Bangladesh liberation film opens old wounds

Published: February 20, 2011
Bangladeshi actress Shaina Amin acts in a scene of Bengali film 'Meherjaan' in Tangail District of Dhaka. PHOTO: AFP

Bangladeshi actress Shaina Amin acts in a scene of Bengali film 'Meherjaan' in Tangail District of Dhaka. PHOTO: AFP

Bangladeshi actress Shaina Amin acts in a scene of Bengali film 'Meherjaan' in Tangail District of Dhaka. PHOTO: AFP Indian actress Jaya Bachchan acts in a scene of Bengali film 'Meherjaan' in Gulshan District of Dhaka. PHOTO: AFP Indian actor Victor Banerjee, who played the role of Dr Aziz Ahmed in the 1984 Oscar winning film A Passage to India, acts in a scene. PHOTO: AFP

A Bangladeshi film about a love affair set in the country’s bloody 1971 struggle has stirred up heated debate, prompting the distributor to pull it from cinemas.

Meherjaan: A Story of War and Love, which features some of south Asia’s biggest stars including Victor Banerjee and Jaya Bachchan, wife of Indian movie legend Amitabh Bachchan, was released last month to critical acclaim.

But the plot, charting a romance between a local girl and a Pakistani soldier, has hit a raw nerve in Bangladesh, where a new tribunal has just begun prosecuting suspected collaborators.

“I fought in the war but after we released this film, my fellows  called me a collaborator,” the owner of the film’s distribution company, Habibur Rahman Khan, told AFP.

“We’ve stopped distributing the film because critics said it degraded Bangladeshis,” he said.

In the film, Meherjaan, a Bangladeshi girl, falls in love with a Pakistani soldier .

A barrage of criticism in the Bangladeshi press and on the Internet said the film’s romantic storyline undermined the suffering during the war.

“Meherjaan has insulted the spirit of the country’s liberation war and our history,” said four writers, in a joint article in the Prothom Alo newspaper.

“Under the guise of a story about love and war, it’s a film about insult and deception,” they wrote.

The film, because of its positive depiction of a Pakistani soldier, has been “unofficially banned”, Farzana Boby, an assistant director on the film, told AFP.

“It is unfortunate. All we have tried to do is to make a good film. It has been pulled even though it was drawing bigger crowds than any other major hit film in Bangladesh,” she said.

The crew and directors have also become targets of hate-campaigns by people who cannot tolerate a “different narrative of our liberation war,” she said.

“They are angry because our story does not follow the dominant theme of the struggle. There cannot be a good-natured Pakistani soldier who rebels against the army,” she said.

Some industry professionals have lamented the angry reception the film has been given.

“It’s unfortunate there is such a huge controversy over such a good film. We live in a democratic country and everyone has the right to tell their own story,” film director Chasi Nazrul Islam told AFP.

“We get stronger if we listen to all voices.”

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Goga
    Feb 20, 2011 - 8:09PM

    Why? Is a love affair between two muslims sin? Why cant they show pakistani men fall in love? This is insultingRecommend

  • Nasir Jamal
    Feb 20, 2011 - 8:17PM

    A few years back I had a chance to go to Bangladesh for attending a conference. It was my first visit to Bangladesh. I was surprised to learn that even though they were very friendly and amiable otherwise, they would simply not hear of anything about Pakistan. They simply hate Pakistan if I would put it mildly.

    It is no wonder that the film has evokes so much protest and controversy.Recommend

  • bvindh
    Feb 20, 2011 - 8:53PM

    May be the first and second sequels of this film would be about a Chinese woman falling in love with a Japanese soldier in Nanking and a Jewish woman falling in love with Hitler at a concentration camp respectively.Recommend

  • Ashutosh
    Feb 20, 2011 - 11:56PM

    The part of the problem is that people of Pakistan don’t know the truth. Some incidences like the reaction or Bangladeshis toward this movie will force many Pakistanis to look for answers. Then may be the can uncover the truth.

    People who do not learn from the history are doomed to repeat it … is a old proverb.

    May be if Pakistanis knew about the correct history, they probably would have treated Baluchistan and Wazistan differently …. And not used helicopter gunships, aerial bombardments and artillery shelling on their own populous…Recommend

  • Fighter
    Feb 21, 2011 - 4:47AM

    YOU SIMPLY DON’T GET IT? DO u? The problem is the Pakistani men, but the Pakistani men of 1971’s time, Pakistani Army of 1971’s time. After all, the liberation East Pakistani wasn’t a black and white story, there still are a loads of unanswered question about that “time”.

