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'8 is absolutely inoffensive to Islam'

By Arthur J Pais
November 14, 2008 17:50 IST
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An educated Muslim woman in New York decides to leave her husband and son to become the second wife of a traditional Muslim man and wear a veil. Eyebrows will surely be raised at the short film Mira Nair directed for a movie project called 8  The segment called How Can It Be? is based on a true story and scripted by Suketu Mehta and it is also getting a lot of appreciation.

Konkona Sen Sharma could not get a part in Mira Nair's The Namesake but the two kept in touch, and now she played the woman who makes the unorthodox choice (at least for a Muslim in New York). Ranvir Shorey plays the husband, Arif, and Konkona's character is called Zeinab in How Can It Be?

After premiering at the Rome Film Festival, the segment was shown at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in New York recently.

Nair said the film, which is generating some controversy, is about women making their own choices for better or worse, and a beaming Konkona, who attended the New York event, talked about the joy of working with Nair, and the intensity of the shoot.

The film was shot in just about two days and much of it in the home of writer Amitav Ghosh in New York. Nair made time for it in between her work on Ameilia, her high profile film on the legendary American pilot Amelia Earhart who disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to make a flight around the world. which is slated for release in mid 2009.

The United Nations initially supported the project 8, but withdrew its logo fearing that the Nair segment on gender equality might offend Muslims, co-producer Lissandra Haulica told a news conference in Rome.

News stories from Rome also said the French producers of 8 decided to boycott it over Nair's short feature.

"During shooting," Marc Oberon, one of its producers, told the media, 'they saw Mira Nair's episode and said it was an insult to Islam. They asked us to cut it but we wouldn't. We know that they even tried to convince the Cannes festival director not to take the film. But 8 is a piece of free artistic expression, it is not a film made to order.'

'The film is absolutely inoffensive to the faith,' Nair, married to Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani, said in Rome.

The husband repudiates her 'as only he could' according to strict Islamic law, Nair said. The woman's choice, Nair noted, is not an easy one she explained, 'However tricky, however morally ambiguous, ... underneath the burka is a complicated, thriving human being.'

The film, 8, which also features the work of directors from across the globe -- Gael García Bernal, Jane Campion, Jan Kounen, Mira Nair, Gaspar Noé, Abderrahmane Sissako, Wim Wenders and Gus Van Sant -- was shot in US, Australia. South America and Africa.

Nair said it offers the directors' views on the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 by the United Nations that include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combating AIDS and promoting gender equality

"I could not believe the story when Suketu narrated it to me," she said. Mehta, who is writing a book on New York immigrants, came across the burka-clad professional woman over a year ago.

The film is anything but sensational, Nair said. "Freedom does not come neatly packaged. It comes with pain," she added.

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Arthur J Pais