A visual feat with impeccable storytelling, Roqaia exudes innocence like its protagonist
A little girl with a bandage on her forehead momentarily takes refuge among bare trees. The sun creeps up from behind, exposing her morose expression. What is she hiding from?
The 9-minute Afghan short film, Roqaia, wastes no time in pointing a finger at the antagonist-- the media-- tormenting a suicide attack survivor to squeeze a far-reaching story out of her. Roqaia not only survived, she saved quite a few people in the process; imagine the traffic that could potentially attract to a news portal. To reel in more readers and audiences, journalists flock around her house, asking questions, getting impatient as tight-lipped Roqaia cares not to even utter a single word.
An elderly Hajji objects to her mother trying to make her look neat, saying: “she is a victim, not a bride,” to which her mother doesn’t bat an eyelash. While the whole village basks in the glory of her bravery, her mother's incapacity to protest alludes to the subjugation women are subjected to in Afghanistan everyday.
Her father, 52-year-old Asadullah, allows this media circus to linger. Maybe he is enjoying the attention or he really cares for the story so much that he puts his daughter’s post-traumatic stress second. He only objects when one journalist tries to forcefully remove her bandage to prove this isn’t another hoax. Even then, his concern is voiced ever so carefully so as to not deflect the media or hurt his claim to fame. At one point, Roqaia, tears away from the scene, as her father continues to give interviews on her behalf.
This well-told story of yet another sacrificial lamb of unwarranted media frenzy, is produced by Bangladeshi duo Arifur Rahman and Bijon from Goopy-Bagha. They got involved with the project from an early edit. Writer/director Diana Saqeb Jamal and Arif met at Locarno Open Doors in 2018 and were reunited during a six months program at Asian Film Institute, Busan. It was there that the project was moulded into its current form.
A visual feat with impeccable storytelling, Roqaia exudes innocence like its protagonist. The film that premiered at the highly prestigious Venice Film Festival in 2019 continues to woo global audiences. After an extraordinary festival journey, at the end of December, 2020, Roqaia won the Best Film award at the Calcutta International Short Film Festival where 96 films screened from 47 countries.
As jury board member director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki rightfully articulates: “Filmmakers don't describe an event only like the newsreels do. They interpret things through their unique vision. The beauty of Deena's Roqaia lies in her unique vision. Through the choice of her camera work, sound design, and actors' performance, she delivered a film which clearly reflected the director's vision and personality.”
Roqaia’s festival journey:
More from Goopy Bagha in 2021:
The pair will be producing Nuhash Humayun’s debut feature film, Moving Bangladesh, which is scheduled to go into production this year. They announced a concert series, Agun Pakhir Gaan, which will feature top musicians from both Bangladesh and West Bengal. The online concerts (January 29-30) will promote five young singer/songwriters by crowd funding a musical film. The production house plans to launch a writing room providing six months of mentorship to 15 new writers. Arif-Bijon’s long awaited documentary, Paradise, is also expected to be released this year.