Making "The Lady", a film on Myanmar's untiring face of resilience Aung San Suu Kyi, involved too many challenges for Luc Besson. From shooting secretly to penetrating into Myanmarese territory, the Hollywood director did everything because he wanted to create emotional awakening through his movie.
"The Lady" was screened as the closing film at the just concluded 42nd International Film Festival of India in Goa.
"Our job is to awaken people at an emotional level. It is important that people should understand Aung San Suu Kyi's story. I hope Burma (the earlier name for Myanmar) gets freedom (from military rule) one day," Besson told IANS.
He describes the film as "a story of an iconic figure who was human too." She fell in love with an English man, had two sons and she decided to stay in Burma knowing that her husband was dying of cancer, Besson said. "People don't know about her love story, the crucial choices that she had to make between her country and her family. That is the story we wanted to tell."
The film has been largely shot in Thailand. But to shoot in Myanmar, Besson had to take many risks - he took movie shots pretending to be a tourist and, without arousing suspicion, managed to accumulate 17 hours of footage.
To capture the actual image of the Insein Prison where Suu Kyi was imprisoned, he used Google Earth and used animation to complete the prison scene. "Though it was just a few seconds scene, I needed to show the most horrible place to the world," he said.
"No risk no gain" is obviously Besson's mantra. Using his persuasive skills, he managed to coax the pilot of his charter plane to penetrate Myanmarese territory to shoot the river he so badly wanted in his film.
It was the film's leading lady Michelle Yeoh who came to Besson with the project. Writer Rebecca Frayn had worked on the script and approached Yeoh who in turn went to Besson's company.
Besson was convinced to make the biopic. "I have known Michelle for a long time and realised she was perfect to play Suu Kyi," he added.
When Besson started making the film, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest in Yangon. "The French Embassy in Rangoon helped us a little and we found a way to get our message across to her," he said.
The journey to this biopic is not a difficult one for Besson, as Suu Kyi readily allowed a film to be made on her life without demanding to see the script.
Besson was always intrigued by Suu Kyi's petite 50-kg frame fighting 30,000 military personnel.
"I always asked myself: what is it that she has and others lack? It was thus a great challenge for me to convey the character of Suu Kyi convincingly, conveying her strength as well as encompassing the softer side of her personality which made her so popular and endearing among all," he said.
Besson has loved films for as long as he can remember. One Indian film that has left an indelible impact on his mind is the Bengali film "Ek Din Pratidin" by Mrinal Sen.
"I watched this film almost 20 years ago and I can still recall it. I loved the local flavour of the film. One needs to be local to reach out to global audiences. This way the world gets to know local stories," he said.
"I earnestly wish the people of Burma can watch 'My Lady' as it is for them. Although I am normally against pirated films, I am willing to make an exception this time. I strongly want the people of Burma and North Korea to watch this film even if illegally. It should reach them.
"Burma needs to move on as has the rest of the world. The rulers of Burma have been robbing their country of its resources. The people there deserve better," he added.
For Yeoh, the film is very special, as Suu Kyi's character is firmly etched in her mind. "Suu Kyi will always be my hero," she said emotionally.
An already petite Yeoh further lost weight to look and feel the character of Suu Kyi.
Yeoh says Besson's energy is infectious. "He never sits still and does not believe in using the proverbial 'Director's Chair' on the sets and that is why perhaps the entire unit is pushed to give their best," she said.