Love Studio: capturing dreams in frames

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In a studio in Jurain, visual artist Samsul Alam Helal creates fiction that defies harsh reality

Mahbub Chokder

01 October 2022, 09:00

Last modification: 01 October 2022, 09:01

Love Studio offers a break from reality, an unforgettable moment. Photo: courtesy

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Love Studio offers a break from reality, an unforgettable moment. Photo: courtesy

When Tipu was around 15, his days started with cleaning the teahouse where he worked. The rest of his day was a blur of cleaning the kettle and serving people water.

The break in his monotony came once a week, when he could see a movie for free in nearby theaters.

It was on the big screen that Tipu found love. Designed by the actor Shahnaz – his look, his posture, his agility – captivated the young Tipu and contributed to the emerging craze. Young Jurain from Dhaka cried when she cried, laughed when he saw her do it.

Of course, he always knew he could never get too close to her. It was all a dream, her love was limited to theaters and the screen.

That is until he met Samsul Alam Helal, a visual artist from Postogola in the capital. When Helal heard about Tipu’s love story on the big screen, he immediately got to work. He found a photo of the actor, printed a life-size cutout, and glued it onto an EPS sheet.

Photo: courtesy

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Photo: courtesy

Photo: courtesy

He presented the cutout to Tipu, who was invited to the premier’s photo studio. There, Tipu’s dreams came true, as he hugged his favorite actor and took a number of photos. Love blossomed that day and at the end of it, Tipu still refused to let go of the poster.

Tipu had always lived between his reality and fiction. Helal’s desire was to blur the lines between the two, if only for a moment.

And it is for this very desire, to capture dreams in frames, that Helal has become a household name in Bangladesh.

A nostalgia of the pulse

Samsul Alam Helal graduated in Management from Shaikh Burhanuddin Post Graduate College. He would, however, spend most of his time in the studio of an older brother.

There, they took group photos. Helal loved the experience. In an impulsive decision, he started taking photography lessons. He graduated in photography from Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.

Like most artists, Helal was inspired by his environment, particularly the Jurain district which was close to his home.

About ten years ago, Jurain-Postogola was at the gates of the capital. Its rolling mills, its restaurants, its match and clothing factories attracted people from different villages.

Its new residents arrived with big dreams for their city life – some wanted to go to Dubai, some wanted to become singers and others would be content with a house in Gulshan.

In these dreams, Helal found her passion. Helal’s goal, in his own words, has always been to make fiction that questions reality. He wants to break down socio-political barriers and go beyond the true human self.

All this he offered in his famous Love Studio – his own theater of dreams – located in Jurain.

Photo: courtesy

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Photo: courtesy

Photo: courtesy

Ruma, a dancer by profession, disillusioned with how the world works, has come to the studio to fulfill her fantasy of getting revenge for the many wrongs.

She took her picture armed with a prop gun. Then she took another on a motorcycle. Both were her personal protests in their own right: the rifle was meant to make her feel powerful, while the motorcycle was a statement as very few women were known to drive their own when she was growing up.

Kamrul, a member of Ruma’s dance team who accompanied him, stood behind the driver’s seat occupied by his colleague. The backdrop was a view of a river surrounded by mountains. Kamrul spread his hands and sang at the top of his voice. “What if this road never ends,” he crooned as Helal took the pictures.

Then there is Juhi, whose father worked as a waiter in a restaurant. He brought his one-year-old daughter to the studio. In conversations with Helal, the artists learned that the father’s dream was for Juhi to pass at least her high school certificate exams, get a good job, and lead a financially secure life.

With this information, Helal placed the baby in front of an expensive red car and the flashes began. His father, a fervent follower of a Pir, whose dream was to go to his Pir’s grave, received a long beard, a red turban, a rosary and a black cap.

Helal also took pictures of himself against the backdrop of the Dubai cityscape, fulfilling yet another dream.

Helal not only takes photos, but also does videography and installations. Instead of taking a single photo, he creates a series for his subject. Seen together, it’s a tapestry of a dream stylized like a traditional Bangladeshi film.

While most of the media focuses on people’s problems – lack of clean water, disease, fights – Helal sticks to the hopes and desires of the working class.

Photo: courtesy

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Photo: courtesy

Photo: courtesy

He takes the time to understand his subjects, questioning them. Over the years he has met a number of people and this has helped him form deeper connections with those he photographs.

The Alam market in Jurain is a well-known place. Three cinemas – Diana, Meghna and Jamuna – are nearby. One of his frequent addicts is Kader, a charming individual whose lyrics have hypnotic power. He can easily lure a crowd of people under his spell, relieving them of the contents of their wallets, but not through illegal force or deception.

Kader heard about Helal’s studio and went to see him. He wanted a picture of himself with a flying snake wrapped around his neck. A break with reality; a moment to remember.

At the end of the era of analog photography, it also seriously harmed Helal’s business, as the studio was on the verge of closing down.

Old fashioned backdrops were anything but a relic of the past.

Undeterred, Helal bought his friend some time and began looking for an artist to create his sets.

It was then that he met Boni Gopal. Helal painted a number of scenes with him and his partner.

Soon the sunrise, a flight to Dubai, a luxurious house, a forest, a river of ducks and boats, everything came alive.

Helal ran his Love Studio for six months. After the photo series was completed, it was exhibited at the 7th Film Festival in 2013 to critical acclaim.

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