Only a handful of filmmakers manage to win the coveted National Award with their debut film. Not only did actor-turned-director Churni Ganguly win the National Award for best Bengali feature film but also proved her mettle as a storyteller in her debut film, Nirbashito. That's not all. She has also quite intelligently tackled the subject of banishment (Taslima Nasreen's exile) in the film. Churni, who has acted in films such as Laptop, Shabdo and Rang Milanti, is elated because her actor-director and husband Kaushik Ganguly, too, bagged a National Award for Chhotoder Chhobi this year.
On a sultry afternoon, HT met Churni at her Garia home, as she spoke on freedom of expression, struggles of a woman and more: Excerpts:
Nirbashito, which is about freedom of expression, was adjudged the best feature film in Bengali at the National Awards on March 24. The same day, the Supreme Court also struck down Section 66A of IT Act (which allowed arrest for offensive content on the internet).
Yes, it was a special day and I will never forget the date. After it was confirmed that Nirbashito has been conferred the National Award, I immediately called up Taslima di. She told me that the Supreme Court has scrapped 66A of IT Act. Freedom of expression won that day.
The film bears a strong resemblance to the life of Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. Yet, you haven't named the protagonist in the film.
This is not a biopic on Taslima Nasreen. I have already mentioned that earlier. Since it's not a biopic, I haven't given the protagonist a name. A lot of fiction has been weaved into the story. The film talks about the power of woman. Her struggles start the very day she is born. If a woman has an opinion, she will be ostracised, which is also a kind of exile. A country comprises men and women. If we take away the freedom of expression from a woman, it's also a kind of exile… it's the death of democracy. If I can't express my opinion freely, I gradually cease to form opinions. Even in today's society, women hesitate to form a free opinion. So, the film speaks for those women who have gone ahead and expressed their opinion. It speaks of gender equality and patriarchy. Many women who can't protest have found a voice in Taslima. So, the film is dedicated to every woman.
The banishment of Taslima inspired me. She leads a claustrophobic life yet never stops voicing her opinion. Kaushik (Ganguly) had earlier thought of making a film on the subject. We have been toying with the idea for a long time. Somehow it didn't happen. I told him that I want to work on the idea. The concept of the film might make people think but there's nothing controversial in the film.
Everything about exiled author, Taslima Nasreen, is controversial.
All I can say is that Nirbashito has a human story. It speaks of motherly love that the author has for her pet cat. I have given an insight into the exiled author's life through her poetry. Whenever we speak of Taslima, we tend to bring in controversial elements into it. But at the end of the day she is a human being and I have tried to explore those facets of her personality. The controversial elements of her life have garnered a lot of attention, so I didn't feel the need to explore them again. There are scenes where we present Taslima's opinion too. It's a balanced film. One must know what goes against her and also what she stands for. However, I don't endorse banishment. I believe you can have an opinion not similar to her opinion, but there are other ways to answer that. There's a dialogue in the film which says burning vehicles on the road is not a way to protest. There's another dialogue which says invariably that sword wins. But I believe the pen should win. There can be debates, write ups but not banishment.
Banishment reminds us of author Salman Rushdie and artiste Maqbool Fida Husain.
One has the freedom of expression and at times, it might hurt another person. But he or she shouldn't be ostracised. It's not possible to pacify everyone. Banishment is not the way. There has to a softer way to deal with it. When you ban a film, the curiosity to watch the film increases manifold. So, whenever the film is available on the internet, everyone jumps in to watch it. My film is a tribute to Maqbool Fida Husain. Salman Rushdie also gets mentioned in a pivotal scene.
What was Taslima Nasreen's reaction after watching the film?
It was an emotional moment for her. She didn't react to the fact that we haven't used her name because she knew the film has a lot of fiction. We have taken cinematic licence to make the film.
What made you cast yourself in the lead role?
Initially, I didn't want to cast myself in my debut film. I wanted to take somebody who bears resemblance to Taslima. During the narration, a few of my friends from the film fraternity told me that I am apt to play the character. Since I was also the director, I had to write a lot of directorial inputs in the script so that my team had no difficulty in understanding my suggestions while shooting the film.
The concept of the film belongs to Kaushik Ganguly. How did he help you while making the film?
After I narrated the first draft of the film, he was so pleased that he wanted to make a film on it. But I refused to part with it (smiles). When we went into pre-production, he was busy with Apur Panchali. Both of us shared the same directorial team and it was chaos. He went away with the directorial team to shoot for Khaad. I was really upset at one point. But later, he was proud of the fact that I had managed everything on my own.