Film Mehrunisa has women fighting deep-rooted patriarchy

By Neeru Saluja

Writer-director Sandeep Kumar has created history with his film ”˜Mehrunisa’ by casting an 88-year-old actress in the lead role. For actress Farrukh Jaffar the lead role was a first in her 40-year film career which has included movies like Umrao Jaan, Peepli Live and Gulabo Sitabo

An   Austrian   production   shot   in   the   historic   city   of   Lucknow, India, Mehrunisa   is   the   story   of   three   generations   of   Indian   women   fighting the deep-rooted patriarchy in the Indian film industry. Starring legendary octogenarian Farrukh Jaffar in the lead role (for the first time in her 40-year-career),   the   film   traces   the   journey   of   a   family   matriarch   who   finds personal   and   professional   liberation   after   the   death   of   her   dominant husband, ultimately serving as a role model for women of all ages across the country.

Mehrunisa  was premiered on 20 January at the International Film Festival of India in Goa.

Excerpts from the interviews with actress Farrukh Jaffar and director, Sandeep Kumar of ‘Mehrunisa’:

Farrukh Jaffer

Farrukh Jaffer with grand daughter

When you received the script for the lead role, what were your first thoughts?

I found the script really good because in the showbiz industry, the focus is on the youth, beauty and glamour of the female actress. But the director Sandeep’s script is about an 88-year-old’s dreams and emotions. This was in contrary to how today’s society behaves, as you are forgotten once you become frail and slow. Also, I did see myself in the story and so I signed up.

This film was shot in 25 days. Did you face any challenges?

No, it was very well planned. I had an attendant who accompanied me for the shooting and looked after my requirements. The crew also looked after me.

You are said to be in love with the camera.

I have always been glamour struck and in love with the movies. I used to love dressing up and being photographed. At times I used to watch back to back movies. In my dreams I never imagined I would appear on silver screen.

People loved you in Gulabo Sitabo. In real life are you full of life and have your own will?

Yes, I don’t listen to anyone and do what I feel like doing. I remember when I was shooting with Rekha for Umrao Jaan, I changed the script and our dialogues. I told her if you have any objection, let me know! I met Rekha a few years ago at the screening for ”˜Secret Superstar’ where she lovingly called herself as my daughter.

What would you like to say to your fans?

Don’t ever be disappointed with your life. You should always have hope. Work hard and it will always bear fruit.

Sandeep Kumar

What inspired you to make this film?

I used to wonder what happened to all the yesteryear’s actresses. They were seen as mothers or aunties, but not in lead roles compared to European films. It made me realize how male dominated our industry is. That’s how the idea came up and I wanted to make a woman-centric film and from the senior age group.

Having an octogenarian in the lead role, did you find it hard to get your film financed?

When I took the film to Indian production houses, everyone asked who is the ”˜lead male actor’? They did have their reservations and I didn’t want to go away from the style of my direction as I was influenced by the Austrian style of filmmaking. So we went ahead with an Austrian film production with no commercial angle. We flew down with an Austrian crew in Lucknow which was an interesting experience.

Did you always have Farrukh in mind as the lead actress while writing the script?

Yes, she was always in mind as I have been a great admirer of her work. She’s been in the Indian film industry for four decades and I was surprised that she has never been offered a lead role. When she is in front of the camera, you don’t want to say ”˜cut’ as she will continue interacting with her co-actors. Her acting is organic and flows naturally and that is what I love about her. There were many scenes where we had no retakes.

Mehrunisa has a strong message coming from three generations of women fighting the patriarchal society. What change would you like to see in the film industry after people watch your film?

I hope that Mehrunisa becomes a game changer in the film industry. Filmmakers become bold in taking up stories that are not only women centric but also from the angle and perspective of elder women. 

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