A religion that discriminates between a male and a female is not a progressive religion at all. Like law, any belief should treat it’s subjects equally. In the world’s most practiced religions, not to name any, dreams, desires and sins of male and females are weighed with different scales. While men get away with all their transgressions easily, females are shamed throughout their life and treated inhumanely. A 2019 drama film, Hala written and directed by Minhal Baig, explores the same discrimination but in a sweet and subtle way.
Hala is based on a previous short film directed by by Minhal Baig in 2016. It narrates the story of seventeen year old teenage girl Hala Masood, who lives with her Muslim parents in USA. Being brought up in a Muslim family, Hala is required to follow the strict norms of the religion but her internal desires are contradictory, not to the audience but to her religion. She wants to get free of these holy chains and live her life like a flawed human being. That is the conflict she goes through the story.
The film begins with Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) masturbating in the bathroom tub. Suddenly, we hear her mother, Eram (Purbi Joshi) calling out to Hala to hurry up or she will miss her prayers. The perfect contradiction between religion and desires is quickly established in the first scene itself, which is exemplary.
The story then showcases Hala’s progressive father, Zahid (Azad Khan) who doesn’t mind Hala missing her prayer sometimes. He is incredibly generous towards Hala while Eram comes out as a strict orthodox parent. Eram even hates Hala riding a skateboard and playing in the garden where there are boys staring at her.
During the initial build up, the narrative in a simple and subtle way chronicles all the important people in Hala’s life that includes her English teacher, her best friend and a blonde guy, Jesse in her class, upon whom Hala has a secret crush.
Hala is really good with words and through the poems written by her, the director has voiced her internal confusion and chaos. The film further explores Hala’s relationship with her parents and her own pursuit to love and intimacy while facing the backlash from her pious parents. In the end, Hala is supported by the person she least expected and the climax is sure going to bring tears in your eyes with a smile hiding behind it.
Mild – Spoilers Ahead
Simple But Effective Narrative
The overall film has been treated in a very independent space. There aren’t any heavy dramatic sequences or “take you by the collar” conflict. Even the dialogues and treatment of the story is straightforward. Basically because the protagonist itself is in confusion and a complex narrative would have overshadowed it’s chaos.
The film speaks from Hala’s point of view and there aren’t any scenes where she isn’t physically available. Thus, she is witness to all the events like the viewers itself, and thus the experience is fresh both for the audience and the character. It helps to build a sympathetic harmony with the protagonist and gives space to viewers to put themselves in Hala’s place, imagining her vulnerability and chaos. This is really an outstanding approach to narrative like these, where there isn’t anything great but yet it is poetic in nature.
Hala’s pursuit of her sexual desires and the confusion thereon is the basic theme of the film. She faces backlash from her own father, who has a sexual affair outside the marriage. Thus, a sinner judges a person sinning differently, has been underlined in a subtle manner. Hala discovers the hidden tensions and problems in her parent’s marriage. The couple compromised because that is what all Asian parents do. When Hala experiences the bitterness and hollowness in her parent’s marriage, the hero of her life, her father, instantly lost respect for her. The interaction between Hala and her father, breaks Hala emotionally pushing her to such limits that she acts in an unexpected manner. But thankfully, she is saved by the person, she least expected to. She is a free bird, at last. Ready to fly and explore her desires, without anyone’s opinion chaining her down.
Hala is uncomplicated and flows like a verse on screen. One isn’t required to put too much effort into understanding it, as we all have been through the same confusion in our teenage years. It makes you nostalgic and you start recollecting your own events from the past. Hala survived and so did we. It is a motivating portrayal of the axiom, “After a heavy storm, the sun shines brighter.”
If you are looking for a simple drama that would make you nostalgic, then do watch Hala directed by Minhal Baig. It is streaming on Apple+ TV.
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