TIFF: Made in Bangladesh

A beautifully woven tale of personal empowerment

Rubaiyat Hossain’s Made in Bangladesh premiered September 6, 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This is her third feature film, after Meherjaan and Under Construction.

Made in Bangladesh follows Shimu (played by Rikita Nandini Shimu), a 23-year-old garment worker who is frustrated by the conditions at her factory. She meets a local union leader named Nasima Apa (played by Shahana Goswami) and is encouraged to set up a union to improve the working conditions for all of the women. The story is based on the real life events of Daliya, who was supposed to get married at the age of 12, but ran away to city of Dhaka and found independence through her work in the factory.

There are over three million people working in garment factories in Bangladesh, of which 85% are women. That means 2,550,000 women are employed in factories in Bangladesh alone. Hossain gives her audience real-life stories and puts a face behind the women making our clothes every single day. Made in Bangladesh explores the beautiful synergy created between five women in search of personal empowerment. “These women are not victims. They are dignified, they are beautiful, and they are strong. We need to have some respect and appreciation for people who make your clothes. Maybe to investigate more…”.  

Often in North American news, we hear what is happening in countries like Bangladesh, but never get the opportunity to make a connection with a face or voice. Each of the women in the movie has their own family, societal expectations, and personal challenges.  “What surprised me most was the strength of these women. I was going in having done background research like reading books and watching other films, and looking at the statistics and data and you get a picture of women as victims, but when I went in these women are totally empowered agents of change. They are bad-ass, they are fighting, they are screaming, the language they use, the way they walk on the street is militant. They wear very colourful clothes, they listen to music, they dance, they are young. They enjoy themselves, even if it’s by buying peanuts for 2 taka (local currency, equivalent to 2 cents in Canada)  and sitting by the lake and eating it. They see themselves as city girls. If they were in the village, they would be married with children. They are independent women walking to work, and they say ‘I am going to office’, they do not say ‘I am going to the factory’. They take this job with so much pride.” Hossain goes on to say “they do not want the factory to close, or don’t say I am not going to buy a made in Bangladesh t-shirt, because we want these jobs, but they are actively fighting to make their conditions better. For example, when I was filming, the pay scale was 5,000 taka per month, and already now it is close to 10,000 taka per month because workers have been demonstrating on the street. They are pushing the boundaries. The union is helping. That is the only way the workers can sit on the same table and negotiate. That gives them some power, I am not the underdog anymore. I am a citizen and there are laws in place.”

Hossain’s own production designer, sound editor, art director, and cinematographer are all female. She truly believes that when women work together, anything is possible. The concept of synergy in cinema is always heart-warming and inspiring to me, especially when it involves young women. The shift in power from the male dominated management to the factory workers gives hope and belief to us all. Hossain hopes to have  a Bangladesh premiere at the Dhaka International Film Festival, and connect with other female directors in the future.