Friday, May 19, 2023

Cannes award-winning Pakistani short film 'Noor' screened in Karachi

The film presents an intriguing narrative about the visually challenged

The child star of Noor is featured alongside a poster showing the award the short film won. — Photo by author
The child star of Noor is featured alongside a poster showing the award the short film won. — Photo by author

KARACHI: Winning the best health film in the online edition category at Cannes, the Pakistani movie Noor had its maiden screening in Karachi at the Indus Valley School of Arts this week.

People flocked to attend the much-awaited screening on Monday, during which actor-and-director Umar Adil was also present.

Based on the life of an eight-year-old girl who battles the stigma of wearing glasses, Noor exposes how society treats persons with vision problems.

After the film's screening — which moved many — the question and answer session began, during which the filmmakers offered deeper insight into the plot.

It is no secret that people rarely hesitate to pass judgement on individuals who face any form of disability or are in any way physically challenged.

Instead of helping or providing assistance to those in this predicament, people tend to deride, ridicule and other them, deciding rather arbitrarily that those who do not fit the rigid box of normality are somehow less.

This movie beautifully portrays exactly such a situation. Produced by See-Prime, the short film does not include music, action sequences, or comedy, but the engaging subject will keep the audience entertained.

There is not a single moment in the plot — penned by Farah Usman — that we felt was a throwaway.

A break from tradition

In conversation with Geo Digital, Usman shed light on the script.

“I had written the story before this present one in which the main character was also an eight-year-old girl, but it did not contain the ups and downs of a father-daughter relationship. The tale seemed composed, powerful and better the second time I wrote it.

“We had no clue that an unassuming plot would make it to Cannes and that Noor would bring home the Best Health Film Award of 2023.”

While discussing her future plans, Usman said: “I had long chosen to create something distinct from saas-bahu stories, but if someone still wants me to do something new, I will work on it.”

The journey: from failure to Cannes!

Noor took filmmaker Umar Adil two to three months to finish, but the journey to Cannes was by no means an easy one.

During the film screening ceremony, the director said: “We had been working in the health and development sectors for the past 10 years when Sight Savers and White Rice reached out to us for the cause. They just briefed about the concept, however, Farah and I mutually decided to go with the short film because the viewers are slightly different in this area and conceive the message on a larger scale.”

Adil told Geo Digital that he did not expect the film to travel to Cannes.

However, lady luck smiled at them and for the first time, the online edition category was introduced at the Cannes World Film Festival. “That is how we were able to win an award in this category”.

Talking about the struggles he said: “Working with child stars was challenging, but it turned out to be a positive experience”.

Adil made his directorial film debut in Chale Thaye Saath — which was released in 2017. Although the movie wasn't a success, the 17-minute Noor has opened many doors to success for him.

Parent and actor

At the event, actress Sarwat Gilani pointed out: “People say I do something distinct on screen, but it took me 20 years to get here. I was also involved in playing the girl next door or saas-bahu dramas. I am thankful to Allah to see that Pakistani independent cinema is carving out an identity by itself globally because the short stories we produced here have been made on causes and have objectives at least.”

She shared that her experience as a parent helped her perform the role better.

"I understand how many children suffer from this problem and are called out with various names like 'Chashmatu Agaya' and 'Chashmish Hai'. It’s so normal for us to make fun of or giggle at such things. We don't know what impact this will create on the child.”

The Joyland star further said: “Noor’s message is both plain and simple and as a parent and an artist, I was drawn to this short film. I have no regrets”.

Replying to a question on when she will be featured in dramas again, the A-lister replied cheekily: “I will appear in several commercials. Don’t miss me, I'll be back shortly.”