At the ongoing IFFI 2020 in Goa, three films– Mehrunisa; Hasina – A Daughter’s Tale and Thahira celebrate women empowerment in a special way
By Manjulaa Shirodkar
The ongoing International Film Festival of India (IFFI 2020) in Goa, though fairly low key this year (courtesy the pandemic) has still run up some good films which are leaving their mark on audiences. Especially if they are films related to women empowerment. There are quite a few that grab the viewer’s attention but three merit special mention: Siddik Paravoor’s Malayalam entry Thahira which made it to the Indian Panorama section; Austrian filmmaker of Indian origin Sandeep Kumar’s Mehrunisa which found its special place as the Mid-fest film and Hasina: A Daughter’s Tale an independent historical docu-feature based on the life of Sheikh Hasina, the 10th Prime Minister of Bangladesh, which features in the Country Focus section.
Of these Hasina… the docudrama is a no holds barred recollection of the travails of the first family of Bangladesh – of how Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, also known as the Father of the Nation in Bangladesh was overthrown by an Army coup and assassinated along with most of his family in 1975. The film shares how Hasina and Rehana, his daughters survived the coup and have lived to tell the tale.
However, as she recounts the days of horror with poise and sense of equanimity you realise the mettle of the current PM of Bangladesh and her determination to survive all odds and return to power – despite the trauma of losing her loved and living under constant fear of death. At a point in the film she mentions: “I don’t want to retain my memories. I think these are digressive. There’s no need for it. This is the actual harsh reality.”
Speaking of harsh reality Thahira directed by Siddik Paravoor is the story of an ordinary looking woman endowed with extraordinary grit and a beautiful soul. The film is remarkable for its simple yet sensitive portrayal of a relationship wherein Bichappu, a handsome blind man is looking for a beautiful bride but ends up finding Thahira. He discovers that beauty is a matter of perception, and that it really lies in the personality of the person, not in their looks.
As a child who was orphaned early on in life, Thahira takes on the responsibility of eking out a living for her sister and herself, without moping or feeling sorry for herself. Taking on a day at a time, she does everything that needs doing, including driving a tractor, taking care of her family without complaining and accepting both happiness and pain equally. Played by non-actors, Thahira and Bichappu are as close to real life as it gets.
Mehrunisa, Sandeep Kumar’s labour of love is all about an octogenarian lady in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh who wants to play the lead in a film where she has been offered a cameo. Mehrunisa is played by Farukh Jaffer, who has four decades of acting behind her in Hindi cinema – albeit in small roles, including that of Rekha’s mother in the Muzzaffar Ali classic Umrao Jaan. Supported by her granddaughter Aliya (played by AnkitaDubey) Mehrunisa changes the script of the film that is offered to her – putting herself in the lead and challenging the notion that only older men can play hero.
A story of three generations of women (Mehrunisa, her daughter Yasmin – played by Tulika Banerjee, and Yasmin’s daughter Aliya) all of whom have their own challenges, the film is bound by the over-arching thought of independence and self-reliance. As the bond between the grandmother and granddaughter grows, one realises that both are transformed by the other and that age is truly just a number when it comes to ambition.
All three– Hasina, Thahira and Mehrunisa, are women of strength – and their mettle is exhibited in different ways.
Driven by disparate concerns, all three impact their environs and in the case of Sheikh Hasina, the entire country. These are women of substance who take their decisions and change destinies and perceptions of those around them.
Teaching you how to survive in a world which is hostile, covert and openly opposed by turns, these three women are bound together in their determination to live life fully and completely. They evolve and grow without so much as making it sound like a movement. Its all about growth and transformation organically. And therein lies their strength.
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Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.