiating struggle, injustice, sacrifice and resistance.
However, unlike the ‘noble’ associations of blood that figure in the Liberation War imagery, the use of this trope in popular cinema perverts the ordered and authorized associations of blood. Instead, the popular cinema, in its explosions, executions, dismemberments and assaults, re-circulates the most charged political register by which the nation is imagined and uses it to offer a frightful vision of its current state by relying on the abject qualities of the violently spilled blood itself. This is a blood splattered account of contemporary Bangladesh.
To read about this argument in detail, see my 2013 paper ‘Blood Splattered Bengal: The spectacular spurting blood of the Bangladeshi cinema” in Contemporary South Asia 21(3): 214-229. See: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09584935.2013.826622?journalCode=ccsa20#preview