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Revisiting Mrityunajay Devvrat’s Children Of War As It Turns 9



In one of the many mind-numbing images in this exceptionally vivid work on the wages of war, the back of a truck is  jolted open and out falls a tumble of women one on top of another at a Pakistani prisoner camp for Bangladeshi women run by a despicable tyrant who could be the Nazi mass murder  Ralph  Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

But no.It’s Pavan Malhotra, brilliantly evil and slimy as the man who believes that if Pakistani soldiers  rape and impregnate enough Bangladeshi women  , the separatists and  freedom fighters would stop dreaming of their own home-land. This is the irrational,  blood-soaked ravaged Pakistan of 1971 when Bangladesh was born out of the most horrific violence perpetrated against humanity.

Very often as I watched debutant director Mrityunjay Devvrat’s stunning film I was reminded  of the great anti-Nazi films, like Alan Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice ,Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far , and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. I  was also reminded of Nandita Das’s Firaaq about Gujarat’s 2002 genocide where a truckload of corpses had tumbled out. The difference is,the women who fall from the truck like trash from a garbage van in Children Of War are alive.

They might as well be dead. As these Bangladeshi women, played by actresses of various ages  from 12 to 40 who seem to live every second of the agony, are raped repeatedly you wonder how low human beings can fall when given unlimited power.Rape as a tool of oppression has never served a more brutal purpose in any other film except Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen. And you wonder why the man or woman who sits in the boss’ chair in the corporate organization  is no different from the leery neo-Nazi from the Pakistani concentration camp who supervises the mass rape of Bangladesh women.

Children Of War shows how and why absolute power corrupts absolutely. Revisiting the Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971 it recreates with nervewracking vividness the horrors of those times when suddenly a whole civilization was threatened with extinction.The director spares us none of the agonizing details.Why should he? When humanity suffered  first-world countries turned their faces away.It’s time to face the music.

The unannounced midnight knock and the graphic rape that follows, the brutal slayings of refugees on the run as they are intercepted and shot pointblank(in slow motion) on a river bridge as they try to escape, the leery Nazi-like army man peeing into war prisoner’s face….War never seemed more like a personal and political violation.

This is not a film for the squeamish . But then war was ever meant for the civilized. The sheer incivility of a strife where one bully-section of a country decides to teach another  section of the people a lesson, is captured in layer after layer of unstrapped brilliance portraying the complete collapse of compassion.

 The film is littered with passages of unbearable pain  and, yes agonizing beauty. It is an indelible irony of all visual arts that human hurt makes for great visuals. The lush lyricism that Mrityunjay Devvrat supplants to the suffering never takes from the powerful statement on pain and suffering  . Cinematographer Fasahat Khan shoots the chilling nights with prowling predators and ravaged women captured together to emblematize the essential conflict between sexual aggression and vulnerable victims.

There is no manipulation here in the merger of the murky and the magnificent. They have co-existed from time-immemorial. In this film the ugly and the cherishable are so close together you can touch both and come away a changed  film-viewer. The plot moves across several epic conflicts simultaneously. There is a teenager Rafiq (played with heartrending vulnerability by Riddhi Sen) who loses his entire family and his home and is left with only a sister(Rucha Inamdar) to flee from the brutality of his homeland to the relative safety of India.

Rafiq’s journey becomes a metaphor of Bangladesh’s feral fight to freedom.While the director has made extensive and telling use  of documentary footage(including Mrs Indira Gandhi’s rationale for Indian intervention in Bangladesh) , there are many passages of unbounded symbolism leaping out  of the screen. I was specially fascinated by a boat journey across a blood-soaked tell-tale river where a girl ‘sees’ ghosts and other casualties of  war violence as they jostle tell her, it is not over yet.

At times like these Mrityunjay Devvrat seems to echo the pain-lashed operatic cinema of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.A trueblue epic of mind-numbing intensity Children Of War is the kind of cinema that David Lean would have attempted were he  a first-hand witness to the barbarism that went into the formation of Bangladesh. The film’s brutal brilliance and spiralling structure if dread  doom and devastation make you wonder how first-time director Mriyunjay Devvrat could muster such a masterly vision  of human oppression and resilience.

At heart this is a conventional lovely story of a couple(Indraneil Sengupta & Raima Sen) separated by sudden war. Standing forlorn  silhouetted by barbed wires in a concentration camp designed in Hitler’s twisted mind,Raima sometimes looks way too beautiful to be a victim. She can’t help it. Along with her every member of the cast rises above his or her  personality to become part of the director’s epic design. Special mention must be made of Pavan Malhotra,Tilotama Shome(playing a human bomb), Riddhi Sen(so young and so much pain!) and Victor Bannerjee in a memorable cameo as a traveling refugeem reminds us that humanism  and barbarism are neighbours.

Aiding the actors to achieve the acme of authenticity is the film’s mesmeric sound-design and music. In one harrowingly graphic sequence a rock-anthem reverberates across the skyline as drains filled with blood tell sagas  of the savagery that awaits just outside  our homes .

Genocide is not only history. It is what a country gets when intolerance is encouraged by political interests.There are visuals and sounds of pain and anguish in this turbulent treatise on one of history’s worst atrocities that will stay with me forever.

It is impossible to believe that this war epic has been directed by a first-time filmmaker.How can a virgin artiste conceive such a vivid portrait of the rape of a civilization?This isn’t really a film. It’s a work of art, tempestuous and terrific.Yes, this is a masterpiece.

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