'A craving for my identity'

Anupam Kher, Munsur Ali and Asia Argento who cametogether for Shongram. Photo: Special Arrangement

Anupam Kher, Munsur Ali and Asia Argento who cametogether for Shongram. Photo: Special Arrangement  


British film director Munsur Ali’s first feature film, Shongram , drew wide praise at the 21st Kolkata International Film Festival, which came to a close on Sunday.

The director describes the film as the first attempt to take the story of the Bangladesh’s War of Independence (1971) to an international platform. With a global cast of actors, including Anupam Kher and Asia Argento, the romantic drama has been screened at a number of film festivals in the U.K.

In an exclusive interview with The Hindu , Munsur Ali spoke to Shiv Sahay Singh about how the film has been a fascinating journey that satisfied his craving for identity.

You went to London from Bangladesh when you were two years old… why did you make the film on Bangladesh’s Liberation War?

My father was born in British India before Partition, so technically he was British Indian. Then after participation, he became an East Pakistani. In 1971, he became a Bangladeshi citizen. He got U.K. citizenship in the 1950s but that was like dual citizenship. Afterwards he gave up the other citizenships and became a British citizen. So he had his identity changed four times in a few decades.

For me, the film was about finding my own roots and satisfying the craving for my own identity. I grew up in East London, which was a very racist place in the 1980s. When I was 18-19 years old, I seriously questioned my own identity... For me it is important that I know my roots now, I know where I come from. For me, it is self exploration.

What is the research which went into the film and why the title Shongram?

My mother and father always used the term Shongram, this happened during the Shongram.. I used to think that Shongrom is struggle, it could have been any struggle but for them the term Shongram was synonymous with 1971.

The research included talking to people of the liberation army, researchers, victims of the war, people in the Pakistani Army who are in the U.K. and going through lot of material on the war.

We also managed to get an original, 1971 NBC news report from March 26, that is when Operation Searchlight started. It is 60 seconds long and that is the first thing you see in the film. It talks of 200 years of British rule, Partition and the context of the Liberation War is developed from there.

This is your first film and you have managed a big start. How was that possible?

For me, it was nerve wracking. But the success, I think, was that it was about an untold story for a mainstream audience. The story has been told in Bangladesh a number of times but nothing like this has been attempted at the international level.

We approached them — Anupam Kher, he knew about it, but Asia Argento said what is this Liberation War? That is when I told her that according to the Bangladesh government three million people were killed, two hundred thousand women violated and eight to nine million people mainly Hindu Bengalis displaced.

This was shocking to her and she said, how did we not know about it? We know so much about the WWII but after that, this was the biggest genocide. The year 1971 is also such a relevant and modern period. People who had to bear the emotional scars are still alive.

How have you used fictional characters to recreate 1971?

The film is about a British Bangladeshi played by Anupam Kher and he gets interviewed on his deathbed by a journalist played by Asia Argento. It is his flashback and how the war comes and affects him and he is forced to join the movement.

It is also a love story. There is a Muslim boy, a Hindu girl and both their fathers fought against the British, and because of 1971 there is a massive shift.

The war breaks friendships and families. So it is a complicated narrative of political, historical and romantic overtones.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 8:07:49 AM |

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