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Pak-Bangla love flick starring Jaya Bachchan ready for release

By Pti

Pallab Bhattacharya

New Delhi, Jan 20 (PTI) Debutante Bangladeshi directorRubaiyat Hossain is ready with his feature film "Meherjaan"starring versatile actors Jaya Bachchan and Victor Banerjeeand based on a Bangaladesh-Pakistan love story.

The Rs one crore film funded by Era Productions is astory of Meherjaan (played by Jaya Bachchan), a Bangladeshigirl who falls in love with a young Pakistani army officer whorefuses to join the war and saves her from being raped byother Pakistani troops who do not however spare her cousinNeela and kill her father.

"The young Pakistani officer and Meherjaan create aworld of love and fantasy in the midst of war. However, thisworld collapses and Meherjaan loses most of her family in thedevastation of the War", says Rubaiyat.

The director says "Meherjaan", which also featuresleading Bangladeshi actors like Humayun Faridi and KhairulAlam Sabuj, "looks at war from the women''s point of view. Itis looks at history through womens recollection of war.

"It talks about national politics also speaks aboutthe very personal intimate emotions of women. It is also afilm that tries to look at the canvas of war and find aflicker of hope in love and compassion that can reach acrossman made boundaries", according to Rubaiyat who has done herMA in South Asia Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

"Meherjaan", which is slated to hit cinema hallsacross Bangladesh on January 21, already boasts of a castspanning across the subcontinent including Pakistani actorOmar Karim.

For a debutante director, to rope in actors likeBanerjee, who plays grandfather to Meherjaan and Neela andJaya Bachchan is a casting coup of sorts.

Both Banerjee and Bachchan, known for being choosy inselecting films, were impressed by the script and story of"Meherjaan" which looks at the Liberation War, according tothe director, in a "different perspective" - from the point ofview of a woman.

"They (Victor Banerjee and Jaya Bachchan) liked theircharacters and the narrative. Both of them liked the idea of anarrative where love prevails over everything else", thedirector told PTI in an email interview.

She says she was lucky and honoured to have workedwith "great and powerful actors" like Victor Banerjee and JayaBachchan both of whom "got very involved in the process" ofmaking the film.

"It is sort of a dream project. I want to shoot inIndia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, reflect on their past asundivided sub-continent versus today''s divided us. Today, wemay be politically split apart but culturally, spiritually andartistically we don''t need to abide by man-made boundaries",says the director.

Following are the excerpts from the interview with thedirector of "Meherjaan":

Q. What prompted you to make Meherjaan?

A. I did my MA in South Asian Studies from universityof Pennsylvania. My thesis was on the rape women, namely thebirangonas (Bangladeshi women dishonoured by Pakistani troopsduring Liberation War) of 1971. I primarily looked at thenationalist representation and marginalisation of women''spersonal narrative of war.

As I went through my journey learning about thebirangonas of 1971, I became deeply involved with the issue, Ifelt as a Bangladeshi woman, who has been privileged to beeducated and given the chance to raise her voice, I reallyneeded to work more on bringing out and valuing womensexperiences in 1971, the inception point of this nation....Iimmediately decided on a film that would examine and look at1971 not only through womans eye, moreover, through a femininenarrative of love, submission and spirituality.

Even though I wanted to speak of the birangonas, theviolence of rape, and the negligence towards women''sexperiences of war, I strongly felt the film had to end on apositive note, I wanted the film to heal the wounds of 1971and give us, especially women who had suffered in 1971, thestrength, courage and positive spirit to move forward.

Q. Several films have been made on Bangladesh''sLiberation War. Do you think you have adopted a differentperspective to the subject in the film?

A. I believe Meherjaan is different perspectivebecause it looks at war from the women''s point of view. It islooks at history through womens recollection of war. It talksabout national politics also speaks about the very personalintimate emotions of women. It is also a film that tries tolook at the canvas of war and find a flicker of hope in loveand compassion that can reach across man made boundaries.

Q. For a first-time director, it is not easy torope in a versatile actor like Victor Banerjee and JayaBachchan. And yet you have pulled off a sort of coup by makingthem act in your film. How did you did it? Apparently, bothmust have liked the script, the story and the roles. How wasyour experience working with Victor and Jaya?

A. Yes, both actors came to Bangladesh. VictorBannerjee came for 10 days and Jaya Bachchan came for 7 daysof shoot. I have been honoured to work with these great andpowerful actors. I got very lucky because the moment I had metMr Bannerjee and Mrs Bachchan, while I gave them thenarration, I felt a connection was established. They likedtheir characters and the narrative, both of them liked theidea of a narrative where love prevails over everything else.

Also there is a theme of spiritual love running through thefilm.

Human love gets surrendered to a higher level. Forexample, Jaya Bachchan''s character, the role of Meherjaan, agirl who fell in love with the enemy soldier in 1971, does notdwell on the loss of her lover: rather she moves on,internalises and heals the wounds of 1971, finds solace innature, become a sculptress.

Once these respected actors came on board they reallycooperated with me and allowed me the room to work best forthe narrative. They both were both very involved in theprocess and all I can say is I have been lucky to get actorsof this magnitude. They actually read up all the notes andmaterial, and I have gained a whole lot of confidence fromworking with them. .

Q. In your film, you have shown a Bangladeshi girl falling in love with an enemy soldier. From a Bangladeshi''spoint of view, you know this is a very sensitive issue, giventhe untold brutalities of the Pakistani army during theLiberation War. Why did you choose such an incident? Do youthink it has the potential to spark a controversy inBangladesh?

A. I wanted to tell a story of love. Extreme andimpossible love. Love that is unfathomable. And it isparticularly because of this I chose this love relation withan enemy soldier. Yes the brutality of Pakistani soldiersover Bengalis are little known to the world. In fact, a lot ofthe world looks at 1971 as a war between India and Pakistan.

In reality it was our freedom movement and our struggle for aBengali homeland culminating in 1971. All these issues havebeen addressed in the film.

A major character of this film is Neela, Meherjaan''scousin. Neela is raped by the Pakistani soldiers, her fatheris killed and she becomes pregnant from rape. Meher on theother hand is saved from being raped, by a Pakistani soldierwho had denied war and left his own kind. This young man andMeherjaan create a world of love and fantasy in the midst ofwar, however, this world collapses and Meherjaan loses most ofher family in the devastation of war. Meherjaan is very much astory of 1971. I don''t think there is scope for anycontroversy here.

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