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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



IFFI 51, 26-24 January, 40: Mehrunisa is an Austrian film on feudal India and a rebellious old actress

IFFI 51, 26-24 January, 40: Mehrunisa is an Austrian film on feudal India and a rebellious old actress

Mehrunisa screams loud against the male-dominated Indian film industry. In the film, the Umrao Jaan fame actress Farrukh Jaffar has played the role of an 80-year-old actress, who boldly tells the audience to follow their dreams, and that age doesn't matter

'Mehrunisa', the Austrian film in Hindi (Urdu really) language and the Mid-Fest Film at the 51st International Film Festival of India, had its World Première at the festival.

Addressing a press conference, director, producer, and screenplay writer Sandeep Kumar said: "The sense of the film is Indian, and hence we wanted its première on Indian soil. I am fortunate to be here at IFFI, with Mehrunisa. We are highly overwhelmed by the response to the screening. It is a great tribute to this grand lady of Indian Cinema, who has had a hallowed place in Indian films for more than 40 years."

A woman’s age matters only in Indian Film Industry. When men, who are equally old, can play lead casts in films, ‘why not women?’ questions the film, which was shot in Lucknow. “I believe in shooting in real locations. All locations of Mehrunisa are real”, said the Director.

Kumar explained how the idea for the film took root. "The idea of this film came up as I was wondering where all the yesteryear’s actresses were, and why they are not seen in Indian cinema. They only come as placeholders. My thought was ‘why aren’t there any stories around them?’ In Europe, senior citizens in 80s, 90s often have films with them in lead roles."

The director pointed out an intriguing fact about his lead actor’s career. “In her 40-year long career, Farrukh Jaffar has acted with the three Khans, but this is her first lead role, at the age of 88! 'Mehrunisa' will be a game changer in the Indian Film Industry.”

Sharing her experiences of the film, actress Ankita Dubey, who plays Mehrunisa’s grand-daughter says: “The script was so real and raw, that it took my attention the very first time I saw it. It had something hidden."

Actor Tulika Banerjee, who plays the role of the Mehrunisa’s daughter, had this to say: “The youth may have knowledge and gadgets, but it is the elders who have experience of life. Age is just a number. That's a strong message the film gives."

When asked about Indian film-makers, Director Sandeep revealed: “I am a big admirer of Mira Nair, who connected American cinema with Indian Cinema, and of Gurinder Chadha, who connected English Cinema with Indian cinema; I also like Anurag Kashyap’s style of film-making.”

He also stated that Bollywood overshadows the regional cinema that India has got, and that IFFI is a great platform for regional cinema.

He went on to talk about the hospitality and love showered by Lucknow. “It was the first time that my crew had come to India, and they fell in love with the people of Lucknow, seeing the hospitality shown by its people.”

‘You are coming from Austria to make a film on Jaffar, we are with you’ was the unanimous statement made by the people of Lucknow.

“This film, 'Mehrunisa' should inspire writers to think of alternative stories instead of the usual ones,” said Mehru Jaffar, Farrukh Jaffar’s daughter. Having lived in Vienna for more than two decades, she also spoke about the cultural similarities between Lucknow and Vienna. “Both Vienna and Lucknow are imperial cities which had been capitals of great empires; there is a character to the cities, both of which enjoyed a court culture. The historical ethos of Lucknow - where every lane and every by-lane was filled with poets, has a great similarity with that of Vienna. It gives similar soul to the citizens of these cities.”

It was also pointed out how Austria is the biggest consumer of coffee, and people at Lucknow have shots of tea every 15 minutes.

“Mehrunisa was our greatest dream. This is the first time an Austrian production has been completely filmed in India, and in an Indian language. Austria, and its film industry, is looking at Goa at the moment,” said Director Sandeep Kumar, proudly.

The film is about Mehrunisa, who was a celebrated actress four decades ago, and gets a chance to act as a Begum (royal wife) IN British India, opposite a celebrated actor. She reads the script and rejects it, claiming it is full of lies. She asks the script-writer to rewrite the script, and instead show the sacrifices Begums had made, and to cast her in the lead role.

Unfortunately, the film is severely flawed, and failed to live up to expectations making the repeat screening, denied to all other films, quite uncalled for.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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