BY ANUJ RADIA
‘Lihaaf” (The Quilt), a feature film based on Ismat Chugtai’s most celebrated and controversial story by Award-winning director Rahat Kazmi announced the unveiling of the first look poster at the Cannes Film Festival at India Pavilion on 12th May. Oscar-winning producer of “No Man’s Land” Marc Baschet has joined hands with Indian producers of “Lihaaf”.
The first look of the poster was unveiled by Bollywood filmmaker and showman Subhash Ghai who attended the event as a special guest. While speaking at the event, he congratulated the team and French producer for such a powerful subject which generally filmmakers don’t dare to touch. He added that Ismat Chugtai was such a strong woman and much ahead of her times who raised voice about such strong issues through her stories.
Talking about his interest in the film Marc Baschet says, “I first heard the story of “Lihaaf” (The Quilt) when I met Namita in the film bazaar in Goa in November last year. I was struck by the theme of the story and decided to follow the development of the film as a mentor.
Golda, who also heard the narration from Namita in Goa was happy to be a consultant to this team. Apart from the story, I was also very impressed with this young team of professional filmmakers who bring such sensitive, delicate stories to life on the big screen. I am very happy to be part of a film with such a strong theme with universal appeal.”
Tannishtha Chatterjee who is best known in the west for BAFTA nominated ‘BRICK LANE’ and many other international productions have played the role of Ismat Chugtai and is very excited about the film. Apart from Tannishtha, Sonal Sehgal who plays the character of Begum and is also the co-writer of the film with Rahat Kazmi has put her blood and sweat to get her character right.
Namita Lal is the other most important character; the lady love of Begum (Sonal), Namita had already played the character of Rabbo in theatre in Singapore and that was the reason that she bagged the role of Rabbo. Shoib Nikash Shah plays Manto, who was earlier seen and acclaimed for Mantostaan.
“Lihaaf is based on a short story by a celebrated Indian female Urdu writer – Ismat Chugtai. She wrote it in 1942. The story itself is a narrative of a true event in the life of Ismat when she was in her teens and stayed in a feudal family for a short while. The story deals with a subject which is still considered taboo in large parts of the world. In this, Ismat was much ahead of her times.
Not surprisingly, she was slapped with a legal case for depicting obscenity in her story. However, she refused to apologise and defended herself for 3 years in a Lahore court. It still ranks as one of the landmark cases in support of freedom of thought and expression in literature, reminiscent of another celebrated case, of D.H. Lawrence’s “LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER”,” Marc Baschet narrates.
“Lihaaf (The Quilt) looks at an emotional and physical relationship of a neglected woman (Begum) with her lady masseur borne from a suffocating feudal environment as seen through the eyes of a teenager (Ismat). In her innocence, she cannot even make sense of it.
But her story becomes a powerful critique of the contemporary society of rich land owing men lost in the pursuit of their male-centric pleasures to the utter neglect of their womenfolk, who then sought their joys from their female company,” explains Rahat Kazmi.
Ashish Wagh from Indian film studios, who has been in distribution and production for more than a decade, remarks “The story of Lihaaf remains relevant even today. We are still battling with an irrational rejection of same-sex love.”
Even in India, an otherwise fast developing country it is a crime inviting a jail term. The Supreme Court of India is reviewing its earlier adverse judgement and will hopefully strike down the relevant law soon.
The story of Lihaaf (The Quilt) should be able to engage large thinking sections of society everywhere in the world. Issues of acceptance of alternate sexuality and freedom of artistic expression were never so relevant as today because we see them endangered everywhere.