Saturday, October 29, 2011

On "Meherjaan: A Story of Loving the 'Other'" - The Plot

A little over a year ago, I wrote something that I don't know how to title, but it addresses the issue of "representation," of letting others represent us, of making it compulsory upon film-makers, authors, and others to present to the public an "accurate" picture of a nation or a people, of feelings, of a past. I wrote it in response to a common but not the only Pashtun reaction to The Kite Runner. I've realized that most of the Pashtuns who attack the novel do so without having read the book. How does one criticize something or praise it without having read or experienced it for themselves? How can that be possible when they're only offering the views of other people, not their own?

But that's not the point of this post. I actually want to discuss this great film I watched tonight called "MeherJaan," directed by Rubaiyat Hossain, a Bengali woman whose expertise includes the 1971 Bengal war with Pakistan and women's stories during this traumatic, disturbing time period. I loved the film for bringing women's voices and women's narratives into the story of the war. And that's one of the reasons it's been criticized for: that it "focuses" entirely on a love story, ignoring the reality of the war, the sufferings of the people. But I say, what the heck, why make her socially, morally responsible for presenting an image of the war? Why can’t she use her own creativity, experience, and interest to create something that presents a certain aspect of the war? 

So, here, I'm going to narrate the story of Meher Jaan to you. In future posts relating to this film, I'll discuss the criticism and some of its major themes. Oh, and ... let me mention here that I watched this film this evening on campus where it was being screened with the director, Rubaiyat Hossain, and one of the main characters, Wasim Khan (played by Omar Rahim) in attendance! Do you know how awesome it feels to have met two of the most important people behind the making of a film I like very much? :) Well, it feels more than awesome! We talked afterwards, too. It was just great. Anyway, now to the story. And Just So You Know, I'm gonna tell this story in a very disorganized way, as it comes to my mind. I don't care if that bothers anyone. Sorry.

Meher Jaan and Wasim Khan
The Plot: Meher is a 17-year-old Bengali girl who is saved by a Pakistani soldier (named Wasim Khan) when he is in the woods, escaping the brutality of the Pakistani army because he refused to kill people in a certain village when he was given orders to do so by the general. The people he had to kill were in a mosque, praying. Having come to Bengal with the intention of killing the “enemy,” the Bengalis, he realized, once there, that these weren’t really the enemies but other, innocent Muslims he was being ordered to kill. (For those who don’t know, Pakistan was fighting with the Bengalis because the latter wanted independence a little over two decades after Pakistan gained its independence from British India.) As Wasim says in the film, “I realized I was being ordered to kill my own people. I couldn’t do that, so I didn’t follow the order.”  The movie makes it quite clear that almost all of the other Pakistani soldiers did do exactly what they were ordered to do – so Wasim was a rare exception. 

Wasim saves Meher from the other soldiers because, as history tells us factually, over four hundred thousand (400, 000!!!!) Bengali women were raped by the Pakistani army during this war. Meher is walking and running around the woods as is her habit, and she doesn’t see the big army jeep that’s not too far from her. Wasim sees the jeep, but the soldiers in the jeep, who I think are looking for Wasim, don’t see him. To make sure they don’t see and hurt Meher, Wasim goes from behind her and covers her mouth and pulls her to the ground, telling her, once the jeep is gone, that he was trying to protect her, not hurt her.

When they're saying goodbye...
Meher eventually believes him that he’d protected her, and she turns to a family friend to seek protection for Wasim. The family friend agrees to take care of him and give him shelter – only because he’d saved Meher and thus seemed like a sincere person. Only Meher, the family friend, and the family friend’s housemate know about this. Eventually, the two fall in love. But the whole time, Meher’s conscience is killing her; she knows she is not supposed to be in love with the enemy. She knows she’s betraying her people, the freedom fighters, the soldiers fighting for the independence of her people, but she also knows that Wasim is not like the other soldiers. Wasim tells her his story about how he ended up in the woods (as I’ve described above), and she gradually embraces the idea of being in love “with the enemy.” When her family finds out, her father slaps her. But her grandfather, who’s a very progressive man, tries to reason with the family, and they decide that they must make arrangements for him to be safe and then leave for Pakistan when the time is right. Despite this, the person who told on Meher (some lame ass who caught her holding Wasim’s hands in the fields) decides to abuse Wasim by locking him in this room outside their house. Eventually, Meher and Wasim say goodbye to each other as he finally leaves in peace. 

