6 questions with Ashna Habib Bhabna

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By Anika Chowdhury

At the 77th Cannes International Film Festival, Ashna Habib Bhabna turned heads with her unique fashion choices that beautifully encapsulated her Bangladeshi heritage. This trailblazing actor, who secured her first international movie role in the film Zenubia at the festival, continues to make strides both on and off the screen. 

Fresh from her inspiring journey at the Cannes Film Festival, Ashna Habib Bhabna joined MWB over a quick call for an exclusive interview – sharing insights into her career trajectory, fashion statements, and future projects.

Congratulations on scoring your first international movie! How did it come about?

Thank you! The journey to my first international movie role was quite serendipitous. During the Cannes Film Festival, I had the opportunity to meet Zafor Firoze, the director of the film. He mentioned that he had been trying to connect with me for a long time. When we finally met at the festival, he introduced me to the project. It felt like everything fell into place miraculously. 

Zafor, who studied at the Mumbai Film Institute, later introduced me to Qiao Li, the executive producer. We discussed the storyline, and I was so impressed by the concept that I agreed to sign on for the film. The movie is titled Zenubia, and it’s a Malaysian production. This entire experience has been incredibly rewarding and surreal!

What was your initial reaction when you found out you were selected to attend Cannes and consequently, signed an international film?

I never expected I would sign a film at the Cannes. I went there to attend the festival as an artist as it had been my dream for a long time Initially, I attended the festival purely as an artist, fulfilling a longstanding dream of mine. After applying as a South Asian actress, the moment I received the accreditation letter, I was overwhelmed with joy.

In other countries, say India or the United States, actors have the opportunity to visit Cannes as ambassadors of international brands. However, here, we don’t have this opportunity. For us, it isn’t easy to get an invitation to an international event such as Cannes. 

But I am immensely grateful and happy that I was able to attend such an event. It was truly a dream come true. The support from my home country was heartwarming – even the information minister congratulated me and offered assistance from the ministry. However, I was determined to make this journey on my own. And I did so, signing an international film in the process!   

Your fashion choices at the Cannes Film Festival were stunning. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your red carpet attire?

I wanted to represent my country, culture, and my roots at Cannes. I had a brief 20-day window to prepare for this significant event, during which I meticulously selected my attire to reflect the heritage and aesthetics of my homeland. One of the highlights was the opportunity to wear my mother’s wedding sari, which is 35 years old. I had long hoped to wear it at a prestigious event, and Cannes presented the perfect occasion.

To ensure my outfits resonated with the cultural representation I aimed to project, I collaborated closely with some of our country’s most renowned designers. Our discussions were centred around creating ensembles that would not only stand out but also pay homage to our rich traditions. The outfits I chose included a traditional jamdani, a gown crafted from Benaroshi fabric, and an eye-catching crow-styled outfit. Each piece was carefully chosen to embody the essence of Bangladesh.

The materials used were distinctly local or “desi,” celebrating the natural beauty of Bangladesh. For instance, one of my gowns featured wildflowers typical of our countryside, which are often overlooked yet beautiful. Another gown was adorned with Swarovski stones that bore the names of my favorite actors, adding a personal touch that connected my inspiration with my presence at Cannes. For the accessories, I chose jewellery from Canvas, a brand that aligns with my vision of cultural representation.

From the fabric to the jewellery, every element of my attire at Cannes was a tribute to my country and culture. This deliberate choice to showcase our heritage on such an international stage was not only a personal achievement but also an opportunity to introduce the rich tapestry of Bangladeshi culture to the global audience at Cannes. 

How do you plan to leverage your experience at Cannes in your future career endeavors?

My experience at the Cannes Film Festival has been truly transformative, significantly boosting my confidence and readiness to embrace new challenges. The recognition I received was unexpectedly delightful, especially highlighted by a feature in the renowned Indian newspaper, Times of India. 

They published an article titled, “Sari not sorry! This Bangladeshi actress dressed better than any Bollywood star at Cannes,” which celebrated my fashion choices. This acknowledgement felt like a personal victory, a testament to my efforts to showcase our culture with elegance and pride.

I encountered this wonderful piece of news upon my return to Dhaka and was so moved by the recognition that I shared it on my Facebook timeline for my friends, family, and fans to see. Such accolades are incredibly affirming, especially when they acknowledge the depth of one’s cultural roots in such a public and international setting.

Furthermore, the festival was not just about recognition; it also opened doors to new professional opportunities. I signed on for an international film, marking a significant milestone in my career. These achievements have inspired me to broaden my horizons.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors who wish to achieve international recognition?

You don’t have to be an actor to visit Cannes. Journalists, directors, producers, and other media professionals can also experience the festival by applying for accreditation, much like I did. My journey to Cannes was driven by a desire to represent my country and culture on a prestigious international stage, and the process of getting there, while challenging, was incredibly rewarding.

I want to emphasize that the accreditation process, though rigorous, is accessible to anyone dedicated enough to pursue it. It involves presenting your work and credentials in a manner that aligns with the festival’s standards. 

My own experience of applying and being accepted as a South Asian actress should serve as an inspiration to others in the creative industry. Whether you are a filmmaker looking to expand your network, a journalist eager to cover groundbreaking stories, or an actor aiming to showcase your talents, Cannes offers a unique platform for growth and exposure.

What’s next for Ashna Habib Bhabna?I am working on a new film, for the first time with my father, titled Japito Jibon. It is based on the novel with the same title by Selina Hossain. Apart from that, I am working on a project titled Dampara, sponsored by Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP). I am equally excited about my upcoming commercial movie Payel and in February this year, I signed a new film titled Charulata.

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