Q&A With Raihan Rafi

With a slew of blockbusters to his name, Raihan Rafi is fast making a name for himself as a bankable film director. This month, he talks to MWB about his upcoming project

By Zariat Mushfique Khan

Diving through the Surongo of story-telling, director Raihan Rafi, needs very little introduction. Since his debut as a director, Rafi has gone on to create various shows and movies that have captivated his audience two visual linguistics. 

His most recent Eid release Surongo (Tunnel) starring Afran Nisho and Toma Mirza has become a national and international success earning BDT 2.5 crores in the first week. The screenplay for the film was written by Raihan Rafi himself, and Nazim Ud Daula.

Revealing his inspiration behind the tumultuous story of the shades of love that pushed an ordinary man to tread on the wrong side of the law Raihan Rafi states, “I wanted to tell a different kind of story, one of greed, love, hate, deceit, everything. Everything that makes a story.”

Wanting to bring this creation into reality for a few years now, the director had his initial doubts, “The kind of budgeting, arrangement, funds we needed, it just wasn’t happening. When Poran became such a big hit, that’s when I got the confidence that ‘yes, Bangladesh is ready for these kinds of films’.”

The first film of actor Afran Nisho and Raihan Rafi’s first professional encounter with Nisho, the Surongo director shares, “It takes a long time to shoot a film, we shot Surongo continuously for 45 days. The pre-production took almost a year. That’s a really long time, and you have to basically live with a person in order to achieve what we wanted to achieve. So being in sync with one another is quite important. We actually got quite lucky in the sense that that synchronisation happened almost instantly during the initial meeting stage.”

Raihan Rafi expressed how pleasantly surprised he was by the audience response to Surongo, having confidence in the film but himself unable to predict the level of sheer triumph it would bring. 

“I was confident that Surongo would be a success but I didn’t think it would blow up this much. My other films become hits gradually, they usually hit their stride in the third week of release. Surongo on the other hand was an instant success. Sometimes I ask movie goers, ‘Why did you come to watch this?’. Most say ‘Someone I know watched the film, they told us if you don’t, you’ll miss out’. To me, the biggest form of marketing is word of mouth. We often market on Facebook or other places, but a member of the audience tells 10 other people that you must come watch this. People will come, I think that was the case with us,” says Rafi on the success of the film. 

The movie has sold out halls in places such as Chittagong, Mymensingh, “a place like Bhairab where there aren’t really any good halls. Since after the release there hasn’t been one show that’s been vacant, even outside Dhaka.”

Sharing an anecdote of the movie’s pull, Raihan Rafi notes, “There is a hall in Khulna, it’s not in the best shape but irrespective people are going. There are a lot of female audience members. Moreover, there has been an influx in moviegoers that usually never go to watch Bangla films. In Star Cineplex, there is a whole class of people coming to theatres that never watch Bangla films.”

Surongo was released in Australia on July 7, where tickets pre sold out. Release dates are set for the US and Canada on July 26.. Surongo’s large-scale release in India on July 21 is already underway as Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF) productions, the biggest production house in Kolkata, is responsible for the distribution of the film. 

Rafi disclosed that in all likelihood the entire Surongo team will be visiting the neighbouring nation for the release of the film. The movie is set to play in all the biggest movie theatres of Kolkata. “All of the big halls in Kolkata, that usually never play Bangladeshi films, will play our film,” states the proud director. 

The harrowing struggle to bring Surongo into the light was itself no small feat. Raihan Rafi speaking on the behind the scenes struggles faced during filming says, “It was a huge undertaking, the entire Surongo, measuring about 140 feet, was entirely created by hand for the film. Everyday around 70 people worked to make this a reality, the whole process took about 2 months. One of the biggest challenges was shooting underground. We were all in that man made cave underground, the team, we’re shooting. We had to worry about the Surongo caving in on us, there were flashes of extreme heat, suffocation, there was actually a crisis of oxygen. There was a different problem every other day, it was the oxygen first, we had to get oxygen cylinders, there was a problem with wind, so we had to get an exhaust fan. We couldn’t even stand, everyone had to crawl. We have some behind the scenes that we’re probably going to release.”

Keeping the “look, feel and colour, even the set of the movie” up to par with international standards, the hit movie does not currently have any plans for a sequel underway. 

However Raihan Rafi expressed, “I usually do where my heart tells me to go, I never tell a story that does not come from my heart. If I wanted to tell the story of the main-character of Surongo, Masud, what he’s doing now and where he is, maybe, but there are no definite plans right now. I do have many other scripts ready that I would like to work on, I’m kind of ready to get out of the Surongo. I’m already working on my next production, an action film. It has been an impassioned request of hall owners and the audience, to release a Raihan Rafi production every Eid. It will be my earnest attempt to satisfy this demand.”

The direct attempts to frame his lens on the “realm of reality”, wanting to share stories that speak to him. “I want to make films that are realistic so that when people watch my films they see their lives. That has been my philosophy so far.”

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