Mehrunisa’ About An 80-year-old’s Face Off With Bollywood’s Patriarchy: Director Sandeep Kumar

Panaji: Indian origin Austrian filmmaker Sandeep Kumar says with his feature film “Mehrunisa”, he wants to put spotlight on the glaring gender disparity in Bollywood, which pushes its female stars to the margins once they cross a certain age. Kumar’s directorial features “Gulabo Sitabo” star Farrukh Jaffar as an 80-year-old actor, who, to achieve her lifelong dream, takes on the male-dominated Indian film industry and unwillingly becomes a leading advocate for women’s rights.

In an interview with PTI, Kumar said the idea for the film came to him when he realised that none of the veteran female stars he grew up watching were on screen anymore. “While male actors, way beyond 50s, 60s were superstars. In Europe, you have films where older male and female actors do lead roles. That doesn’t happen here. I wanted to go deeper into that. Talk about the age and gender disparity,” Kumar said on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), where “Mehrunisa” had its premiere. Kumar said it is an “unfortunate reality” how older female actors, who once did lead roles, were only offered aunt or grandmother characters as they aged. “They’re just place holders and have nothing much to do. But at one point they were leads. I wondered ‘don’t we, here in the country, have stories to tell around them’. So the film is about this 80-year-old woman’s face off with the patriarchy of Bollywood.” Kumar decided to work on the script of “Mehrunisa” and flew to Lucknowwhere the movie is setin 2018 after his film with Nawazuddin Siddiqui got delayed. The director narrated it to Jaffar, sceptical if she’d come on board. But as the titular character of the film, Kumar saw the 88-year-old actor the perfect fit.

“She is one of the most underrated actors, who has been around for 44 years, doing smaller roles. She has acted with all the big stars. I was confident she would pull it off, easily. She was amazing,” he added. “Mehrunisa” is an Austrian production, which Kumar said was a conscious choice. The directorwho has made Austria-Bollywood crossover films, including “Kesariya Balam” (Love Without Borders) and “Servus Ishq”didn’t want to attach himself with a Bollywood producer due to the risk of the film’s vision getting “compromised.” “Bollywood is extremely commercial. It’s all about male figures, not about the story. We didn’t want to compromise on that and so didn’t go into a co-production with an Indian company. “Because then we’d have to have faces, compromise, make commercial value to it which dilutes the sense of the film. Having a completely Austrian production meant I had the freehand to cast whoever I wanted,” he added.

Kumar now hopes to take the film on a massive festival run across the world, before arriving at the decision to have a theatrical release.

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