“The fight is between pen and sword. And the sword always wins.”
These are the words of a writer in exile. Banished from her homeland and from her adopted land to a far away Nordic country where creativity dries up.
She loses touch with her land, with her language, with the very context which nurtured her imagination. Yet hope against hope, she believes she will return.
Actor Churni Ganguly’s debut feature ‘Nirbashito’ (Banished) is about an unnamed, exiled writer’s predicament.
The film is inspired by the extraordinary life of the controversial Bengali feminist writer Taslima Nasreen who was hounded out of Bangladesh when she raised her voice against religion and patriarchy.
She sought refuge in India but the government, in its efforts to appease the Muslim vote, sent her to Europe for safety.
For the last twenty years, Taslima has been in exile, moving from one country to another, stripped of citizenship and the right to return.
The entire charade has been played twice over as last year Taslima was packed off from West Bengal to Delhi and then on to the United States.
Taking fictional liberties, Ganguly’s film has an ominous start with protest riots in Kolkata after which the writer is forcibly flown to Delhi and from there on to Sweden.
She leaves behind her journalist friends and her pet cat Baghini (tigress) who is like her child.
In Sweden she is moved from home to home with a set of bodyguards who speak no English.
Fighting alienation and depression, she is befriended by a writer and his wife. For a while she secretly sends e-mails to her friend in Kolkata and asks for her cat to be sent to her.
Perhaps she could then speak her language again and start writing once more.
Filmed with the support of the Swedish Film Commission, Ganguly confidently maps her narrative in Stockholm and a remote Baltic island.
Playing the writer herself, Ganguly offers a detailed graph of a creative woman torn from her roots, alienated from family and friends, offered physical safety in an environment with which she does not connect.
Countering this fraught narrative is the political play in Bengal, painted in broad satirical strokes.
The ministers and the police have to take the crucial decision about sending a cat to Sweden.
The red tape, the paperwork, the permissions, the army of people chasing terrified Baghini, all lead to her collapse in hospital.
There is also the parallel drama of the journalist (a competent Saswata Chatterjee) and his alienated wife (Raima Sen).
She leaves the house because he shelters the cat and hints at a relationship with the writer, built in flashback sequence.
Armed with a psychologically analytic script and Nasrin’s evocative poetry layered against the Swedish landscape, Churni Ganguly delivers a felt performance and offers a deeply moving narrative.
‘Nirbashito’ is a surprisingly strong directorial debut for the actor who has been discerning about her choices and has built a strong filmography for herself.
Some sequences last beyond the viewing experience – the scene when our protagonist meets a journalist who saw her parents in Bangladesh; when she jokes in Bengali with her set of bodyguards; when she refuses to accept a new pet as a gift from her friends.
The diminutive figure standing at the island jetty waving at the receding boat is the creative artist whose people have turned her away.
Dedicated to the Indian artist Maqbul Fida Husain (who died in a foreign country) ‘Nirbashito’ takes a bold stance against censorship and extremism.
The film holds up the right for free expression through a moving portrait of a woman writer torn from her land.
Curiously enough, a few years ago I adapted and directed a Taslima Nasrin novel into the play ‘The Other Side’.
It was produced in London as well in Kolkata.
For the latter production, I played Taslima and Churni Ganguly played the younger sister.
Things come around and today she is in London with her National Award-winning film on Taslima.