All about the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival 2019

A subcontinental story at TIFF

In a festival committed to diversity and gender parity, it is fitting indeed to open one’s film viewing innings with a subcontinental story centred on a woman and made by a woman filmmaker.

Minhal Baig’s coming of age film Hala, which played on the opening day of the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), traverses the familiar zone of the diasporic experience — a teenager Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) negotiating the clash of cultures, finding the right balance between the immigrant home and the “westernised” world outside, of squaring up to her desires and sexual awakening while being cloistered and protected by Pakistani immigrant parents.

Tables turn

Then there is another interesting arc of role reversal as the tables turn on the seemingly progressive father who encourages her to skateboard, read literature and solve crosswords, and a conservative mother who appears to be only bothered about fajr (prayer at dawn) and hijaab (scarf). It’s the overprotective mother who eventually becomes the empowering figure for her and, in turn, finds liberation for herself through her daughter.

Ms. Baig keeps things gentle, even when a terrible storm might be brewing in Hala’s life. There is a sense of grace underlying the literary works Hala takes recourse to in mirroring her own dilemmas and internal struggles, specially Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

There is a persistent contradictory pull in what she quotes and reads out, the words she chooses to express herself in or the pauses and silence between them.

The finale does get somewhat sloppy and slapdash but Ms. Baig is largely restrained and subtle.

Fine collaboration

Chicago-based writer-director, Ms. Baig forms a fine collaboration with young Australian actor Ms. Viswanathan. Ms. Baig draws out a nuanced performance from Ms.Viswanathan, whose face is a wondrous canvas for fleeting emotions — curiosity, indifference, empathy, hurt, pain, rage, confusion. Her face is the film.

(The writer is in Toronto at the personal invitation of TIFF.)

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 11:32:41 PM |

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