Leading a movement is never an easy thing. It often takes one brave voice to generate the spark needed for change. In Rubaiyat Hossain’s Made in Bangladesh, it is 23-year-old factory worker Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu) who becomes the unlikely voice of revolution.
Working at the Modern Apparels factory, sewing garments that will get sold oversees for top dollar, Shimu and her fellow workers never see the fruits of their labour. They are routinely shortchanged on pay by their bosses and forced to work long hours in unsafe conditions. Unfortunately, with her husband out of work, Shimu has no choice but to endure the daily grind.
Despite being one of the most efficient workers, Shimu reaches her breaking point when a fire erupts at the factory and a co-worker is killed. After the fire, she is approached by Nasima (Shahana Goswami), a union advocate who inspires Shimu to explore forming a trade union at Modern Apparels. However, convincing her fellow workers that a union is necessary will be a challenge in a world where the threat of losing jobs and the confines of a patriarchal society are seemingly unshakable.
Filled with timely social commentary, Hossain’s film shines light on a society where women are often placed between a rock and a hard place. If they are not married off at an early age to much older men, they are stuck doing gruelling work in factories while still being expected to tend to their households. While the hardships they endure may not be surprising, it does not make the hypocrisy frequently shown by the men in the society (e.g. bosses, husbands, government officials, etc.) any less stunning.
Thanks to Rikita Nandini Shimu’s strong performance in the lead role, one feels the frustration that the comes with Shimu having to navigate male governed barriers every step of the way. She and her co-workers are not only taken advantage of from a business perspective, because their gender is deemed easier to control, but they also are used as scapegoats for men who cannot control their own sexual desires.
Allowing her camera to linger on the cloud of smoke that fills the factory and narrow sidewalks, and frequently placing Shimu in small cluttered rooms, Hossain creates a claustrophobic atmosphere. One feels the walls slowly closing in on Shimu and understand her perseverance to break free of the chains that constrain the women at the factory. Exposing how gender is exploited for the financial gains of others, Made in Bangladesh finds urgency and compassion in its plea for basic human rights for all in the workplace.