Man likes to re-visit history from time to time for various reasons and a filmmaker also follows this diktat on and off. I for one have always had a fascination for history as I believe we have a natural curiosity to know more about what happened to us in the past, maybe somewhere among the tales from the past there could be a lesson or two that we could keep in mind for the future. Post the partition of India in 1947 and the subsequent creation of Pakistan, the two neighbouring countries have been at odds on various occasions, leading to wars both formally and covertly. But in 1971 the phenomena observed was an exception, India went to war with Pakistan once again (after 1965) but this time the cause being something that was never a direct bone of contention between the 2 Nations. Bangladesh or East Pakistan as it was earlier known as, was fighting its War of Liberation with Pakistan and the Pakistani regime in an unprecedented shameful act of terror went on to unleash a mass genocide. Nearly 3 million people were reportedly killed and about 4 lakh women raped, in a totally barbaric act. India’s support to the Bangladeshi liberation movement, led to a direct war with Pakistan, but also enabled the creation of Bangladesh by the end of 1971.
Even today more than 4 decades since the creation of Bangladesh we continue to hear tales of how people involved with the war crimes are still to be punished, a lot of them even having prospered over years. Considering this backdrop, Mrityunjay Devvrat’s debut film Children of war (earlier titled as The Bastard Child) is more than a relevant film and it was quite surprising to note that someone would want to start his filmmaking career with such a hard hitting subject. With the trailer being unveiled I was all the more intrigued and hooked with what was put up on display. Truth be told this was one film that I hoped would not be just an attempt to sensationalize and actually end up doing justice not just to the topic/background but in a way also stay relevant to all the people who in some way or the other have been affected directly or indirectly by the happenings of 1971.
Children of War weaves together a few tracks, all connected to the Bangladesh Liberation movement in 1971, though there is a non-linear pattern followed with an attempt to connect the happenings of 1971 with the current socio-political scenario in the country. As mandated by the Pakistani regime and in an attempt to curb the growing demand for liberation and creation of an independent Bangladesh, the Pakistani Army which was posted in Bangladesh was given absolute powers to run the country in the fashion they best deemed fit. All those who were part of the liberation movement directly or indirectly were targeted and dealt with in the cruellest of ways. When Aamir (Indraneil Sengupta), a respected journalist and a supporter of the liberation movement is enjoying a private moment with his wife Fida (Raima Sen) when in barges the Pakistani Army led by the cruel Malik (Pavan Malhotra) who goes on to rape Fida in front of Aamir. Aamir is beaten up and left to die, while Fida is packed off to a camp, reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps where is she joined by more women who have faced similar situations. Malik and the men confine the women under inhuman conditions, treating them as sexual slaves.
On the other hand we get to see Rafiq (Riddhi Sen) and his sister Kausar (Rucha Inamdar) who on realizing that they have lost all their near and dear ones decide to cross the border and enter India as suggested by their father earlier. Rafiq is fiercely protective of his sister and his single minded mission is to ensure that they safely manage to reach their destination. On the way they encounter a group of people led by Baba (Victor Banerjee) and just when they feel that they have a new family of their own, they find themselves all alone once again as catastrophe strikes and their mission is all the more strengthened. Woven around these two tales we get to see other threads primarily revolving around the liberation movement and also what’s happening in present day Bangladesh. How do all these segments interconnect and what happens to the people that the film talks about and the entire background is what the rest of the film leads to.
The film begins in spectacular fashion with archival footage of an interview of Indira Gandhi where she is brutally honest about her thoughts on the developments in Bangladesh of 1971. This sets the tone for the rest of the film to follow. Malik’s sudden entry into Aamir’s home and his rape of Fida is shown in extremely realistic fashion and there is no titillation but not only revulsion in our mind when we see it, this is probably what Mrityunjay exactly wanted us to feel. Similarly the scenes of the camp where Fida, Bhitika (Tillotama Shome) and others are kept captive are again haunting and really hard hitting. In particular I found the scene where Rafiq and Kausar are on the boat and on their way to the Indian border and with Kausar getting multiple visions of various people in the boat, to be quite impressive. Fasahat Khan’s cinematography is very impressive and he brings alive the scenes so wonderfully- be it the night scenes in the Pakistani Army camp or in the countryside in the open as Rafiq and Kausar continue their journey, there is a certain sheen that’s visible which looks commendable.
Apurva Asrani’s editing is again one of the highlights of the film as we see smart usage of scenes and moments dissolving one into the other across various points in the film. The film also is of just about the right length, very important that Apurva and Mrityunjay got this aspect right considering the kind of film that Children of War is. Sidhant Mathur’s songs and Ishaan Chhabra’s background score complement each other quite well, perfectly in sync with the nature of the film. And it was pleasantly surprising to see the usage of “Ae Ki Holo”, the popular Kishore Kumar number (also used in Hindi as Yeh Kya Hua in Amar Prem) from the 1970 Uttam Kumar Bengali hit film- Rajkumari, the song getting placed at the right moment as well. Talking of performances it is but imperative that I begin by talking about Pavan Malhotra who is simply superb as Malik, so good is his portrayal that we can’t but help hating his character from the moment he makes his entry. Raima Sen is earnest as Fida and I couldn’t but notice how lovely she looked even in her captive state :).Tillotoma Shome as the firebrand Bhitika is well cast and it’s good to see Indraneil Sengupta carry of the emotions required by Aamir pretty well.
Riddhi Sen and Rucha Inamdar are the surprise elements in the film, both getting ample footage and making good use of the same. However I’m a little unsure if the way their tale culminates could have been conveyed in a slightly better fashion, that’s something that only Mrityunjay Devvrat alone can comment upon. Joy Sengupta has absolutely nothing to do in the film and Farooque Shaikh and Victor Banerjee in their respective cameos convey how experience and class does matter. Children of War will also be remembered as probably the last film of Farooque Shaikh (unless someone brings out a film from a dusty cupboard 🙂 ); all the more reason to feel that it would have been good to see him in a longer capacity in the film. The film is hard hitting and even revolting at places, but then that’s precisely what a subject like this will and should end up doing. One of the fears I had initially before watching the film was whether the film would end up unnecessarily sensationalizing the topic, especially the mass raping angle but thankfully the fears vanish as the film unravels. A film on war crime will be disturbing, but it needs a competent pair of hands to keep the momentum going the right way.
That Mrityunjay Devvrat has managed to tread the road less travelled and deliver an impactful film on such a relevant topic is by itself a victory for him and his team. What’s even more heartening is that he has managed to pull out this effort in his very first outing as a filmmaker, making the attempt all the more praiseworthy. On a parting note I wonder why Mrityunjay did not chose to make the film as a bi-lingual, with a version in Bengali as well considering the basic premise. I guess I’ll reserve this question for Mrityunjay himself one day. For now I’d suggest that Children of War is a film that’s well worth your time and money this weekend, so go for it especially if you are a serious lover of cinema. Efforts like this can do with all the encouragement folks!