    So if it helps you understand any better, well, then try to understand these hard emotions are due to the unhealed wounds of the the “Time”, the time of of 1971.Recommend

  • Kamil Bashir
    Feb 21, 2011 - 4:55AM

    @ Nasir Jamal

    Last year I went to Bangladesh to attend marriage of a Pakistani friend (student in London) who fell in love with a Bangladeshi fellow student.

    Her parents first objected and later agreed when they were convinced that the boy was genuine and from educated family.

    I lived in Dhaka for nearly 7 days and did not see any animosity towards Pakistanis. In fact, one couple had visited Murree for their honeymoon. I met 100s of people (both at marriage & outside) and they all showed keen love and hospitality for us, Pakistanis. Youngsters were fans of Pakistani cricketers and singers.

    This does not mean they were happy with our military establishment of that time. It is just that the wounds have healed (especially because we don’t share a border and it has been many decades). Recommend

  • Name (required)
    Feb 21, 2011 - 10:39AM

    Oh how controversial: A Pakistani Muslim man fallowing in love with a Pakistani Muslim woman!Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh
    Feb 21, 2011 - 11:06AM

    Though I admit, that undoubtedly the Pakistani army committed a genocide in what is now Bangladesh, no one even remotely brings up the issue of innocent Pakistani civilians massacred by Bangladesh nationalist militia groups during Bangladesh’s liberation war, I lost family I never got to meet (War was 71, I was born in 84) in that war. Tens of thousands of West Pakistani Civilians were brutally massacred especially in Dhaka and Chittagong. Those that survived, were either forcibly evicted from their homes based purely on their ethnicity, or were made stateless, like the condition the Bihari’s had to endure. To my Bengali brothers, great injustice was done by the armed forces of my country against your people, many today still wonder why public pressure was not put on the military to stop atrocities in the East, I fully agree that all War Crimes must be investigated and everyone responsible should be tried in a court of law, this should include war crimes against West Pakistani Civilians by Bengali militias as well. If your counting loss of civilian lives, do not discriminate against Bengali and Non Bengali. Recommend

  • Realist
    Feb 21, 2011 - 11:10AM

    Bengalis won their independence from Pakistan after a long and bloody struggle paying with hundreds of thousands of Bengali lives. What did the filmmakers exactly expect? Recommend

  • sudhir
    Feb 21, 2011 - 11:21AM

    It is a non serious as film’s romantic storyline undermines the suffering of Bangalis during the war.So it must be bannedRecommend

  • Deen Sheikh
    Feb 21, 2011 - 2:12PM

    Basically the commentators above are trying to say 2 people can not fall in love from opposing backgrounds in a time of war?Recommend

  • Raqib Ali
    Feb 21, 2011 - 2:37PM

    I fully agree with Deen Sheikh. People can fall in love… it happens..

    All war crimes must be investigated without any discrimination. Let’s start sooner than later. Recommend

  • Ben
    Feb 21, 2011 - 10:02PM

    It reminds us of the touching line of the famous poem of Faiz. The bitterness will not go away easily. How many rain showers it will take to wash away the bloodstains in Bangladesh: FaizRecommend

  • Feb 21, 2011 - 11:57PM

    I have heard that it is an excellent film, from a film sense. However, I can understand that in the social backdrop of the war tribunals and the pain being reopened…. its just a very bad time for the release.

    Right now, the country is suffering through finding justice for 200,000 rapes and 3 million deaths by Pakistani soldiers. Those are some heart wrenching numbers and whether the Pakistanis believe them to be correct or not is less important than the fact that the Bangladeshis believe them and are suffering the grief of them. They are in no mood to think of the few who may have been humane, who may have loved, who may have refused to harm them. Plain bad timing.

    At the risk of sounding rude, as a non-Pakistani, it is more horrifying for me that Pakistan is not only unapologetic about the genocide and horrifying abuses, but they mostly insult the Bangladeshis when they imply that it didn’t happen at all or that it wasn’t all that bad. You are a country seeing pain up close and personal right now. Is it too much to ask to respect the pain of an entire country – that too, one that was once a part of you?Recommend

  • Feb 22, 2011 - 12:09AM

    @Goga True. Love happens. So would Pakistan accept a story from the Partition where a Pakistani girl falls in love with an Indian Muslim soldier? Or is it only Pakistan that has suffered wrongs they can’t forgive?Recommend

  • rehan
    Feb 22, 2011 - 3:13AM

    Common sense failed to prevail.For it to be a BLOCKBUSTER,the woman could’ve been a ‘Pakistani’ and the man a ‘Liberation Fighter’.So simple,STUPID. Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Feb 23, 2011 - 6:54PM

    The comments smack of gender bias. As though women are commodities.Recommend

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