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India's First Feature Film on Rohingyas

Rohingya has been produced by Akash Singh and Dorji Wangchuk of Thunder Dragon Production, Bhutan

Tuesday June 9, 2020 5:54 PM, Asif Ullah Khan, ummid.com

Rohingya Film Review

[Famous Bangladesh model Tanjia Zaman Methela will be seen in totally deglamorised role in the film. (Image: Asif Ullah Khan/ummid.com)]

Behind every camera, there is not only a creative eye but also a sensitive heart. This is the reason why Haider Khan, one of the biggest names in fashion and ad industry in India and abroad, decided to put aside the world of glamour for a moment as the plight of Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar declared by the United Nations as the world’s most persecuted minority, jolted his heart.

Why Rohingyas

Being aware of social issues, Haider could not turn a blind eye to pictures of atrocities committed on Rohingyas in the Arakan region of Myanmar.

"I have been hearing and watching about the plight of Rohingyas for many years. It touched me greatly," says Haider.

"I see the world as a cinematic canvas", Haider says.

Hence he decided to highlight this issue through the medium of cinema, which is his forte being a creative man.

Haider Khan

[Haider Khan has directed the film, apart from writing the story, screenplay and dialogues. (Photo: Asif Ullah Khan/ummid.com)]

Haider started working on the script of the movie to tell the world about this genocide and the result was 'Rohingya', his first feature film.

A drastic shift!

Haider has been associated with Indian film industry superstar Salman Khan for many years now and directed Salman Khan starrer Dabangg 3 promo, song for the film Notebook with Salman, Junglee promos for his friend Vidyut Jammwal.

Apart from this, he has more than 100 ad films and videos under his belt for topmost brands worldwide.

Being son of a former paratrooper, who took part in 1962 war with China and in 1965 with Pakistan, Haider has dedicated the film to the unsung heroes of India's special forces (SF) Paras, who are also known as the maroon berets.

Cast of the film Rohingya

The cast of the movie is multinational with famous Bangladeshi model Tanjia Zaman Methela essaying the lead role of Rohingya girl Husne Ara, who is playing a deglamourised role of a genocide survivor.

On the other hand, Sangay Tsheltrim, who plays the Indian SF para officer, is a Bhutanese bodybuilder and a former member of the Royal Bhutan Army. Tsheltrim made his Hindi debut in the Salman Khan starrer Radhe, whose release has been postponed due to COVID-19.

On the issue of casting, Haider says, "I was looking for a girl, who could speak Rohingya language. I tried many Indian Bengali girls but none of them could get close to the Rohingya accent. When I auditioned Methela, she did very well in catching the Rohingya accent."

Rohingya cast

[Haider Khan (centre) with members of his cast. (Photo: Asif Ullah Khan/ummid.com)]

"The other factor which worked in Methela's is that her Hindi is not very good. I liked this very much because the character demanded that when she comes to India, she had to speak in broken Hindi", he added.

On Tsheltrim being cast as Indian SF para officer, Haider says the character Tsheltrim is from the North-East. So, the Bhutanese features can easily pass off as north-eastern Indian.

"Besides, being a passout from the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Pune, Tsheltrim has amazing physical fitness and acting talent. His military background made it very easy for him to portray an Indian army officer", he says.

Baharul Islam, an acclaimed National School of Drama (NSD) actor, is doing the role of Ataullah Abu Ammar Junini, chief of ARSA, an insurgent group of Rohingyas. Ataullah is still alive and wanted by the Burmese Army.

The other members of the cast include NSD actor Rajib Kalita, Anil Choudhary, Gautam Gossain, Kapil Gujjar, Daljit Sean Singh, Audery Hatibarua, Dilip Khanal, Jyotishman Sharmah and Puja Kulay. Dialogues in the Rohingya language have been translated by two Rohingyas - Ali Johar and Shabber.

Most striking feature of Rohingya

Haider says apart from the cast, the most striking feature of the film is that it has been shot in Bhutan, north-east and snow-capped valleys of Uttarakhand.

Film on Rohingyas

[Bhutanese bodybuilder Sangay Tsheltrim (centre) who plays the Indian SF para officer. (Photo: Asif Ullah Khan/ummid.com)]

Haider, who has also written the story, screenplay and dialogues of the film, says, "The most astonishing thing about this film is that it's completely shot in natural light and no hair or makeup artist has been used in the entire film."

A fan of Mani Ratnam, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, Haider says, "The real issues have been very close to my heart. I like to mix reality and fiction. Secondly, it’s a very rare subject and no one has ever made a film about the Rohingyas."

The sufferings of Rohingyas

The film not only shows the heroic character of the Indian army but also depicts very poignantly the sufferings of Rohingyas.


['Rohingya', the first feature, which deals the issue of world's most persecuted minority. (Image: Asif Ullah Khan/ummid.com)]

"Facing persecution and state-sponsored violence in Myanmar, about one million Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh", says Haider.

"These days nobody is interested in watching documentaries. I am using the medium, which masses can understand very easily. My experience shows that only through films, one can highlight sensitive issues, otherwise they remain unnoticed for decades", he says.

Haider is hopeful that the film will help in bringing the plight of the Rohingyas into the mainstream.

Haider's dedication and commitment to the issue can be gauged from the fact that coming from the world of fashion, where models and actors not only are required to look glamorous but also expected to show physical assets, the film does not have a single love scene to titillate the audience.

"Since this is a very sensitive issue, I did not resort to any gimmick seen in the films nowadays. The lead characters - Methela and Tsheltrim - do not even touch each other in the film," Haider says.

Rohingya has been produced by Akash Singh and Dorji Wangchuk of Thunder Dragon Production, Bhutan.

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