Meherjaan: A Story of War and Love

DHAKA – A Bangladeshi film about a love affair set in the backdrop of the 1971 liberation 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, an Indian actor of Bengali descent, working in Hindi, Bengali and some English language films, and Jaya Bachchan, wife of Indian movie star Amitabh Bachchan, was released last month to critical acclaim.
But the plot, charting a romance between a local girl and a soldier of the Pakistan Army, has hit a raw nerve in Bangladesh, where a new war crimes tribunal has just begun prosecuting suspected collaborators. “I fought in the liberation war but after we released this film, my fellow freedom fighters called me a collaborator and traitor,” said Habibur Rahman Khan, owner of the film’s distribution company.
“We’ve stopped distributing the film because critics said it degraded the sufferings of the Bangladeshi women raped in the war,” he said. In the film, Meherjaan, a Bangladeshi girl, falls in love with a soldier who gets court-martialled for refusing to participate in the war. A barrage of criticism in the local press and on the Internet said the film’s romantic storyline undermined the suffering of the estimated 200,000 women raped during the war.
“Meherjaan has insulted the spirit of the country’s liberation war and our history,” said four writers, including a woman who was allegedly raped during the war, 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 soldier, has been unofficially banned, said Farzana Boby, an assistant director on the film. “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.
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,” said Chasi Nazrul Islam, the film director. “We get stronger if we listen to all voices,” he said.



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