Pramanyachitra or documentary film is a special genre in the film industry. In a documentary film real events are cinematized. The earliest movies of the world film were based on the real events. The first commercial cinema was shown in France on 12 December 1895, and within six months 6 cinemas were shown in Mumbai in India under the title of Cinematography. Each of these was cinematised in Europe and remained as an example of the earliest specimens of world cinematography. The names of the cinemas were: Entry of Cinematography, Arrival of a Train, The Sea Bath, A Demolition, Workers Leaving the Factory and Ladies and Soldiers on Wheels.

Hiralal Sen (1866-1917) was the first to produce documentary in this subcontinent. He was born in Bogjudi village of Manikganj district. A number of his documentaries was cinematised in the region what is now Bangladesh. Two of his documentaries were: Marriage Ceremony in Bogjudi Village (1902-1903) and The Bath-seekers of Bogjudi Village (1902-1903).

John Grierson first used the term 'documentary' in a review article on Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926), and the article was published in the New York Sun. He wrote the article under the pseudonym, The Moviegoer. In the 1930s, Grierson attempted further discussion on documentary in his essay 'First Principles of Documentary'. Generally, a documentary film is a cinematised version of a true event.

Nowadays, documentaries are produced in video and digital methods. In a documentary film, an imaginary character takes the role of the main person. However, the story is presented in such a manner that it reflects the character of the real person. Hence, through a documentary, we can understand real life. And thus a documentary becomes, in Grierson's words, a 'creative treatment of actuality'. A documentary based on a town or port can be categorised in this way. Documentary is not only the cinematisation of an event; it can be of many types. The creative treatment of actuality occurred in the documentaries like Taboo (1928-1931) and Louisiana Story (1948) by the American producer Robert Flaherty.

The second type of documentary is news film and travelogue etc. These are true records of actual happenings. Hiralal Sen cinematised real stories and produced documentaries such as: Coronation Darbar of Delhi (1903), Coronation Darbar of Kolkata (1903) and Surendranath's Procession (1905). During the period of Pakistan and Bangladesh, many such newsfilms were produced by the Department of Film and Media of the Government. The main objective of these documentaries is to inform the public about government activities.

The third type of documentary is produced for a particular purpose. Here the producer represents a preconceived idea and disposition. Sometimes, it is not simply the dissemination of ideas; but the attraction is drawn on the importance of the events. October (1928) produced by Ainsenstine on the basis of the Bolshevik movement of 1917 is one such documentary.

Advertisement films are done especially with a motive. Nowadays, a great number of advertisement films based on the events for publicity for short time are being produced, and this trend was introduced by Hiralal Sen. For the first time in 1903 he produced advertisement films on Jabakusum Hair Oil, medicine for malaria and Salsa Pillar. However, there is a clear difference between advertisement films and the documentaries produced to spread an ideology.

Since the 1930s, commercial motif emerged. Documentaries started to be produced in undivided Bengal from the first decade of the twentieth century; and most of them were produced by Hiralal Sen. After the partition of India in 1947, the first documentary produced in Pakistan was Birth of Pakistan (1948). H. Hassam produced the second documentary in the same year. In March 1948, Nazir Ahmad produced a documentary titled In Our Midst based on the Dhaka tour of the first Governor General of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It can be said that this documentary is the first documentary in Bangladesh after the partition of India in 1947. This documentary film was produced without help of any film studio. Of the first part, the most important life-oriented documentary film Salamat was produced in 1954 by a camera, collected from London by Nazir Ahmed. Nazir Ahmad was at the same time its director, scenarist, dialogue writer and storywriter. Its music composer Abdul Ahad played an important role in its production. In it Iqbal Mirza with the help of Habib Barki took moving photography. The sufferings of the mason of Nazir Ahmad's house were at the background, and it was a document of the expansion of Dhaka, the provincial capital of Pakistan. There were two versions of it containing one and four thousand feet. It is known that Abdul Jabbar Khan produced a documentary on flood in the same decade. A documentary titled Wheel was produced in 1955, sponsored by the Government and based on Tejgaon Industrial Area of Dhaka. Another was produced on the natural scenery of Kaptai. In 1956, an advertisement film titled Bhool Kothai directed by Ramgupta was produced to circulate Oil-mill Brand Mustard Oil. In a number of documentaries produced during the Pakistan period, we find a representation of the people and nature of Bangladesh. Some of them are: City of Dhaka, Pakistan Panorama, Sermons in Brick, etc.

Sermons in Brick, produced on supporting the scenario of Rokeya Rahman Kabir and the use of Terracotta in the temple architecture under the direction of Syed Bazly Hossain, was an important documentary. It is worth mentioning that, this documentary earned an award in a film festival in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. One Acre of Land, produced by him, earned an award of Certificate of merit in the Kan film festival in 1958. Besides, Syed Bazly Hossain's documentaries like New Horizon, Symphony of Seansons and Let's Walk Together were highly appreciated. During the Pakistan period, documentaries were mainly produced by government's initiative and finance.

During the liberation war of 1971, a number of important documentaries were produced. Some of them are: Zahir Raihan's Stop Genocide, S. Suk Dev's Nine Months to Freedom, Alamgir Kabir's Liberation Fighters and Ek Shagorer Rokter Binimoye, Babul Chowdhury's Innocent Millions, Binoy Roy's Refugee '71, Robert Rogers' The Country Made for Disaster, Vania Keulay's Major Khaled's War, Nagisa Oshima's Joy Bangla and Rahman: The Father of Nation, H S Advani's, C S Kaul's, D S Siny's, Raghunath Seth's, Pandurang Rebhankor's, P N V Roa's, S T Barclay Hill's, Mushir Ahmad's and G R Thakur's Loot & Lust, and Brain Tager's Deadline Bangladesh. Tareque Masud and Katherine Masud produced Muktir Gan (song of freedom) based on selections from the American journalist Lear Lavin's documentary.

After 1971, documentary film production in Bangladesh took off. As a documentary like Chiravjib Bangabandhu was produced with the sponsorship of the government. There have been plenty of privately produced documentaries which deal with diverse subject matters, such as: empowerment of women, children's rights, local culture and tradition, liberation war, human rights, environment protection and other issues. Some documentary films of the independent Bangladesh are: M. Hamid's Latherism (1982/1986), Manzare Hasin, Tanvir Mokammel and Tareq Masud's Krishvagare Ekdin (1993), Manzare Hasan and Muhammad Jahangir's Rastar Shishu (1998), Faridur Rahman's Uttarer Adibasi (1999), Tareque and Katherine Masud's Muktir Katha (1999), Narir Katha (2000), Razia Kadir's Sundarbaner Lokaloye Dinratri (2000), Aminul Islam's Samta Brittanta (2000), Moinul Huda's Lokman O Tar Swapna Bastabota (2001), Yasmin Kabir's Swadhinata (2002), Babul Biswas' Mukti Sangrame Bangladesh (2004, serial parba) and Daktikit: Bangladesh (2006, the first documentary film on post-stamps), Ribon Khondakar's Begum (2005), Manzare Hasin's Smritir Thikana (2006), Fouzia Khan's Ghothito Hoi Shunye Milai (2007), Shahin Dil Reaz's Lohakhor (2007), Tanvir Mokammel's Swapnabhumi (2007). Nowadays, the government-sponsored documentaries are highly controlled and are marked more by political leanings than by artistic quality. As a genre of film, documentary film represents our life more realistically; and we should advance it with proper plans. In this respect, documentary films that are free from government control can play a significant role. [Khandakar Mahmudul Hasan]