By Naimul Karim
DHAKA, Dec 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A film based on the life of Bangladesh's first popular female surfer is facing calls to be banned, accused of "hurting" religious sentiments in the conservative Muslim nation.
Supreme Court lawyer Huzzatul Islam issued a legal notice to the filmmakers and filed a petition in the High Court demanding authorities revoke the censor certificate of film "No Dorai" in Bangladesh where it is unusual for women to swim in public.
The film's producer, Mahboob Rahman, said the High Court has asked the filmmakers to justify by next month why the censor certificate should not be withdrawn, adding they would fight moves to close down the movie.
Released on Nov. 29, the much anticipated "No Dorai" tells the story of a poor girl named Ayesha who falls in love with surfing and takes up the sport in defiance to her conservative society that often pushes girls to marry early.
Rahman said he was surprised by the reaction to the film - the first in Bangladesh to focus on women surfers - that dealt with poverty as well as prejudice to women in the South Asian country.
"There is a group that wants women to stay indoors," Rahman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that he had also received threats online.
"Some people are saying that Ayesha wears a bikini in the movie and that this is against our religion. There is no such scene ... these people haven't watched the movie."
The row over the film started when Islam sent a legal notice to the filmmakers on Dec. 4 calling for the movie to be banned and said some scenes in the movie "hurt religious sentiments". He did not name specific scenes.
"We want the censor board to cancel the movie's certificate. We want the movie to be withdrawn and we also want the filmmakers to apologise," Islam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Surfing is not a sport that is encouraged for women in conservative Bangladesh where more than half of girls end up getting married before they turn 18, according to the United Nations, even though child marriage is banned.
Rahman said he came up with the idea of a movie about surfing in Bangladesh when he met Nasima Akter, a female surfer from the southern beach town of Cox's Bazar who received global media coverage after surfing better than her male peers.
Akter was made homeless at the age of seven and found hope in surfing in Cox's Bazar which boasts the world's longest uninterrupted sandy beach.
She was featured in a documentary by U.S. filmmaker Heather Kessinger, called "The Most Fearless: An Unexpected Surf Story", that was released around 2015 when Akter was about 18.
Rahman said Akter is now married with two children and rarely surfs.
"No Dorai", however, ends on a different note with Ayesha fighting back to continue surfing.
"In Bangladesh and many places, women are oppressed and not allowed to do what they like ... we gave a different ending and made the protagonist very strong so that she fights back and inspires more women," said Rahman.
(Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.