The latest topic to catch filmmaker Shekhar Kapur’s fancy is the Armenian genocide, and he knows it’s going to be challenging.
Kapur’s latest film deals with the systematic extermination of minority Armenians in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) by the Ottoman Empire during and after the Great War (1915-1923). (The Armenians had been settled in Anatolia for generations after their tiny country in the Caucusus region northeast of Turkey was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1514) The event, termed genocide by Armenians the world over, caused the deaths of 1 to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in Anatolia.
Kapur had recently tweeted that he was going to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, to collect material on the event. The idea, he said, came to him from a script sent by the man who wrote Motorcyle Diaries.
“It is a part of world history though a very shameful one,” Kapur said. “The idea came to me based on a script sent to me by the screenwriter of Motorcycle Diaries (Puerto Rican Jose Rivera). I fell in love with the script. It is a challenging project though. It will require lots of money, lots of passion and organisation. But there are a lot of passionate people behind this project. So it will hopefully see the light of day,” he said.
However, filming of the movie will not start before another year, says Kapur, who is yet to begin work on his long-pending movie on water wars, Paani. The Armenian genocide is a particularly touchy topic in the political state that succeeded the Ottoman Sultanate in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s Republic of Turkey.
So taboo is the topic for both — the Turkish government and ordinary Turks, that a Nobel laureate like Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted and found himself on the hit list of a far-right Turkish group for openly stating that Turkey had committed genocide against the Armenians.
Does Kapur fear inviting similar censure? “I invited the wrath of upper castes, the government and the censor board with Bandit Queen. But I did not back down. I believe in fighting for what I believe in,” he said, adding, “Moreover there has been a shift in Turkish society. Nobody from that period is alive today. The new generation believes that their nation is great and has to move on.”