November 22, 2009


Shahriar Rahman is a media professional living in New York.  His work includes TV shows, commercials, movies, and music videos.  His goal is to write scripts for the “silver screen”. Upon receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Film Production in 2001, Shah was one of ten mentees selected for Independent Feature Project’s Project Involve mentorship program. After completing his apprenticeship, Shah edited almost a hundred projects for ethnic stations, including commercials, promos, and TV programs. Five short films which he had edited received festival recognition. As Chief of Production at STV, Shah’s responsibilities included training staff in cinematography and editing while supervising the creation of all programs produced at the network’s New York studio. While at STV, two bi-weekly shows that he directed have gained popularity overseas. Shah’s feature debut as director, Healing Life, has been recognized in three film festivals. Shah is also a skilled motion designer whose motion graphic work can be seen in numerous promos and commercials. Recently, Shah directed five music videos whose rights have been sold for TV broadcast.

Being a full-time filmmaker is quite unique in our Bangladeshi community. So when you hear a story about a young Bangladeshi filmmaker trying to break grounds in the competitive New York film scene, it serves as an inspiration for all of us, especially for the younger generation. It also sends a powerful message of persevering and not always conforming to the traditional notions of what is considered a “safe” profession. Today we talk to the young man who is chasing his dreams and making it all happen on the “silver screen”.                       

-Labiba / creativeBangladesh




I went to college to study medicine, not because my parents wanted me to but because I wanted to.  Growing up, I never thought I wanted to do anything other than become a doctor.  Naturally, to improve my chances of getting into a good pre-med program I took extra classes in the sciences in high-school, and even submitted a medical project to the Westinghouse (now the “Intel”) Science Talent Search.  I also did extracurricular activities –the school choir, National Honor Society, and Future Business Leaders of America– and landed the lead role in our school’s final year theater production “Anything Goes.”  The extra-curricular items will look impressive in college applications, I thought, and with the same sense of purpose I volunteered at Bellevue Hospital, an experience that helped me procure competitive medical internships during the first two summers of my college career.

So you can imagine the shock to my formerly doctor parents – who had given up their medical professions overseas and were doing menial jobs to support us – when I declared Film Production as my major in college. It is a question I get a lot, and it is a very worthy one: “Why the change?”  Usually, the question comes hidden behind an expression of perplexity, along the lines of: “Huh?  Well, that is quite the opposite!”  Occasionally, I get the type of reply that makes me grimace: “Oh I see!  So you did medicine to make your parents happy.  Desi parents’ usual wish.  Good that you are chasing your dream now!”  Not so simple.  Medicine is what I wanted to do in my heart – initially.  I had made great progress towards it and did not make the “switch” until late in college – in my junior year, in fact.

Most Bangladeshi immigrants or, Bangladeshis in general, will never have the pleasure of taking a film class in their college careers.  This is a small shame.  It is not a stretch to say that film is one of the most pervasive forms of media, if not the kind you see in theaters, but the kind whose language is used in everything from serialized TV programs to Youtube videos.  It is hard to find an individual today whose day goes by without coming in contact with this language.  Surely, film is something as worthy (and arguably more relevant) of study today as any elective one could take in college, such as Milton or 19th century art.

As to why I made the change, there are clues. A well-known Muslim screenwriter in Hollywood said that he gave up his law practice in order to pursue the movie business because “we can have our voices be known.”  Can one overstate the extent to which pop folklore is shaped by the “silver screen” –by movies and television?  Media may be just one of several tools to affect change of thought, but it is the one that is the most visible –that reaches the masses most directly.   If we as a minority are to acculturate in the fabric of America, then we will need our artists –and the media professionals– as much as our software programmers, engineers, and doctors.  Indeed, it was the Muslim screenwriter in Hollywood, who after years of discrimination and struggle in the industry, brought us a number of landmark shows on TV that have, for the first time in American TV history, shown Muslims in an honest, redeeming light.  I laud this man’s courage.

We may lament at the dearth of honest, multi-dimensional South Asian depictions in the Western media.  In New York City, Bangladeshis are the fastest growing minority segment, but who would know that by looking at our TV and films?  Who can we blame for this imbalanced depiction, other than ourselves?  If we don’t step up to show who we really are, who will?

