Meghna Gulzar’s next film will be an espionage thriller

Mumbai : After the well-received ‘Talvar’, Meghna Gulzar’s next directorial is based on another book, Harinder Sikka’s ‘Calling Sehmat’, an espionage-thriller revolving around a Kashmiri woman married to an army officer across the border who provides the Indian Intelligence with invaluable information during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and almost single-handedly torpedoes Pakistan’s war plans with courage, wit and determination, saving the lives of scores of Indian soldiers. She’s hoping to get into action by mid-next year.

The story behind the film is as fascinating as the story of the book. Priti Shahani, President of Junglee Pictures, had been trying to acquire the rights two years ago and last year when ‘Talvar’ was coming up for release she had sounded Meghna out, asking her if she’d like to direct the film. Fascinated, Meghna gave her nod, only to be told a couple of months later that talks had fallen through.

In February, another production house called her for a meeting and brought up the book again. “It was a tad serendipitous and I happily took it on but again things didn’t close with that production house. By that time I had developed a personal rapport with the author because of frequent interactions and I suggested we go back to Priti and Junglee Pictures. And I’m glad we’re back together because there’s no better way to complete the circle ‘Talvar’ opened,” Meghna smiles, adding that what makes it all the more surreal is that when the book came out, the author had come to my father, Gulzar, asking him to direct it. “It’s like I have a karmic connection with the story.”

Even though the protagonist is a woman, the story, Meghna points out, is so large in its implications that gender becomes inconsequential. Historically, she admits, there’ve been stories about honey traps, but this one goes far beyond because it is an intense, personal story of a girl who operated, on one level, as a spy, wife, daughter and patriot, and, on another level, the decisions she took, out of choice or for the love of her family and her country, impact her life and her as a woman, emotionally and psychologically.

The film is set against the backdrop of the 1971 war but it won’t have action scenes like Border because the story leads up to the intended war rather than the actual conflict.

Since she wasn’t born then, Meghna has no memories of the war but has heard stories from her parents and grandparents of sirens and blackouts. “It did not directly impact people living in Mumbai but for the generation after the Partition, it was an important milestone in our history,” she asserts, pointing out that it is an important story in the present circumstances when relations between the neighbours are strained. “The human element makes it timeless. From my father’s friends in Pakistan I understand that the lines are on paper and brought up politically but at the end of the day, we’re similar in our clothes, cuisine, and culture.”

And will her father be a part of the project? “Well, he did say during ‘Talvar’ that he had taught me everything except writing songs. He’s my guiding spirit and once I complete the script I’ll go to him for feedback and then for the songs,” she smiles.