A Bollywood film that spotlights atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence releases across India on Friday, with the production likely to spark controversy in Pakistan.
Children of War revolves around civilians caught in the nine-month conflict that pitted Bangladeshi independence fighters against Pakistani forces. “The film looks at human stories and personal stories of how they suffered and how they came out victorious. It is a largely fictional film made up of true stories,” said director Mrityunjay Devvrat. He said that the film “focused on the weapons Pakistan used in 1971, which were not just guns and tanks but also rape and religion.”
The director says in the film that three million people were killed in the war—a figure also cited by the current Bangladeshi government—although independent researchers put the death toll at between 300,000 and 500,000 people. The conflict forced as many as 10 million refugees to flee to India, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
The film, initially called The Bastard Child but changed on advice of India’s censor board, shows women tumbling out of the back of a truck into a rape camp. In another scene, an orphaned child cries beside a river of blood.
“Not many people know much about Bangladesh or care about it,” said Devvrat, who grew up partly in Bangladesh while his parents were working there. “The aim of Children of War is to change that and make people understand, among other things, why there are so many Bangladeshis in India,” he said.
Under the partitioning of the subcontinent which followed the end of British rule, the Muslim-majority area now known as Bangladesh emerged as East Pakistan and was twinned with West Pakistan. India entered the Bangladesh independence war during the final days in 1971, siding with forces under nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The film has already sparked anger in Pakistan, where it is likely to be banned. In an article in January, the English-language daily The Nation said the film was being released “to tarnish the image of Pakistan and its armed forces around the world.”
An official from the Central Board of Film Censors in Islamabad said that no request to show the film had been received—but that no one would dare try to screen an anti-Pakistan movie in any cinema in the country. “We will not allow its screening in Pakistan if it is against Pakistan and its armed forces,” he said. “I think no one has the courage to show such a film in Pakistan. How could we approve a film which is based on one-sided Indian propaganda?”
Devvrat defended the movie, saying it was not meant to blame the Pakistani people. “Our aim has never been to attack Pakistan or belittle their people, and nor have we said that the people of Pakistan are responsible for what happened,” he said. “What happened was the work of power centers, it was not endorsed by the people.”
In 2010, Bangladesh’s government set up a special tribunal to try those accused of murder, torture, rape and arson during the conflict. Most of those on trial are allegedly members of pro-Pakistan militias who fought alongside Pakistani forces against the country’s independence.