A portrait of a developing nation through the eyes of its working children. The nature of development, poverty, childhood and sustainability is examined through the stories of the children of Bangladesh as well as their parents, teachers, employers, carers and exploiters.
Mass e Bhat, by Hannan Majid and Richard York of The Rainbow Collective, is a cinematic, long-form documentary weaving together the stories of a group of children living and working in Bangladesh and forced to grow up at an incredibly early age. The stories of these children, their parents, teachers and employers are held together by one central character, Nasir, who from the age of 8 has been working his way out of a life of poverty in the slums. Among the world’s poorest countries, Bangladesh is also one of the fastest developing. As 7.9 million children across the country work every day to support themselves and their families, mass migration from the villages swells the numbers in the slums and factories. As it continues its industrial revolution, Bangladesh is, in many ways a perfect example of what we refer to as a ‘developing nation’. Mass e Bhat explores this shifting society through the eyes of its children. In the slums, villages, factories and streets, we see a generation forced to grow up at an incredibly early age, to whom work and responsibility are part of everyday life. We talk to the adults who protect, employ, raise or exploit these children, and, in doing so, paint a vivid portrait of a nation in transition, the cost of development and the true meaning of childhood. Central to our story is 19 year-old Nasir. Nasir’s family moved from the countryside to Bangladesh’s largest slum when he was 8 years old. He joined the army of children working daily on Dhaka’s sprawling rubbish tips, sorting rubbish, which he could sell. Still a young boy, he moved from here into the garment business, working in the factories of Korrail until his family saved the money to send him to school. After a year, realising that the family could not eat without the whole family working, they pulled him out to start working as a machinist in another local factory. By now, Nasir had got a taste for education and realised that continuing his studies was the only way for him to work himself and his family out of dire poverty. When he met workers from a local, grass-roots charity, he realised that he could try again. ViaLisa negotiated with his parents and employer to put him back into school, teaching him English, Bangla and maths as well as his worker’s rights. They trained him to be a hotel concierge, placing him at the Sheraton and later employing him in their own guesthouse. Now 20 years old, Nasir has not only established himself in a respectable job, but he also works for ViaLisa, helping kids from the slums to work their way out of poverty, just as he has proved is possible. As Nasir relates his life’s journey, we observe a series of children, employers and parents around the country whose stories mirror Nasir’s past, serving as flashbacks of his life - while reminding us that this is still all too normal in the country’s present.