FRIDAY REVIEW

Provoked to murder

ZIYA US SALAM

Jagmohan Mundhra's `Provoked,' releasing today, is a tale many women can relate to.

A beauty queen from a Muslim country walked up to Jagmohan Mundhra at the end of a special screening of `Provoked' and wept. It was her story, she said. A schoolteacher in Maharashtra sent Mundhra a text message saying it was her story. Then a South East Asian working woman confided in a journalist that `Provoked' felt like her story. Finally, `Provoked,' the story that so many women can relate to, is out. It is releasing across the country today. And director Mundhra could not have been happier. Nor too, Kiranjit Singh Ahluwalia, the woman at the centre of it all. A law student, she put up with the abuses and beatings of her husband for a decade, until one day she dared to kill the man who used to torture her every day, and had even burnt her with an iron. "I felt free in the prison," she says. And this gives the film its punchline.

Not smooth sailing

However, it was not all smooth sailing. Says Mundhra, "I finished my work a year ago, screened the film at Cannes. However, it took me sometime to release the film here because the Indian distributors are not believers in non-formula films. I have set the film in English because the film shows an issue that changed the British law. "Keeping in mind the country and the protagonists, the original language had to be in English. We dubbed it in Hindi and Punjabi because the issue of domestic violence affects us all. It does not belong to the so-called economically poor class." ``Unfortunately, women are not ready to speak about it yet. There is something called ghar ki izzat (family honour), a conspiracy of silence. I hail Kiranjit's courage for breaking that silence."How did the film come about? Recalls Kiranjit, on a visit to Delhi before the release, "I think it was Christmas, about a year and half ago. My co-writer rang me up saying Jagmohan Mundhra wanted to make a film on my book... I was stunned. I said `yes' because across the world so many women are being killed by their partners."The film is based on the book "Circle of Light," Kiranjit's literary essay on her life. "The film is inspired from that but cinema has its own [way] of telling the story. The incidents are real, the hot iron incident is well documented. We have reproduced the beatings and the push down the stairs. But there are many characters in the book that had to be composited into one. We have taken no liberties with facts."But didn't Mundhra take liberties for the sake of the market? "You take liberty when you rope in Aishwarya Rai. But the idea was to catch the essence of Kiranjit. There are a lot of good actresses but nobody like Aishwarya. She chose the subject. She is a brand name, recognised the world over. For Aishwarya, her beauty is her currency as also her curse. Nobody can see beyond her beauty. As for `Provoked', so many people are interested in it because of Aishwarya. Already more people know about it than `Bawander'." Bawander, incidentally, is Mundhra's previous film with Nandita Das in the lead role. How does Kiranjit like Aishwarya as herself in the film? " She has done a very good job. I met her before they finished the shooting. Definitely, she has shown the pain of my life [on] her face. She has portrayed Kiranjit in a real manner." Isn't the issue of domestic violence politicised?Mundhra has a take. "To some extent that is true. But then even the Nithari incident was politicised. In a multi-layered film you expose all these things. When I made `Kamla' and other films, financial realities took over. My daughter was five, for her future I went back to teach again. Our industry is such that you do five films and one works and you get similar films. But today things are better for independent filmmakers and there is a market for niche films. `Bawander' would have done better now with multiplexes. Thanks to them it is possible to get an outlet for a niche film. The audiences are changing and are not fooled by stars."Meanwhile, Kiranjit wants to bring out the book in Hindi and Punjabi. Later in Telugu, Tamil and in other languages. And Mundhra prepares to shoot for his next film, `Shoot on Sight,' starring Naseeruddin Shah, a role Amitabh Bachchan was initially supposed to do. But then again, who needs stars when the issue deserves prominence.