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Where fiery prostitutes lead the way

Scenes from Srijit Mukherjee’s Bengali film Rajkahini , which has a stellar cast, including established names such as Saswata Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta and Rudranil Ghosh  

hen Srijit Mukherjee writes the script of any of his films, he usually writes two. One in his mother tongue Bengali in which he has made all his films and the other in Hindi. It’s the writer-director’s inherent “greed to tell the story to a greater number of people” that has resulted in this peculiar, compulsive habit.

If he were to get a chance to make a film in Hindi, he would have a script ready. It hasn’t happened once in his five-year career – in which he has made six films – although there were rumours that he had got an offer to remake his debut film Autograph , a game-changer of sorts in recent Bengali commercial cinema.

Until Mahesh Bhatt saw his latest film Rajkahini , a sprawling partition drama, and mighty impressed, decided it needed to be remade in Hindi. “He saw it and made half of the Mumbai film industry see it. Vidya Balan, Imtiaz Ali and Sudhir Mishra raved about it. And the responses prompted Mr Bhatt to remake it in Hindi. The story belongs not just to a region but must reach out to the nation,” Mukherjee says over the phone from Kolkata.

Rajkahini revolves around a brothel during India’s independence that finds itself torn apart by the border that is to be drawn to separate India and Pakistan.

The film uses the whorehouse as a metaphor, a place where people from all castes and creed are welcome, as opposed to the artificial barriers that humans create. The fiery gang of prostitutes, led by the kohl-eyed, hookah-smoking, rough but practical Begum Jaan, are really the heroes of Rajkahini.

The film is playing at festivals under the name No Woman’s Land ; it was shown at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival, International Film Festival of India and will be shown in the competition section at the upcoming Kerala International Film Festival and Delhi Film Festival.

The Bengali film, that has a stellar cast, including established names such as Saswata Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta and Rudranil Ghosh, is having a good run at the box office in West Bengal.

Rituparna Sengupta, who plays Begum Jaan in the original Bengali film, says, “It [the whorehouse] becomes a metaphor for the plurality of India. In fact, there is a scene where my character says that the whorehouse is my nation and I won’t let you divide it.”

It’s easy to understand why the film appealed to Bhatt. It’s the kind of hard-hitting subject that interests him, or rather used to interest him, as a filmmaker in the past when he used to make films such as Arth and Saaransh .

Pan-India audience

What makes it adaptable for a pan-Indian audience is its subject: the theme of partition, a tragedy that is etched in the collective consciousness of the nation.

“They say that wisdom is hidden somewhere in the dark caves you shudder to enter. But I don’t think a nation which looks away from the dark chapters of its past, can come to the threshold of life,” says Bhatt in his trademark hyperbolic fashion adding, “When we study the history, we usually get an aerial view and claim to have understood everything. Srijit looks at it through the eyes of those who lay under the boots of history, those who are marginalised and suffered in the ground and questioned the incomprehensibility of the partition,” In the Hindi remake, instead of the eastern border, the action will shift to the western borders between India and Pakistan. The brothel will become like a microcosm for India, with linguistic representation from the entire country.

New actors

New actors – no cast member will be repeated, Mukherjee told us – are being considered. The filmmaker added that they re looking for someone “big, with charisma” to play the character of Begum Jaan. Balan’s comments of praise on the film, her association with Bhatt’s production house and the kind of roles she shows interest in, makes her the frontrunner for the part.



The whorehouse in the movie becomes a metaphor for the plurality of India, a place where all are welcome




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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 9:25:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/where-fiery-prostitutes-lead-the-way/article7943811.ece

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