The first poster of Rahat Kazmi’s feature film adaptation of Ismat Chugtai’s Urdu short story Lihaaf was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday. Co-produced by Kazmi, Oscar-winning producer Marc Baschet and others, Lihaaf features Tannishtha Chatterjee, Sonal Sehgal, Namita Lal, Mir Sarwar and Shoib Nikash in key roles.
Written in 1942, Lihaaf tells the story of the lonely Begum Jaan, who turns to her masseuse Rabbo for comfort and support. Lihaaf is narrated by Begum Jaan’s teenage niece, who is traumatised when she learns of the nature of her aunt’s relationship with Rabbo. The book, with veiled references to homosexuality, caused tremendous controversy when it was released and Chughtai was required to defend her work in court.
Baschet told Mid-Day that he had been impressed by the story. “Ismat was ahead of her time, which is why I am not surprised that she was slapped with a legal notice for depicting obscenity in her story,” he said. “However, she refused to apologise and defended herself for three years in a Lahore court. Ultimately, she won.”
Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya (2013) makes a subtle reference to Chughtai’s story in its depiction of the relationship between Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) and her maid Muniya (Huma Qureshi).