Mehrunisa is the story of a battle. A dream that comes true and two people who will see their lives finally change forever. And above all, two different generations who discover they have much more in common than it might initially seem. At the Diagonale 2021.
Bollywood and Austrian cinema meet. What will result? Viennese director Sandeep Kumar has always known what he wanted to make. And in order to achieve his goal, he undertook a long journey to India with an Austrian crew, to choose an all-Indian cast. Thus was born his feature film Mehrunisa, premiered at the Diagonale 2021 and starring the famous Indian actress Farrukh Jaffar.
But what, in fact, is his Mehrunisa about? Mehrunisa is the story of a comeback. The story of a woman who, at the age of eighty and after being widowed, finally begins to live again. The story of an actress who rebels against excessively patriarchal systems. A relationship between grandmother and granddaughter that somehow makes both grow up.
Mehrunisa’s husband has, then, recently died. Her daughter and granddaughter go to visit her. Then, unexpectedly, someone knocks on her door. It is some film producers who want to offer her a part in a film about the siege of Lucknow in 1857. The woman’s family did not know at all that she was an actress before she married. What to do? Accept the role by going against convention or move to her daughter’s house so as not to be alone? The lively and intelligent Mehrunisa seems to have no doubts about this.
Vibrant, colourful, cheerful but also deep, this feature film by Sandeep Kumar stages a much broader discourse through the story of a single person. The protagonist has constantly suffered from a patriarchal marriage. So much so that she burnt her marriage bed in the courtyard immediately after her husband’s death. Yet the director does not merely point the finger at an extremely chauvinist society. In this tender and appealing film of his, Bollywood itself, its rules, its reluctance to assign leading roles to women, is also attacked. Especially when the protagonist herself could be a no longer young woman.
Mehrunisa is the story of a battle. A dream that comes true and two people who will see their lives finally change forever. And above all, two different generations who discover that they have much more in common than it might initially seem. With a mise-en-scene that differs in many respects from the canons of Bollywood and at the same time is almost reminiscent of US cinema, especially with regard to the ending, Sandeep Kumar has had his say. And although at times the entire feature film may seem rhetorical and even predictable, overall the story works. And in conveying an important revolutionary message, it is also decidedly brave. The colours of India, of Bollywood, of the city streets act as further protagonists. And the tender relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter makes it all even more special.
Original title: Mehrunisa
Directed by: Sandeep Kumar
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 90’
Cast: Farrukh Jaffar, Ankita Dubey, Tulika Banerjee
Screenplay: Sandeep Kumar
Cinematography: Christian Haake
Produced by: Sandeep Kumar Films, Golden Girls Filmproduktion, Rangpaakhi Films