The kin of Holey Artisan terror attack victims slammed filmmaker Hansal Mehta for not seeking their consent before shooting the movie.
An upcoming Bollywood film about Bangladesh’s Holey Artisan Restaurant terror attack has stirred controversy in the South Asian nation as victims’ families believe it would dishonour the dead and disrupt Bangladesh’s religious sentiments.
The family members also said Bollywood filmmaker Hansal Mehta didn't ask for permission from them to portray the last phases of their departed kin.
The storyline of the film “Faraaz” is yet to be disclosed. But Mehta, an acclaimed Bollywood director, has revealed a rough outline of the film's plot, which is apparently centred around Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, one of the victims of the Holey Artisan massacre, in which 29 people were killed including 20 hostages (17 foreigners and 3 locals).
The 12-hour siege at the Holey Artisan Restaurant on July 1, 2016, in the capital city Dhaka is considered to be the worst ever terrorist attack in Bangladesh. Five heavily-armed young men associated with Daesh carried out the bloodshed in what people saw as the utmost act of savagery.
Amidst the attack, the story of one victim named Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain stood out. Faraaz went to the Holey Artisan restaurant that night to meet his two friends, Abinta Kabir, a US citizen, and Tarishi Jain, an Indian citizen. The trio studied together at a prestigious Dhaka school.
As the terrorists stormed into the restaurant and segregated the diners according to their nationalities and religion, Faraaz was given the option to walk free. The young man refused to abandon his friends. The three friends were later killed that night.
Abinta Kabir and Tarishi Jain's family members are now objecting to the film, which has been named after Faraaz. They initiated a lawsuit against Hansal Mehta, demanding an immediate halt of the film’s production.
The two families say the “trauma behind that night is too raw and that such movies that monetize people’s real emotions should be banned forever.”
No permission and misrepresentation
Abinta's mother Ruba Ahmed said the incident, which rattled the entire nation, “must not be represented, not now, not tomorrow, not ever.” She further said that she is dismayed by the insensitivity of the production house for not reaching out to her or other families for their consent.
“When making a film about Faraaz, automatically my daughter, Tulika’s daughter (Tulika is Tarishi’s mother), and the other victims come into the scene. How can it be that none of us was approached for consent? This is supposed to be based on a ‘true story,’ so to portray only one story, the film will disregard all 21 other lives, all of whom were killed in the same incident? How is this humanity?” she said.
Meanwhile, Abinta Kabir Foundation — a philanthropic organisation formed by the family members after the death of Abinta — issued a media statement in where it stated that “not only will the film dishonour the sacrifices of all the victims, but it will indirectly tarnish the image of Bangladesh as an extremist nation to the world.”
"That dark night is not at all a proper representation of our nation, nor our religion, and such a movie that can lead to people believing otherwise can be disastrous; it will do injustice to our country and our religious sentiments,” the statement said.
"A film that has the potential to damage the reputation of our country, to misrepresent the religion of Islam, and to dishonour the lives of the victims of the July 1 attack, should be brought under tough scrutiny from Bangladeshi authorities before it is allowed to be released to the world,” the statement further said.
Violation of freedom of expression
Speaking to TRT World, Bollywood director Hansal Mehta confirmed that a legal notice was served to him by the victims' families.“At this point, I am advised by my lawyer to keep quiet about this project,” he said.
Hansal, who last directed the acclaimed web series “Scam 1992- The Harshad Mehta Story” and sports film “Chhalaang”, said that “Faraaz” is a story of deep humanity and its ultimate triumph in the face of violent adversity.
“I don’t know how such a storyline can create controversy,” he added.
TRT World contacted Zaraif Hossain, elder brother of Faraaz Hossain but he declined to comment for this article.
Intellectual property campaigner Barrister Hamidul Misbah said the sentiment expressed by family members of the Holey Artisan terrorist attack in this case goes against the freedom of expression.
To draw an analogy, Hamidul gave the example of March 25, 1971—regarded as the darkest night in Bangladesh’s history in which thousands of Bengalis were mercilessly killed by the Pakistani army.
“Are we suggesting that if a filmmaker willing to make a film on March 25, 1971, even on the basis of a particular individual and his/her sufferings in that night, other’s family members can place an objection to not to make a film on such an event?” he said.
Hamdul, who is the founder of Bangladesh’s Intellectual Property Forum, said the protection of privacy under common law doesn't extend to this extent for someone who is a common citizen.
“Such privacy protection under common law can only be invoked by someone who is a celebrity. There's a very clear difference between a celebrity and a member of [say] a rich family. Besides, the Bollywood filmmakers are not making a biopic that would need consent or license from the family members,” Hamdul said.
He said the information of the Holey Artisan event is in the public domain and a filmmaker has the prerogative to illustrate a story, based on information that is in the public domain, and depict the events and sentiments attached to them through a film. "This completely is a creative space for the filmmaker", he said.