South Asian Projects

Searching Roots: An Artist’s Tale-Rafiqul Anowar Russell (Bangladesh)



An indigenous artist searching his identity between nature and civilization, connecting history & sufferings of his people through multidisciplinary art as community memories for the lost identity.


Joydeb Roaja is an indigenous artist from Chittagong Hill Tract of Bangladesh from a remote village of Tripura Tribe. He entered the mainstream Art and Culture through his journey to the otherworld away from home.

After MFA in University of Chittagong, he became a prominent independent artist of the country. Once started with regular art events by joining national and global art exhibitions, Joydeb realizes his alienation in the middle of the City life. After staying in the city for more than 30 years, for education and living, he feels ‘it is like renting a home’ and not rooted somewhere he belongs to. He gradually introduces his own style and language to express in search of his spirit and faith in Art, which according to him, is deeply rooted in and evolved from Nature only.

He finds a deep kinship to the natural world of trees, river, stream and mostly mother earth and transforms his creative world to connect and represent them. He evolves his art and craft to amplify his own identity with homegrown sensibilities and reality that eventually speaks his ethnic origin and the organic world he has conversed with since his childhood – a new language of representation has been created to engage people, his audience.

In his Artistic approach he recalls the historical continuity of injustice to and sufferings of hill tract people. Their identity and existence were overlooked in the course of progress, and their habitats and natural balance had been ravaged in the name of development. Thus, he became a profound voice of his people, through the art in national and global arenas.

Critical to the perception of development destroying nature, Joydeb propagates the idea of harmony and natural balance. His art evokes the voice of a conservationist – either in hill or plain land, he is involved passionately to save the natural integrity. He resonates the voice of the oppressed and protests through his art work and installations in sketches, paintings or performing arts. The world now possibly hears the voice of Chittagong tribes through his memories and deeper connections of nature. His work is humble, serene and true to his origin and propagates the spirit of non-violence even though he is convinced that nature and his people are truly victimized by the so-called politics of progress.

The film is about the transformative homecoming of a tribal artist through a creative immersion, to his own landscape, stolen by infrastructure, resorts, army camps and highways; a journey back to the root that takes a stance from within.

Director’s Note

My interest to make this feature documentary is historical. I was born and grew up in Chottogram, Bangladesh. My native village is the nearest place to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. More than 15 major and minor ethnic groups reside in this hilly region, popularly known as Chittagong Hill Tracts. My father used to work in the Hydro Electric Project of Kaptai, known as Kaptai dam, which was made in 1961, former East Pakistan era, that destroyed hundreds of lives of indigenous communities for the water reservoir, Kaptai Lake. The natural harmony and ecology of this region was destroyed and people of the hilly region were not happy.  In each step the ethnic minorities were facing checking, harassment, and questions by the authorities. No proper school, medical or other facilities were enough for them from the part of the Government. They were poor and remote people. When we used to travel, in those areas we experienced the helplessness of those indigenous people. A hateful sad look towards us.

I met Joydeb Roaja in the university, who was a student of the Fine Arts department. We were batch mates and later became friends. Joydeb belongs to indigenous community called Tripura, a minor ethnic group of Chittagong Hill Tracts. It was amazing for me to get such a remote person, who desired to cross the sea of barriers to become an Artist. And he finally made it happen. I was invited by him to the exhibitions and performing arts. I found his all through art works reminds of those childhood experiences which was his own reality of Childhood. So, I made my decision to tell that story, along with the journey through Joydeb and his Art Work. The focus point is the theme and subjects of his Art and artistic Journey, but ambience and background should be the history of those suffered people from past to present as well. While starting research work, I found another interesting theme, his transformation of ideology and decision to return to his mother nature through Art.  The story of joydeb is also the story of a universal artist of the world.


The feature will portray mainly the life and works of Joydeb Roaja. The background and source of inspiration of those art will be revealed phase by phase. The protagonist will take us to the journey from past to present and the way the lives and living of indigenous people of Chittagong hill tracts have been transformed, being the victims of politics, conflicts and developmental programs. He will connect his themes of Art and Performance with those issues and elements.

Another aspect of the feature is his own struggle to be an Artist at national level, with background of ethnic identity. Also, how he represents his country at international platforms while not being the mainstream national of the country. One of his teachers at the Institute was Dhali Al Mamoon. Joydeb goes to Dhali’s house where they discuss contemporary art of national and international areas. And how to incorporate his own voice, own crisis along with the global crisis.  His participation as an artist in some national and international exhibitions will be captured. So, his ideological invitation to return to nature mother will be explained.

In the same time, the feature will also provide reasoning why rights of indigenous people have not prevailed yet.  Joydeb meets some people of their relevant community seniors, with whom he talks about their crisis. Constant forced migration happens in the name of Tourism, National Security and Development works. Big corporations captured miles after miles of hill area under lease programs for agricultural and garden projects. Tobacco Farming is popular but it destroys the natural resources like water and plants and animals of the area. It will feature the present hill conditions and political movement from the young community with their strong protests to save the harmony of their village, land and nature against the aggressive tourism policies Joydeb by himself is active in protests in social media and in the field. Joydeb also believes, the loss of natural harmony is also happening in the plain land area. He takes part in the civil rights movement in the city, where a park will be shifted and large trees will be cut off for big constructions. The voice to save nature is a key appeal in his performing arts.

As the story goes on, the final findings will follow the end, which is unpredictable. More focus points and issues will be recorded by mentorships and advice.

Producer/Director’s Profile

Rafiqul Anowar (Russell) is a Bangladeshi born filmmaker, lives in Chittagong, Bangladesh and has been working as an Independent Producer, Writer and Director. He completed Masters in English Literature. Anowar also writes film criticisms and short stories. Rafiqul Anowar’s debut film as Director was The Adventurer (2014) had been screened in various film festivals and sessions nationwide. He joined Dockedge Kolkata in 2019.  He made a feature documentary on the Rohingya crisis named A Mandolin in Exile in 2020.  Anowar also participated in the documentary platform for co-production market Dhaka DOCLAB, 2019, third session and joined at Producers Workshop in Film Bazaar, 2019  that was held in Goa, India.

The said Feature Project is under developmental stage. Duration will be 60 minutes and more. Feature Documentary like this, required time and appropriate conditions for getting the best output. The research and primary shooting started at the end of last year. But the present Pandemic situation made some barriers, for travel and staying restrictions at subject locations.  It is about to start full swing at the end of monsoon, of this year, and hope to end by 2022. The climate and political conditions are not always easy in the hill tract area. To get full exposure of the protagonist’s activities, maybe it will take more time to get the events, exhibitions and performances of Hill Artists Group, the mentioned organization.  The schedule line will also depend on the financial support and fund arrangements. In general, it can be assumed, the project will be at its final stage in early 2023.


Total Budget: 40,000 USD.

Secured fund: USD 5000

Production Status:

The project is at development stage. The production house An. Brothers already provided some technical assistance and a budget of 3000 USD to initiate the production.



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