Suu Kyi: About a lady

Published: December 4, 2011
Michell Yoeh learnt Burmese to better play her part. PHOTO: FILE

Michell Yoeh learnt Burmese to better play her part. PHOTO: FILE

PARIS: Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi got a celluloid reincarnation on December 30 when a film version of her life by Fifth Element and The Big Blue director Luc Besson was released in France.

Malaysian star Michelle Yeoh, a former ‘Bond girl’, plays The Lady in a two-hour biopic that focuses on the private life of Suu Kyi, her British husband Michael Aris and their two sons.

Suu Kyi’s struggle for her country came at a high personal cost. Her husband died in 1999 in Britain, and in the final stages of his battle with cancer the Myanmar junta denied him a visa to see his wife.

Suu Kyi refused to leave Myanmar to see him, certain she would never have been allowed to return.

The daughter of Myanmar’s assassinated independence hero General Aung San, Suu Kyi began her own political career late after spending much of her life abroad. She studied at Oxford University, had two sons after marrying Aris and looked like she was going to settle into life in Britain.

But when she returned to Yangon in 1988 to nurse her sick mother, protests erupted against the military, which ended with a brutal crackdown that left at least 3,000 dead. She took a leading role in the pro-democracy movement, delivering speeches to crowds of hundreds of thousands. This is the point where Besson’s film takes up her story.

Michelle Yeoh, who learned Burmese to help her play the part, said she finally got to meet Suu Kyi at her crumbling lakeside mansion in Yangon, where she was under house arrest, as filming was winding down in Thailand. “She walked up to me to embrace me and take my hand,” she said. “She looks fragile but she emanates great strength.”

Besson also met the subject of his film after her release last November, when filming on the project had already finished. Suu Kyi told Besson that she was not yet ready to watch the two-hour film which covers the deaths of her father and her husband. “She told me ‘I’ll see it when I’m courageous enough,’” he said earlier this month. But one of her sons has seen it and “was very moved,” the director added.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.

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