STOP10 Jul 2017: 'Dibashram' by Weilee Yap


From the quirky "Untitled (KAFKA)" to the heartwarming "Uncle Tommy", there is quite a wide range in the Non-Media Student category at the National Youth Film Awards. So if I had to recommend one, it would be really hard to choose. I mean, there's the silent meditation on eating durians in "Mao Shang Wang" and ecological-conscious "The Conservation Conversation".


However in terms of being able to fully immerse us in its world, I found "Dibashram" the most sophisticated. As someone who enjoys Tan Pin Pin's documentaries, I was very much persuaded by Dibashram's focus on the lives of Bengali workers in Singapore. Dibashram is a community centre of sorts for the migrant worker community in Little India and filmmaker Weilee Yap focussed on what it means to the Bengalis.

At first it focusses on how are they are perceived as construction workers and contrasts it with their hidden talents as poets, musicians and artists. A very typical form of documentary. However, in the second half, at the commemoration of International Mother Language Day in Dibashram, it is revealed that their language was outlawed in Pakistan in 1952, turning the documentary into much more than a "we are also talented in other areas" narrative. It makes the whole film turn from something personal into a much larger story about a nation and community eking a living.


In this day and age when we talk about national pride with much chest-thumping, what strikes me is the Bengalis' humble persistence in practising their culture at Dibashram. The film captures their pride in advancing their culture. For example, one of the interviewees having published a book of poems, could be seen grinning as if he were the father of a newborn baby as he cradled his book, even though it only cost SGD $1.50. Likewise to the singers and musicians in performing to a small crowd on the upper floor of a shophouse. They have a special kind of pride, in being able to give and share, rather than triumph and coerce, which unites rather than divides, that I found unique in this film and thus worth recommending. I also cannot emphasise enough the poem at the end, For Humanity by Asit Kumar, which reads about the commonality of mankind. Perhaps I may have been too carried away but I thought it was as poetic as Shylock's famous "do we not bleed?" speech in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and, just as moving - sealing my recommendation for this film.



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Written by Jenson Chen
For the full list of July 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.

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