Shooting a film in Burma is impossible. And if it is about Nobel Peace Prize awardee, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is at the core of Burma’s democratic movement and has even faced house arrest over the past decade now is even more difficult.
But actor Michelle Yeoh and director Luc Besson were clear they wanted to “tell her story” and they literally did everything – “including lying, stealing” – it took to make it happen. The film, titled The Lady, was the closing movie at IFFI in Goa this year.
Luc reveals, “I went to Burma as a tourist twice and was there for a couple of days. I took the train, went to Bagal and a couple of places. Before we started shooting, I went to steal a couple of shots in Burma, Yangon and temples to get some real footage from that time. If it was a democratic country, then I would fill my papers to get normal authorisation, but here I couldn’t.”
Michelle was even deported from Burma earlier this year, allegedly for her portrayal of the Burmese Pro-democracy leader. Of her meeting with Aung, she recalls, “It was like meeting my hero; someone who is an inspiration in real life. She exudes warmth, inner strength and peace and was very curious about us. She asked questions about our family and what was happening in our country. I felt like I was with a family member because she made me feel at home.”
Even when the duo were filming in Thailand, they had to “be quiet and under the radar.” Michelle remembers, “Luc changed all the names in the script and pretended to film a normal love story. We didn’t want to embarrass the Thai authorities because they were very nice and welcoming. So yes, we cheated a little bit. It was just a way of preserving the good relationship between Burma and Thailand.”
It took Rebecca Frayn, the writer of the film, a period of three years of gathering information and doing interviews with key figures in Aung’s entourage to enable her to reconstruct the true story of Burma’s national heroine. Michelle and Luc regret that they won’t be able to meet the Dalai Lama during their trip now, but would love to show him the film since he is a great supporter of Aung.