December 16, 1971. A day that resulted in the birth of a nation, Bangladesh. But it simultaneously cast a veil over the price paid to achieve that freedom. It was this price that debutant filmmaker Mrityunjay Devvrat reveals and exposes in his feature film, Children of War. “When we decided to make a film about the Bangladesh Liberation War, there was never an attempt at glorifying the past or focusing on the statistics about the loss of lives on both sides. We were clear that we wanted to tell the compelling human stories of the war,” says Devvrat.
The 150-minute feature film is based on the “struggle” to establish Bangladesh. But more specifically, the film looks at mass genocide and the rape and torture of women, which resulted in many orphans who never knew their real parents. “There were several pregnancies and children were born as a result of this torture by the invading Pakistani army. Its surprising that none of this was ever mentioned or catalogued in official investigations,” says 30-year-old Devvrat, who researched for 12 months, before writing the script.
Its cast includes the late Farooque Shaikh, Pavan Malhotra, Victor Banerjee, Raima Sen and Indraneil Sengupta. The film was shot in 52 days last year, in parts of West Bengal, Northeast Raipur, Nainital, Haryana, Delhi and Mumbai, to replicate parts of Bangladesh, since he didn’t get permission from the Bangladesh government to film there.
According to figures during his research, there were about 600,000 women raped and over 300,000 people killed during the nine-month conflict. Based on fictional characters and careful not to deviate from facts, Devvrat includes real incidents of torture and suffering inflicted on women. The film also looks at India’s role, but focuses largely on the war crimes. “Besides conveying to the audience about the acceptance of these children, we were looking at telling the story of how the nation was born. But it is not just about the suffering of Bengalis, this story could have happened anywhere in Syria or Iran,” says Delhi-based Devvrat. He spent the initial years of his childhood in Dhaka, between 1984-89, as his parents were working on a handicrafts project in Bangladesh. Soon after, he moved to Delhi with his parents for his education.
Though Devvrat has chosen a gritty subject for his debut, he is under no illusions of achieving stardom through this venture alone. “The idea was to generate enough curiosity in people to go home and research about the atrocities of the war. We wanted to make people uncomfortable with what was happening,” says Devvrat, who first thought of this project after reading The Unfinished Memoirs by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first President of Bangladesh, who was assassinated. He also sourced material online, ordered books from friends in America, consulted military experts involved in the conflict and a person who formerly worked for the security of Sheikh Hasina’s family.
More importantly, he got a copy of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report, on the violation of human rights during the war.
Devvrat always wanted to make films after having graduated in film studies from Rai University more than 11 years ago. “I set up my own advertising firm, made ad films, documentaries and also dabbled in exhibition design. My aim in the last decade has been to make a feature film,” says Devvrat, whose wife, Soumya Joshi Devvrat has produced the film.
Made with a budget of Rs 10 crore, Devvrat has secured a theatrical release across 500 screens, without the backing of a production house.
He has set up a fund that will distribute 10 per cent of the revenue earned from this film to children affected by war anywhere in the world.