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The Idea of a Nation in the Movie “Matir Moina”

By: Rituparna Sahoo

“Matir Moina” is a 2002 Bangladeshi film directed by Tareq Masud . The movie is set against background of the brewing political tension in East Pakistan in 1900s which culminates into the Bangladesh War of Liberation. It follows the story of Anu , a young boy who is sent off to madrasah by his father Kazi who is a devout Muslim and still believes in religious unity of Bangladesh. Kazi has a falling out with his brother who is involved in local politics and his wife. Personal tragedies put family’s loyalty to its unbending patriarch Kazi to test. And finally, a political development disrupts the family dynamics and Kazi’s role as a patriarch.

This paper seeks to explore the idea of nation by creatively engaging with the movie in terms of spatial thinking through Bhabha’s idea of nation and Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. And in doing so, I will be problematizing the idea of nation which would entail transcending the conventional and limiting conceptualization of nation which views nation as a stable category. Rather there is a need to conceptualize nation as a contested space which would foreground the ambivalence that haunts the idea of nation.

In the movie, child is used as a trope for narrating nation. A child is like a blank sheet — vulnerable and impressionable whose consciousness is still in the process of being moulded. Precisely, because of this the child can be seen as a metaphor for aspirations of an emerging nation (Bangladesh). Hence, the title of the movie ‘Matir Moina’(The Clay Bird).

In the movie, one finds sustained parallels between individual life, family dynamics and imagination of nation. Bhaba in his work “Nation and Narration” claims that nation must always be viewed as a contested space and not a stable category. In other words, nation is a “narrative construction” that arises from “hybrid interaction” of contending cultural traditions. Kazi who rules his family with a firm hand has a falling out with his brother who still holds fast to the Bengali ways and with his wife who once used to be a spirited girl. In this sense, the family dynamics capture the ambivalent tension which is so characteristic of the idea of nation. Kazi in his role as a patriarch who still believes in religious unity of Pakistan represents the ethno-centric idea of Pakistan as a nation of Muslims. His brother Milon who holds fast to Bangla tradition and his son Anu who rejoices in Hindu festivals all occupy “hybrid positions” and are excluded from such an ethno-centric narrative of nation.

Anu who is send off by his father to madrasah, is mistreated as an outcast because of his refusal to learn Arabic. There he befriends Rokon who also is an eccentric misfit. Both feel like refugees in the madrasah, upon whom Muslim ways are forced and where their bodies are disciplined and subjected to religious rigor. Their refugee experience can be extended to the larger political context of brewing tension in East Pakistan. People of East Pakistan who are Muslims but also maintain ties with Bangla culture can be seen as occupying “hybrid positions” which poses a challenge to the ethno-centric idea of nation and national identity. The parallels between family dynamics and political event are sustained even towards the end of the movie that is when Pakistani militants attack the villages of East Pakistan. And this shattering political event disrupts the inner dynamics of Kazi’s family and his role as a patriarch. The break of the family symbolizes rupture of Pakistan as a nation.

The Bangladeshi genocide and military operations in East Pakistan shows how far a nation is willing to go to produce a unified national identity. So, redefining nation and national identity becomes imperative. Bhabha is more interested in the voices of those who are excluded from the narrative of nation: people whose homes are destroyed, people who are victims of genocide like people of East Pakistan. According to Bhaba, a nation always has its own narrative of success and progress. He argues that it is the hybrids, the displaced who must re-invent their “own history through art which refigures and renews the past as an in-between space which innovates and interrupts performance of present”. One such site can be movie. Masud has made an attempt to incorporate this hybrid and refugee experience of people of East Pakistan in his movie ‘Matir Moina’ through the innocent lives of children like Anu and Rokon.

In the movie, we also find heterotopias operating. According to Foucault, though heterotopias are located in reality, they are still outside of it. Though heterotopias mirror the reality they are part of, they also reinvent relations that they happen to mirror. Madrasah can be viewed as a heterotopia of crisis where Kazi sends his son Anu as he is concerned about his son’s spiritual wellbeing. The madrasah operates as an institutional and discursive space where the bodies of innocent children are disciplined and subjected to religious rigor. The madrasah can also be seen as a heterotopia of ritual and purification where children are expected to perform specific rituals for their spiritual wellbeing and in order for them to remain students at madrasah. For instance, in the movie Rokon has to undergo a life-threatening exorcism. Madrasah can also be viewed as a space where children are constituted as future citizen subjects by teaching them Islam to make the utopia of Pakistan as a Muslim nation possible. In this sense, the madrasah serves as a heterotopia of compensation.

Heterotopias not only reflect the reality they are located in but at the same time they also operate as transformative space. For instance, though the madrasah operates as an oppressive space, Rokon has a space of his own where he keeps his collected treasure. This space is his refuge which offers him an escape from the religious rigor that he is subjected to. In this sense, Rokon’s space can be seen as a heterotopia within a heterotopia- a means of escape from oppression.

Through our spatial engagement with the movie by using concept of heterotopia and Bhabha’s idea of nation, we have managed to transcend the essentialist and crude understanding of nation as a continuous narrative. Rather nation as a conceptual category is always in flux. The people of a nation who occupy hybrid spaces or identities aren’t passive recipients of the dominant discourse on idea of nation and national identity that is imposed on them. Their hybrid and refugee experience finds expression in different forms of art like this movie. And though heterotopias operate as sites of repression, they also can become potential sites for transformation and reinvention of existing relations and reality.


Foucault Michel (1967).Of other spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. Retrieved from
Bhabha, Homi K.(1990). Nation and narration. London: Routledge.
Bhabha, Homi K. (1995). Location of culture. London: Routledge

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