The pen is mightier

On screen this week: A film about exiled writer Taslima Nasreen and her cat

In May, 'Nirbashito' won the National Award for Best Bengali Film.

On August 14, Nirbashito (Banished), the film inspired by the life in exile of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen and her pet cat, will be screened for the “audiences it was meant for”. This privilege, says debutant director Churni Ganguly, is for the city of Kolkata, where Nasreen lived between 2004 and 2007 after a decade of exile in the West following death threats from religious groups in her own country.

Nasreen often called Kolkata her home because of the generosity the city showed towards her at that difficult time and because of the linguistic and cultural legacy it shares with Bangladesh. She was understandably disappointed when violent protests erupted in 2008 against her, forcing her to flee to Delhi. After months of being what amounted to house arrest, she departed for the West again.

Nirbashito has been winning praise at film festivals and in May bagged the National Award for Best Bengali Film. “We have been travelling a fair bit with the film and the response has been great,” said Ganguly, who plays the lead role and has also written the script. “But it is always important to screen it in your own city and see how people connect to it.”

Ganguly has been a formidable presence as an actress in Bengali cinema and television for her strong, author-backed roles. “It is not a biopic but a film inspired by the exiled author whose works I have been following over the years,” she said. Ganguly is anxious to see how critical Kolkata responds to the poetry used extensively in the film. “I think there is not much that is lost in translation,” she said.

The other star of Nirbashito is a cat that is called Baghini (Tigress) in the film, which is inspired by the travails of Nasreen’s pet Minu, who was separated from her owner when she was forced to flee. “In the film, Baghini fights for her mother, she is a metaphor,” explained Ganguly.

Baghini apparently fell in love with Ganguly.  “How else would you explain the perfect shots she gave us in the film?” said the filmmaker. “Thanks to her, we did not have to spend a single penny on special effects.”

The woman who inspired Ganguly to turn director has already watched the film twice.  “I met Nasreen at the place where she is, we watched the film once in the afternoon and then later in the night,” the filmmaker said. “She laughed, she cried and was completely overwhelmed. This is not a hagiography. It is at times critical of her, at times speaks of her struggle. It is my interpretation of her life and work. And she wanted to write something about it immediately.”

Added Ganguly, “It was a moment I will cherish forever.”

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