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Meet the Filmmaker: Rubaiyat Hossain, Writer and Director of 'Under Construction'

July 7, 2015

Rubaiyat Hossain is a writer and director and one of a handful of female filmmakers from Bangladesh. Her second feature film, Under Construction, had its world premiere at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

“When you make a film, you want it to go out in the world and connect with audiences,” says Hossain. “Coming from Bangladesh, where the distribution is really weak — especially for films like [Under Construction] that don’t have a lot of songs and dance and violence — it’s really great to start out in a place like Seattle.”

Under Construction is the story of a middle-class Muslim woman named Roya (Shahana Goswami), living in Dhaka. A theater actor, Roya is attempting to re-interpret a famous play, The Red Oleanders, after performing it for many years. Written in 1924 by the legendary writer and poet Rabindranath Tagore, the play is a critique of modernity and industrialization.

If you missed Under Construction at SIFF, you can catch it at the upcoming
Seattle South Asian Film Festival >>

“It is one of my most favorite Tagore plays,” says Hossain. “And it is significant because this was his last play.” Set in a fictional city, the play depicts an underground world where a non-stop line of workers digs for minerals. The workers, all nameless and identified only by numbers, are ruled by a king who is hidden behind a screen, and thus never seen.

Shahana Goswami stars as Roya in 'Under Construction' directed by Rubaiyat Hossain.

“The play really stayed with me,” says Hossain. “I thought that I would make a film in which I connect the play to life in contemporary Dhaka, but when I started writing the screenplay, the story really became the woman’s story.”

Reflecting on the ongoing construction in Dhaka, one of South Asia’s largest cities, Hossain notes, “Dhaka is becoming more and more urban, and so are the citizens and the women.” Roya, though in her late thirties, is trying to determine her place in society. “[She] has not really come into her full form. She is still struggling, constructing, finding herself.”

Still from 'Under Construction' by Robaiyat Hossain

Rahul Bose stars as an art curator in 'Under Construction'

On Working in a Male-Dominated Industry

“In Bangladesh, I feel very alone,” reflects Hossain about being one of very small number of female filmmakers in the country. “Being a woman and directing a film, everybody is going to question you. ‘What do you know about filmmaking? Have you gone to a film school?’ or ‘You wrote this?’” says Hossain, based on her own personal experiences.

“Being a woman and directing a film, everybody is going to question you... I think that struggle is everywhere."

Despite the bias, Hossain has high hopes for her film industry as it matures. “I think that struggle is everywhere. In Hollywood and Bollywood, it’s even worse because the rules have already been set — women actors get paid less, women directors get paid less. But in Bangladesh there is no structure for it, so maybe we can set a different standard.”

Beyond an initial hesitation on the part of actors and crew to working with a female director, Hossain is quick to note that once the production starts, eventually her actors and crew stop looking at her as a woman and begin to see her as a filmmaker crafting a story.

“At that point I get really comfortable,” says Hossain.  “I love working, and I have found that I have more freedom when I shoot a film, because, otherwise, I wouldn’t be out on the streets of Dhaka at 3:00 a.m. But when I have my crew with me, I am out on the streets, and I can go into the slum and spend three days there for a shoot.”

Bangladesh is a young country that declared independence in 1971. While the Bengali films in India have a rich tradition of art (independent) films, the film industry in Bangladesh has struggled. There are no film schools and filmmakers have a difficult time finding qualified crew for their productions. Most, including the directors, are learning on their own. In general, however, things are looking up.

“Over the last ten years or so, the government has come to support the film industry,” says Hossain. “So there are a lot of grants, lot of subsidies from the government, and a lot of young filmmakers are coming out and making [films] that are being released mostly in urban cities. So even though the situation is not very good, it is [improving].”  




Laila Kazmi

@Lailakaz — Laila Kazmi is a Northwest Emmy award-winning senior producer and writer at KCTS 9. Her first love is discovering and telling stories of diverse people, places and history. She has lived in Karachi, Bahrain, Chicago, and Seattle. At KCTS 9, Laila produces the series Borders & Heritage, featuring stories of immigrant and refugee experiences in the Pacific Northwest and has produced Reel NW, featuring independent films from and about the Pacific Northwest. Her video-stories have appeared on KCTS 9PBS NewsHour Art Beat, World Channel at WGBH, and KPBS in San Diego. Her articles have been published in PBS NewsHour Art BeatThe Seattle Times, Seattle PI, COLORLINES and Pakistan’s daily Dawn. Laila has a Master of Communication from the University of Washington.

More stories by Laila Kazmi

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Hi Rubaiyat, I'm an author living in Australia. I would like to present my stories to you to find out if they can be adapted. [email removed]

Thanks for your comment. If you would like to reach Rubaiyat, you can visit her website at