Importantly, one of Meher’s aunts named Neela has been raped by some Pakistani soldier(s) and is pregnant. She is not, however, ashamed of having been raped. When this guy (I believe a relative of hers) seems to be falling in love with her because he spots her outside her house one day and then decides to visit her frequently, she tells him that she was raped. She asks him over and over if he just wants sex from her. He tells her no and that just because some men wronged her doesn’t mean all men want to or will wrong her. She, too, seems to be in love with this man because she wants to marry him. Her father, Meher’s progressive grandfather, once finds her (Neela) in the arms of this man she has fallen in love with, and Grandpa warns the guy to never set foot in his house again – and that if he  violates this rule, he (Grandpa) will ensure the destruction of his (the guy’s) village. Or something along these lines. Oh, yeah, Grandpa is an extremely influential man, the chief of the village. And he refuses to allow any bloodshed in his village despite the threats by the Pakistani army. He’s ultimately killed by the army for not submitting to their orders. 

Neela! Does this picture say enough about her character?
But anyway, so when Neela tells Grandpa that she wants to marry that guy, he tells her, “His mother nursed you; she fed you her own breast milk. That means you are like siblings, so you cannot marry him.” Neela’s response? “Really, dad? Since when have you ever followed rules? You were always one to break them! Now you’re telling me that law forbids me from marrying him?” Some days later, she meets a female soldier who inspires her to join the army. In Neela’s words, “Tell me, tell me how I can join the army and kill men. To kill them with my own hands.” She is three months pregnant when she goes to the army. She dies when giving birth to her child, a girl named Sarah who is then adopted by a German couple. 

(Side comment:  The director later commented that she was thinking the reason for Grandpa’s disallowing her from marrying the guy would be obvious to the audience: Grandpa hopes that will push her to going into the army to kill the men who wronged her.)

I hope I didn’t miss anything too important. But … oh, yes! Something important: The story is being told from Meher’s perspective, the girl who fell in love with that Pakistani soldier. She kept a diary during the war. She had decided to close the doors of her memory for decades until Sarah, Neela’s daughter (the child of rape) visits her in Bengladesh and asks about her mother and of her Bengali roots. So all this while, Meher is telling the story to Neela’s daughter. Meher never married. She decided to become a sculptress to forget about the war, about her love, about Wasim, about the brutal past. 

Also, it's probably significant that I mention Wasim Khan's race: He's from Quetta, Pakistan. We talked about this, too, during our discussion. Because almost all of the soldiers (when I say "almost," I mean all with the exception of probably 3 to 5, ok?) were inhuman, vicious, cruel beasts and had no shame in raping and torturing the Bengali females. The director said it had been intentional that he be from Quetta and not from, say, Punjab.

There are many different important themes in this film, among them: story-telling, war, and women’s sexuality. I will talk about them in some other post. For now, I must go to sleep. It’s late :) Good night, y’all! Oh, and I’d also like to talk about the critiques for the movie, the reason it has been censored and removed from Bengali theaters in Bengladesh, and why most Bengalis don’t like it. I don’t  buy the reasons for what I explained in the beginning of this post. But we’ll talk about this later. Good night for now, all! May you never be deprived of your love, of happiness, of peace!

Coming up: On MeherJaan, Part II: the critique


  1. I have never seen this pic.
    But love your blog.

    Follow each other.

  2. Hi there, Izdiher! :) Thank you so much for dropping me!

    Following you for sure!

  3. To know more about Meherjaan visit this site:


Dare to opine :)

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