Nine-year-old Bengali boy wins Greece film festival award

Asik Shaikh (left) and Arif Shaikh (right) in Dostojee (2021). Arif Shaikh won the award. Kathak Talkies

Nine-year-old Arif Shaikh from West Bengal has won the Best Child Actor award at the 24th Olympia International Film Festival in Greece.

Arif’s performance in the Bengali feature film Dostojee (Two Friends), written and directed by Prasun Chatterjee, fetched him global recognition.

“Our little stars have won hearts – Arif Shaikh, one of the protagonists of DOSTOJEE (English title: Two Friends), won the Best Child Actor award at the 24th Olympia International Film Festival, Greece,” tweeted the movie team.

In his debut feature, Prasun has explored friendship, loss and healing in a border village of West Bengal. The film captures the innocent friendship of two boys in Murshidabad district’s Domkal village, separated from Bangladesh by the Padma river.

The 111-minute film is set in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent Bombay blasts.

The nine-year-old have no film background. Arif’s father works at a brick kiln and his mother is a housewife and he is the first in his family to go to school.

“The film shows true friendship between two innocent boys who are untouched by the Babri Masjid demolition and the following Bombay blasts. It shows the bond between eight-year-old Palash (Asik Shaikh) and Safikul (Arif Shaikh), who aren’t effected by the religion they follow or the society they belong too,” Indian Express quoted Parsun as saying.

After casting Asik as Palash, Parsun was searching for his other character Safikul, reports the newspaper. The filmmaker visited all primary schools in the area but was unable to find what he was looking for. And one afternoon, while he was packing to return to Kolkata, an angry nine-year-old banged at his door. The boy was Arif, whose friend Asik was casted as Palash. Arif was absent from school, when Parsun and his team were looking for Safikul. When Arif heard that Asik had been selected for a film and there was a director who was looking for another boy, he came on his own, Parsun recalls his first meeting with Arif.

Prasun Chatterjee.

When Parsun opened the door, Arif asked that: “Are children being cast in films here?” and Parsun replied “yes”.

“I am a child and I want to act,” Arif said to the director.

“I politely asked him to come inside. He was very angry and said, ‘I don’t have much time; I have to go to play with my friends, please call your director.’ When I told him that I was the director he said you don’t look like,” Parsun said to Indian Express.

Arif’s curt reply won me over and he was cast in the feature, says Parsun.

The movie also got an official selection for world premiere at the 65th BFI London Film Festival, the UK, in LOVE strand.

Movie trailer:

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