The incident at Marichjhapi Island is a dark chapter in the history of Indo-Bangla ties taking place years after 1971, and Mumbai filmmaker Bauddhayan Mukherji is bringing the story on silver screen.
More than 1,000 Bangladeshi Hindu refugees, who settled on Marichjhapi Island in the Indian part of the Sundarbans around 1979, faced starvation, disease and death as West Bengal police blockaded the island with at least 30 launches.
A poster for the upcoming Bangla movie, aptly titled “Marichjhapi”, was released last week. The cast will mostly be from Bollywood.
Speaking to the Indian media, Bauddhayan Mukherji said the movie will focus on love. It is a story about people venturing out into the unknown in search of soil, water and wind, from one Bangla to another. They had settled in Marichjhapi seeking solace.
The refugees settled there in search of a better life away from communal riots, but the then West Bengal government was none too pleased about the situation.
By 1979, they had cleared out the forest and built embankments to prevent floods. Refugees thrived on the island through fishing and farming, and tried to create a future for themselves.
The police arrived in full force and enforced a blockade on the Korankhali River, effectively cutting the refugees off from their fresh water supply.
Reminiscing about his harrowing experience, Marichjhapi survivor Narayan Mondol revealed how dozens of West Bengal police launches surrounded the island, and did everything in their power to make the refugees’ life a living hell.
Starving inhabitants of the island were forced to survive on coconut leaves and grass. Many children died of diarrhoea. There was no fresh water supply, and more than a thousand refugees died of starvation and diseases.
Director Bauddhayan Mukherji was inspired to make the movie in the mid-1990s, when he learned about the story in his college days. This is not a widely known incident, so he decided to make a movie about it.
He has been working on the manuscript for the past two years, and search is on in Mumbai for cast members.
Shot to fame for his “Bell Bajao” advertisement campaign, Bauddhayan also won the people’s heart with his Bangla feature films “Teenkahon” (2014) and “The Violin Player” (2016).