Reviewing Meherjaan

I had the chance to watch Meherjaan today, a Bangladeshi-directed film set within a rural 1971 warscape that does a few things well, despite causing a few cringes (whenever the modern day was portrayed) and descending to Bollywood on occasion.

It was screened in London as part of the Tongues of Fire 'Asian' film festival that runs until the end of the week. The film was bouncing around Bangladesh last year, somewhat controversially as there was a little hullabaloo about the tastefulness of the Bengali Muslim girl falling in love with a Pakistani soldier, which runs against the rape-power differential.

I hear that it was cut several times by Bangladeshi censors, and would be interested to know where exactly. I am not one of those for whom controversy necessarily translates to interest and worth, 1971 interventions, whether documentary or fictive tend to leverage too much controversy-as-publicity, so much so that its becoming a tired cliche. Too much policing of singular national narratives from all concerned.

These folks from Chittagong (below) wanted it banned last year, it hurts them and this ecology of hurt should be explored further.

Theres a lot going on, needless to say a lot of thought, research and content that's usually silenced in war stories. My framing of this is not as a pukey love story, but as a depiction an extended family seek refuge in the house of the grandfather Khwaja Saheb'who the Pakistanis, it is hoped, would never dare to defy. You could watch this as a family as certain cuts will appeal to the Bollywoodised, the habitual melodramatic soap watcher, the artist, the airhead, the joker and the wannabe mystic. Elder murrabis who aren't particularly enamored by #Mukticrap might enjoy it if you can distract them during the more purile love sequences.

Significantly, and in a welcome nonsecular turn, Quranic ethics get frontlined on several occasions. Khwaja Saheb's socio-ecological akhlaq is shown as sculpted by that repeated refrain in Surah Rahman "Which of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?"

Contrast this with Meher's unsuccessful suitor, a plump mollycoddled middleclass Dhaka boy who doubles up as a part time Mukti fighter and roams around the village with a very different comportment.

I found some of the gender relations unbelievable, we don't do open touchy things between unmarried people, was this just Bollywoodification or am I missing something?

Coming from a family with very heterogeneous experiences of 1971-times, I appreciate the durable and variegated moving image the film tries to portray, even as I dislike the stupid annoying women that generally feature. It is an image that seldom finds a cultural platform in Bangladesh. Like a rape victim tooling up and going to war, not waiting to be commodified.

Meherjaan established layers of meaning where a film like Matir Moyna (The Clay Bird) by late Tareque Masud) did not and would not tread. I suggest that this has to do with the class composition and epistemystique (politics of learning) of the film-makers and characters. We were shown bloodymindedness, fleeting glimpses of pre-Bangla Movement politics (God Forbid!), Lalon Shah,  Faiz Ahmed Faiz (that song about the intimate familiarity) and a sympathetic characterisation of an ageing Aligharian land owner. The Clay Bird was more coherent and magnificently made, but simplistic.

Emanating from director Rubayiyat Hossain's Master's research and humanrightsism, its an early film from a young female film maker. It did a good job of humanising the elements of the experience that misguided nationalisms have reduced to '200 000 of our women were raped by Pakistanis, now lets hang the Razakars'.

This line of dialogue did significant work for me.

"Some of you speak of Communism, others Socialism and Secularism, don't you realise that these are all ideas you have borrowed from the west? Have any of you actually asked the people (here) what they want?"
Hossain leaves the audience with a cliffhanger that fascinates me but must annoy the hell out of Liberation Capitalists. Whodunnit? The Mukti, or the Pak army?

Dear Land of my forefathers and cousins, more like this please, so much to explore and make sense of.
But please next time teach the Hindu actors how to pray properly and try to get less lame actresses to man the Dhaka flashing back device.

This Sunday the Brick Lane Circle host Yasmin Saikia at the Davenent Centre, she will be reflecting on her field research amongst the multiculture of rape victims, rapists and witnesses.

I would recommend going to see Abu, Son of Adam also, a Malayalam language film demonstrating a fine Islamic principle, one that should condition our selves to be developmentia-proof.

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