'Meherjaan' a 3-nation film about women

In perhaps the first such attempt, director Rubaiyat Hossain has Indian artistes Jaya Bachchan and Victor Banerjee star alongside Bangladeshi Humayun Faridee and Azad Abdul Kalam and Pakistan's Oman Rahim.

Dhaka's TV channels have started showing a trailer of "Meherjaan", a 35 mm full-length feature film (duration: 120 minutes) produced by Era Motion Pictures Ltd. It is slated for release here Jan 21.

Talking of the repression of women during the freedom movement at the end of which the then East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, Rubaiyat has sought to project a woman's perspective that she says has been generally ignored in the narrative of those times.

This has been the case even with the narratives about women who were dishonoured, later to be called "biranganas" (women of valour), she told The Daily Star.

Bangladesh says three million people perished and thousands of women were raped by the Pakistan authorities and Islamist militia during the nine-month-long freedom movement.

"The winners and losers invariably have their individual take on a war, but one thing both stories will have in common: the perspective and protagonists/antagonists are always male," the director said.

"Women usually appear as sacrificing characters. They are often treated as part of the silent landscape -- objectified, abused and raped. The purpose of 'Meherjaan' is to break free of the typical male narrative and open up a conversation to explore other perspectives on the Liberation War," says Rubaiyat.

The film follows Meher, who falls for a soldier from the "enemy side" during the war. When her love is discovered, she is shamed and silenced by her family and society.

Thirty-eight years after the war, Meher is approached by a visitor. Sarah -- a 'war child', Meher's cousin Neela's daughter, who was given away for adoption, is trying to put together her past. Together, these women re-tell history through their narratives.

"'Meherjaan' zooms in on three characters. Meher was rescued by a Baloch soldier in 1971. This soldier had denied the war. Meher's cousin Neela had been raped by Pakistani soldiers, but instead of staying in the shadows she decides to retaliate against social stigma and joins the freedom movement."

About her choice of the Indian artistes, Rubaiyat said: "I wanted a woman with an unmistakable Bengali look and a certain vulnerability, but a great deal of inner strength.

As we had an Indian crew from the beginning (including the sound designer and music director), and the entire post-production was going to be done in Mumbai, it was rational to consider Indian actors when I couldn't sign the Bangladeshi actors
of my choice.

"I approached both Jaya Bachchan and Victor Banerjee with a lot of paperwork, script, background, notes, character sketch, costume design and other details. I guess this is one of the reasons they initially agreed to work with a debutant director."

Jaya Bachchan has said, "Rubaiyat has cleverly worked out the script. Through her film, she is not talking to just one nation. She is actually talking to the world. It is truly an international film. And a film like this coming from Bangladesh is fantastic."

The film has been shot by Samiran Datta (of "Kittonkhola" fame). Screenplay is by Ebadur Rahman and Rubaiyat Hossain. Neil Mukherjee has done the music direction.

The cast also includes Sharmili Ahmed, Khairul Alam Sabuj, Monira Mithu, Azad Abul Kalam, Shatabdi Wadud, Omar Rahim (from Pakistan) and Shayna Amin (as young Meher).

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