Vidya Balan starrer, the remake of National Award winning director Srijit Mukherjee’s Bengali film Rajkahini (2015), has been banned in Pakistan. Yes, you heard that right, Begum Jaan has been banned in Pakistan. Although there was a hush-hush about whether finally the Government of our neighbouring country has given the film a green signal or not, it was declared by Mahesh Bhatt, the producer, a few days after the decision was taken. In an interview with Mid-day, the filmmaker said, “I was told by my distributor that Pakistan, as a policy, does not permit the import of films dealing with the issue of Partition.”
He later added, “My distributor informs me that his office has been intimated that Begum Jaan won’t be imported to Pakistan.” On being asked what he thinks about this ban, Srijit said, “It is the rule of someone’s land, which must be respected. Unfortunately, the common thread binding these two nations is the history and Partition is the integral tragedy connecting us… All the hatred can be traced back to it. Understanding and analysing it from a human view would help but it’s a pity they don’t want to. They are touchy and sensitive about this issue.”
The partition is still a topic that impels the mind of the people of both the countries even after 70 years of independence. Though India has proven to be the more liberal one, the picture is completely the opposite on the other side of the border. It seems like Pakistan has decided to flush out all the memories which remind them of any kind of bond that had been previously shared by the people of the two countries. In order to carry out this process the state has embarked on an operation to excavate and propagate only certain filtered memories of Partition, silencing all others in the process.
On the one hand the state has banned Begum Jaan. On the other hand, the country has produced some movies of its own on the topic – such as Said-Ud-Din-Saif’s Kartar Singh (1959) and the more recent, Manto by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat (2015). The Central Board of Film Censors in Pakistan refused to even watch Begum Jaan.
Its verdict is crystal clear: only state sanctioned narratives of Partition can be permitted in the country.
“If Begum Jaan, or for that matter any movie on Partition made outside of Pakistan, can make the nation so vulnerable that it cannot even view the film before banning it, the country is certainly enveloped in insecurity and paranoia”, says Anam Zakaria, the author of Footprints of Partition: Narratives of four generations of Pakistanis and Indians. According to her, for the country, “there are two sides of the Partition- the Pakistani and the Indian, and the Indian side must be stopped at the border.” This is one of the most pressing reasons why Begum Jaan has been banned in Pakistan.
She added an incident from her childhood stating how in 6th grade her friend started to cry when she gave her a postcard depicting a Hindu deity. “She told me her eyes had sinned because of what she had seen. The censor board perhaps holds the heart and mind of a 6th grader: afraid that if it lets its guard down for a two-hour movie, its world will crumble and the demonic other will pierce through the façade it has built in the name of defence.”
Though the backdrop of the film is set in the era of the final struggle for the independence, the central plot of the film revolves around the sex-workers who live in a brothel located in the “no man’s land”. The shelter fall victim to its own geography as the Radcliffe Line is drawn and the brothel and its people are caught up in the process of Partition. The cast of Begum Jaan consists of Vidya Balan, Gauahar Khan, Ila Arun, Pallavi Sharda, and Naseeruddin Shah, among others.
By Ankita Tripathy