Ladies' Night


In Hatiyan villages, cinema-going is even rarer.

My friend Situ isn’t patient with cinema. While he is quite keen on some of the more thoughtful Tollywood or Dhallywood films and he’ll easily devote time to more meaningful offerings from the west, he has a low tolerance threshold for films of the more pointedly commercial variety. It’s quite remarkable since in every other way his patience is extraordinary and something I’ve always tried to learn from.

As a result of his lack of enthusiasm for production-line style films his wife Lovely is denied any regularity to her cinema-going, a pastime she adores. I suppose it was meddling but several years ago while we were staying at Lovely’s family home in Bogra I proposed a trip to the cinema largely on her behalf. Situ wasn’t keen but ultimately he had no choice in the matter.

The evening came and the cinema-going party came to include a few of her sisters, her younger brother and the children of the house. From the head of the laneway we took rickshaws the short distance into town. Finding seats somewhere about the middle of the crowded hall, there was the excitement of anticipation for everybody except Situ. That it was a film they’d seen before did little to dampen the enthusiasm as it was a favourite. The film had barely started before Situ was standing, finding his way up the stairs by the light of the screen, on his way outside to find something of more interest on the street: a tea shop and adda.

Meanwhile the family members became engrossed in the well-liked but predictable plot of the families-don’t-agree-to-the-match-but-it-happens-anyway variety. Every now and then Situ would momentarily re-appear, fidgety and bored, until eventually I had to go with him outside where he complained about the wasted time and wished to go home. I stalled for time on the family’s behalf and we went for tea together as a means to distract him. But alas, despite my best efforts, his cinematic impatience eventually proved too strong and with the film in its dying minutes, with the ending just beginning, with most of the ladies teary from the tense moments just prior to the match happening anyway, he could bear it no more. 

‘Let them see the end!’ I told Situ.

‘They’ve seen it before,’ he said, ‘They know how it ends.’

‘But maybe they want to see the end again?’

His was the first family to leave that cinema hall, with Lovely, her sisters, younger brother and the children walking almost backwards up those stairs as he tried to hurry them along, while they tried to catch every last glimpse of the screen until there were no more steps to climb. But despite the rather hasty conclusion to the evening the film was enjoyed by the majority and as rickshaws drove us home the mood was a jovial one.

Unfortunately for Situ I didn’t learn my lesson.

Some years later the experience was repeated in Hatiya. The island had only one cinema hall that’s since been demolished, and it was in the main town, Ochkhali, about ten kilometres north of our village. As a result cinema attending was even rarer than in Bogra. It wasn’t for Lovely that I’d thought to manage Situ once more, but for the wife of a friend of mine who’d died of tuberculosis. I suppose it was meddling but she’d been left alone to manage her six children and I thought if she agreed, in her husband’s honour she and her family should have an evening out. 

Within mere hours the invitation was well-known, cordially self-extended and widely self-accepted. By sunset as we were preparing to leave Lovely was of course ready to go, as were Situ’s children, as were the ladies from the neighbouring houses, as were several of the female cousins and their children. There were only two men who joined us, whose enjoyment of the cinema was sufficiently strong to overcome the embarrassment of having neighbours seeing them setting off with Situ, me and a large group of ladies. I remember those two gents wrapping themselves tightly in their chadors, it being the winter season. It wasn’t the chill in the air that made them do so however, but the wish to conceal their faces in order to avoid potential ridicule later.

Before leaving I’d negotiated: Situ didn’t have to watch a single minute of the film and I’d also stay outside to keep him company. Simply we’d be sharing a usual evening of chat in Ochkhali. We could even make travel plans!

With the initial small list of invitees having blossomed into the small crowd assembled at the roadside the idea of travelling into town slowly by rickshaw had become impractical. We needed to hire a motorised van. It took time but eventually we found one by the market and with Situ and I squashed inside beside the driver the back came alive with ladies’ chatter, apart from the two chador-cloaked patches of silence.

I don’t know if the Ochkhali cinema hall was used to a van full of women and children showing up several minutes before the session was due to commence. I don’t know if they’d often heard someone at the ticket counter say ‘I’ll have twenty-one tickets please.’ Situ made twenty-two in the party: he had insisted on not having a ticket and mine, I reassured him, was only to go in and see them settled.

The cinema management fiddled about finding the keys to the Ladies’ Waiting Room which looked like a long forgotten attic in a medieval castle. The air inside it was likely of historical value. There was some confusion as to whether the two gentlemen would be allowed in to wait but as everybody knew each other there was no objection from the ladies.

With the film soon underway and our party had proved to be the bulk of the audience that evening, I left them to find Situ pacing around outside. He was in better spirits for not having entered and witnessed the film’s beginning. 

And so it went: we drank tea and walked about the town and sat and chatted, periodically returning to the cinema hall, as they experienced the highs and lows, the tears and laughter, the music and dancing of the film. I didn’t see much of that film, but I noticed towards the end there was a twist. It seemed that the formerly subdued heroine had become a gangster and a bikie, riding her motorbike around assassinating those that stood in the way of her families-don’t-agree-to-the-match-but-it-happens-anyway happy ending.

I don’t think it was a twist that was appreciated; the film was unfortunately considered something of a B-grade by our group of reviewers. That’s what I gathered from the ladies’ chatter with the two chador-cloaked patches of silence coming from the back of the van on the way home again.

Hatiyan scenery




But as nice as the Lucky Talkies was, Hatiyan hospitality is better, as the the big sea stories of the fishermen are more entertaining than a movie, and with all as it is, the Bengali island too easily feels like home.


This article also published in Star Magazine, here: Ladies' Night




Bangladesh Dreaming: Article Index for articles about Bangladesh
Free counter and web stats