A few years after graduating from film school, TBC -The Bangladesh Channel, was founded.  The channel was based in Queens and it had Time Warner Cable as a carrier.  The small channel ushered in a new age of developments in the Bangladeshi media in New York, as STV, NTV, ATN, and most recently Channel I have either opened new branch offices here or bolstered their existing offices.  Suddenly, the Bangladeshi community here was swarming.  The Bangla channels began competing with local newspapers as a source of community news and advertising.  Cameras from the three media outlets began appearing at fairs and local events.  Over those years, I witnessed the growth of something special; we in the new media workforce weren’t just making TV entertainment — we were giving hundreds of thousands of viewers the comfort of seeing images from their homeland, of a culture that’s undeniably their own, right in their living rooms, so that their children can know what it means to be Bengali.

In 2005, I began working at a new production company that went on to become one of the boldest Bangladeshi ventures in New York history.  STV was the brainchild of the founders of Stamford University in Dhaka.  During the three years as the Chief of Production at STV, I made great inroads into the community.  I supervised the editing of hundreds of shows, commercials, and documentaries, and I myself directed two shows – Bideshi (26 episodes) and Bangla Invasion (12 episodes)-  that developed followings.  It was a time of growth not only professionally but personally as well, as I came to unravel my own Bengali identity.

Though it has been two years since I have worked at a TV station, my stamp on ethnic media production in New York endures.  Many of the professionals with whom I had the pleasure of working with at STV are now employed at larger channels, and they still come to me for guidance.  This past year, I directed and edited five Bengali music videos which have a distinctively Western feel to them – a burgeoning trend.  The first three feature Mithun Jabbar, son of music legend Abdul Jabbar, and the remaining two feature up-and-rising talent Upol.  Also, the two-dozen commercials that I produced with Golam Sarwar Harun demonstrate that creative ideas need not require large budgets.

However, no matter how good the head on my shoulders, I did not think of changing the Zeitgeist when dropping a career in medicine to make movies for the rest of my life.  Rather, it was an emotional decision; one that I still grapple with today.

A little hindsight is worth mentioning here.  After immigrating to the US at age 14, movies quickly became my hobby.  Throughout high school and college, my main interest was in independent and foreign films, not the studio fare that many teens have grown up on.  Despite my predilection for watching movies, I did not know that the college I attended had a film department until I saw their glass showcase one day in the basement of a campus building.  While my eyes scanned over the items on display –a Super-8mm camera, movie posters featuring student films– I thought to myself, “Is this something that people can study in college as a profession?”  Somehow, I thought that people who make movies are “not like us.”  They almost belong in a separate world – either they are supremely talented and rich, or they are bohemian artists.  Yet the showcase drew me in like a vortex, and I could not escape the pull.  A few days later, while pouring over my Genetics textbook, I had a catharsis.  I was as if suddenly possessed by an imaginary spirit, one that did not let me finish the rest of my studies that afternoon.  Out of frustration I went to my friend’s living room, whose house I was staying over for a few days in the hopes of getting over the slump in my studies following the witnessing of the showcase.  The night before I had rented the 1996 film “Crash” by David Cronenberg, not the recent Oscar-winning film of the same title.  I started the DVD, and two hours later I knew that from that day onward, the course of my life had changed, unalterably.

The film was only a pin that burst a balloon of pent up feelings.  I was at once scared and excited.  At the root of it all was the fear of how I could drop many years of investment -in time, emotion, tears- into the established career of my parents in favor of one that is so unpredictable.  My fears have been allayed since, though the truth remains that a career in the film business is of course less structured than in medicine.  It is however a career which is not impossible to plan, and hope is a prerequisite for success.

The magic that cinema had for me in those first days has not worn off.  Over the last eight years, I edited twelve short films and features, many of which have gone to festivals.  My first feature Healing Life, which I co-directed with two partners, was accepted into three festivals, was bought by Channel I for their primetime Eid slot in December 2008, and was screened at Tribeca Cinemas three months later.  In a few months, I will be starting production on my next feature.

For many of us, filmmaking is not only the stuff of dreams, but also dreaming itself; when we dream, we use film language in our minds, and we direct our own movies.  It was film auteur Jean-luc Godard I believe who said that the best view in the theater is not from the center, or in the front, but rather from the screen facing back to see the faces of the audience lit up in the dark.  Cinema Forever.


SHAHRIAR RAHMAN’s Eid programs will be shown on the various Bangla networks over the upcoming Eid holidays. Samples of SHAHRIAR RAHMAN’s work can be viewed at the following sites:

image: photographs are from SHAHRIAR RAHMAN
graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh.