“How many rain showers will wash away the bloodstains in Bangladesh” (khoon ke dhabbey dhulein ge kitni barsaaton ke baad) is a touching line of a famous poem of Faiz Ahmed Faiz? The romanticism of India’s friendship as a liberator was soon over for Bengalis after creation of Bangladesh but it seems it will take ages to heal the wounds of a bitter war between two wings of the same country. This bitterness is so strong that it is still considered blasphemous in Bangladesh to merely mention Pakistan Army in a soft note even in fictions and movies. 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.”
It will be futile to tell Bengalis that their own countrymen who had interacted with India during their freedom struggle had noted the facts and myths of the history books written during the time of Bangla Bundhoo. It is time that history books are rewritten to lessen the bitterness.